Monday, April 29, 2013

Using self publishing software to organize my reference material

By the time I graduated my MArch, I had a little under a gazillion readings that I had accumulated over the course of four and a half years of classes, lectures and thesis notes for two different degrees.  While a few of the academic articles were available on Google Scholar, most would no longer be accessible once I was removed from the university's JSTOR license.  I was stuck hauling around several large boxes packed with binders of scholarly articles that I perused on a regular basis.  Before I moved to Hong Kong in 2008 I spent a hellish week scanning every single page of each of the binders and painstakingly renaming them in files by author and title.

The problem with this "system" was that my binders were organized by topic, and the titles didn't often give me enough information to find what I needed.  I ended up slowly going through all of the files and individually editing categories and tags rather than making folders.  This worked because I didn't have to copy the same file into many folders but simply could add a tag/category to the file if it fit more than one subject.  I could add as many tags as I wanted to make searching easier but this also posed a problem if I went too crazy with tags and ended up with a huge list of every tag known to mankind.

A few months ago I started using an e-book management program to organize my Kindle books.  The Kindle is awesome in terms of capacity and reading interface.  The Paperwhite screen is easy on the eyes and the adjustable font and bookmarking functions make it preferable to books for me.  Not ideal are the deplorable search function and lack of organizational abilities.  It only lists books by date, title, author or collection.  You can create a large group of collections to place your e-books into to help manage them but in my case I ran into problems.  For example, I divided my books into time periods but then I couldn't remember if a certain Atwood book had been written in the 1990's or 2000's. And searching for the title took a very, very, very long period of time and ended with the Kindle getting hung up if I tried to cancel the search.

I heard about Calibre, which is free, from a book review website and gave it a try.  Unfortunately Calibre will not override the Kindle's awful system, or lack thereof, but you can use it in conjunction with the Kindle or any other e-reader.  Calibre will connect with the e-reader and not only store your books' information but you can add metadata to Calibre that will help you to manage your e-books from your computer. Fixed subjects include not only author, title and dates added but categories, tags, publishers, editors, and whether they are part of a series.  There is even a notes area for me to add a synopsis or review of the book.

Once I got my e-book collection all sorted out I started thinking about my academic article collection.  Most of the files were PDF files so they were compatible with Calibre.  I could convert my PDF files to mobi files to read on the Kindle as long as they were text files.  Unfortunately the majority of my files were scanned as images and much too large to drop into the Kindle.  But then I remembered that Adobe Professional has the capability to scan over such files and convert images to text.

With this in mind I have started converting my readings, bit by bit, to text and then copying the text to Microsoft Word so that they become an acceptable file size (6MB to 400KB).  Then I format the files and eventually convert them to mobi files to add to my Kindle so that I can have them in the office when I am looking for a reference.  So far this is my best solution, and carrying the Kindle has been far preferable to lugging around large binders in a giant handbag.  More importantly, when I am home and writing a paper or editing my ever changing thesis, I have a reference library to make searching easy.

A few of my friends use Endnote to organize their references and citations.  I tried it and discovered that its built in citation system was useful but only if you use the pay version.  The free version is too limited to be much good.


Handy instructions to convert from a Word file using Calibre:

Handy instructions to convert from a RTF file (non-proprietary) using Calibre:

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