Save the bibliography?

LibreOffice has the capability to add references to a document and finally a bibliographical index, which is essential for scientific publications. The style of references depend on the journal and the discipline. So it is common to just add numbers in square brackets like [1] in engineering whereas humanities show name and year like (author, year). And finally the formatting of the bibliographical index is a science itself. LibreOffice can handle this to some extend but not in a nice and convenient way.

State of the Art

The current solution involves a database where users add references per Tools > Bibliography Database, a small dialog to insert a reference field via Insert > Table of Contents > Bibliography Entry…, and the dialog for table and contents with Insert > Table of Contents > Table of Contents, Index or Bibliography using the type Bibliography. References have to be manually inserted in the database by the user, the Short Name/Identifier needs to be introduced by the user in the required citation style. The fields that are presented in the bibliography need to be defined in the entries tab of the table of contents dialog.

Current dialogs to add references and insert a bibliography

Figure 1: Current dialogs to add references and insert a bibliography.

See also our help for more information on the workflow.

Issues and Requirements

Besides the look and feel we collected some issues on Bugzilla. The requests are about formatting and styling (e.g. tdf#121945), compatibility (e.g. tdf#89506), import/export (e.g. tdf#121958) and there are also some bugs (e.g. tdf#105367). In a nutshell, users request import features to easily load a reference from various sources, means to switch from one known reference/bibliography style to another, and several convenience functions.

The requirements are clear, with a lack of required features and without a good UX for reference and bibliography management. To rework the workflow there will be a need for new dialogs, with support to adding references from external sources (fetching references from online identifiers such as DOI, ISBN or PMID, load references from clipboard, CSV, Calc, Excel, mariaDB…), easy access to the references (for example we could introduce a sidebar that lists all items and per double-click the selected is taken into the document with the desired reference/bibliography style), means to select different citation styles, to import reference/bibliography styles for different journals from the open-source online citation style language repository and a better integration into the document (ie. to switch from one style to another). Sounds like a plan but it requires a tremendous effort. However, there are alternatives to this effort.

The Alternative

Almost every user told us to use one of the well-known extensions from reference/bibliography management software such as Zotero (open source), JabRef (open source), or Mendeley (freemium). The tools are standalone programs with connectors to several word processors including LibreOffice. Focusing on Zotero, as an example, it has a connector for Firefox and Chromium-based browsers that allows to mark a reference via an online identifier and transfer it into the bibliography collection. Zotero can import libraries in various formats and contains of plain-text parsers for extracting citations from other sources. Read also this post by Bruce Byfield about this subject.

While in theory we could implement a comfortable solution, it would consume considerable development resources to simply duplicate the basic functionality already present in these reference/bibliography management programs. Due to the required development resources that would have to be spent, and since there already exists a stellar open-source alternative for bibliography management that integrates seamlessly, we would like to gather input from the community about relying solely on third-party tools to manage references/bibliography.

This blog post is the first step to gather input from the community about this potential change. Tell us your experiences and what you think about the idea; please bear in mind that there are no development resources to allocate to work on this feature for the foreseeable future. If there is general agreement we would deprecate the internal bibliography for the 6.3 release and drop it in a later release (potentially 6.4, or maybe 6.5 to better prepare for removal).

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