Electronic Eye December 2013
EasyBib MyBib Pro: Yet Another Evolution for this Popular Research Tool
Let’s flashback fifteen years to the start of any large scale student research project. Frequently, a student equips herself with a collection of multicolored index cards and either a rubber band to keep them all together or perhaps even a plastic box to keep them all in. She’s been told to put a fact or two on each card and — for heaven’s sake! — make sure she connects these facts with a particular source that has been properly noted on yet another index card.
Personally, I did love watching students at this stage of research. Generally, there was a lot of excitement and promise in those early moments. I loved watching individual researchers take ownership of their learning and personalize their process with their own style and organizational systems. Maybe the cards would be multicolored. Maybe there would be little tabs in the index box to separate subtopics. Slowly, the students would reap the benefits of accumulating stacks of little cards filled with useful facts that would eventually be organized.
Inevitably, they would lose the precious pack of cards on their way to and from home and occasionally some of them would have to start over!
With the rise of digital information and tools to create even more information, index cards and their little boxes have understandably been pushed into the recycle bins. What I think has been missing is a useful and easily understood version of the index card box. I think that the research process for students has changed because of it. Instead of starting out with reading over several sources and attempting to make sense of the information by note taking and organizing ideas, the process has changed into a more surface model where students create a project that outlines the ideas from one source, filling in occasional gaps by seeking out answers to specific questions via a search engine. And students all too frequently charge into creation of the product rather than spending time in the process.
I’ve longed to find an electronic way to help my students organize information in a similar manner to the old index card box. It is possible that my dream has been fulfilled in Easy Bib’s “My Bib Pro” version.
Many students, teachers and librarians have loved EasyBib for several years now. It’s a pretty amazing tool that allows students to create polished and perfectly formatted bibliographies. It has certainly changed how most librarians provide students with instruction on creating a list of sources. And while their constant state of change has often been a source of challenge for me in terms of demonstrating their tool, I value their ability to innovate and be on the forefront of what is truly useful to researchers.
My Bib Pro is their newest creation and it is more of a “one-stop-shop” when it comes to organizing and synthesizing information in addition to creating a bibliography. Students can create separate projects to contain all of their work and access their projects from wherever they happen to be.
There are three tools available within each project: Bibliography, Notebook, and Paper.
The Bibliography tool is the most well-known, of course. It formats a user’s bibliography for them and prompts them on what information to fill out for each kind of source. The number of types of sources that EasyBib can format is very comprehensive: it boasts fifty-nine different types of sources. The real power behind this tool, however, is the fact that students can enter Web addresses and EasyBib will attempt to fill out the information for the user. The same goes for book ISBNs and titles. This functionality is not perfect and librarians often have to encourage a young adult user to check over their citations to make sure that the tool is properly citing the information for them. The interface does prompt them in red lettering to do the same.
The second tool is the Notebook tool and it is really exciting. The Notebook provides students with a workspace where they can create and manage notes from the sources. Creating a note is very simple and I like the prompts that it gives students. Students are asked to create a title for the note and then are given the opportunity to select their source from a drop down menu. All sources that are in the bibliography will be listed in the drop-down menu so there is no need to type the name of the source over again. After that, there are three possible places where the student could list the note: “Evidence from the source (direct quote),” “Paraphrasing,” or “Comment.” I love this level of detail! The fact that students can identify in which way they are making their note will help them greatly in creating a project that is free of plagiarism. You can also add tags to the note, create groups for the notes, and choose a special color for your note from a wide ranging palette of colors.
I don’t think that the idea of being able to personalize the color of your note should be downplayed or thought of as a distraction for students. I think that it can be an incredible motivator for students who need to learn to own their research project. If a rainbow-hued collection of data does that, I’m all for it.
After creating a note, it gets placed onto the workspace. Students can then manipulate these notes by dragging them around the screen and dropping them in piles that represent common ideas. If a student drops a note together, they become a group, and the group it can then be given a title.
The next step in the process is huge time saver. Users can open up an outline tool on the right side of the screen. Users can drag their notes into the outline either as groups or as individual notes. They can also directly create bullets. The outline tool also allows them to type in their thesis statement and this statement remains prominently on display on the left-hand side of the screen which can be an excellent focuser for the researcher.
The outline can be printed out with notes attached, allowing the researcher to see all of their ideas in order. A user could also hand in this part of their work to a teacher or an editor of their work to give them a sense of how the project is progressing. I can see this being a real boon to teachers who are attempting to teach the research process in small steps. Users can also share their project and all of the attached notes and outline with an individual via e-mail so that this step could be paperless.
As always, the final step is writing the paper. There is a link for that underneath the project, which creates a path for a user to navigate to a Google Doc if the user happens to use Google Apps. This was easily set-up and allowed for quicker navigation to the actual document.
This is just one of the initiatives that EasyBib is working on at the moment. Another tool that is being presented in beta right now is a “Research” tab. This research tab allows users to search the bibliographies of other EasyBib users to see what other resources are being found with their search terms. A brief search of this new functionality provided me with some useful results. The other sources could easily be added to a user’s own bibliography. Most of the citations that I came across were accessible from the World Wide Web, although it is possible to filter results by type of source, including online resource. The results that I received from doing an EasyBib “Research” search compared favorably against a similar search on a search engine, however. I could tell that being allowed the chance to see what other researchers are already citing can be a time saver.
EasyBib is also starting to identify sources that are credible and not credible and is tagging them as such. This is yet another way in which EasyBib is trying to help users do their best research possible.
There are many different pricing structures for EasyBib’s “My Bib Pro,” including a yearly individual subscription for $19.99. There is also an economical way for institutions to purchase “My Bib Pro” for their users.
EasyBib My Bib Pro. https://www-secure.easybib.com/products/mybibpro
Kathleen Meulen Ellison has been a teacher librarian for over two decades in both New York City and the Pacific Northwest. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.