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Subscription-Based Online Citation Tools:Hot Button Issue
A Survey of Massachusetts School Librarians
By Jennifer Dimmick
Library Teacher at Newton South High School

As a new high school library teacher, one of the things I struggle with is providing citation guidance to students, particularly as the array of sources broadens away from traditional print media towards a myriad of digital sources.  Teachers and students expect librarians to be expert at creating bibliographies, but there is rarely much time, or patience, available for detailed instruction on this dry, but important topic.  Students gravitate towards online tools that can streamline the process for them, but which one is best? 

EasyBibThis is why I jumped at the opportunity to learn more by enrolling in a free webinar on EasyBib offered by classroom2.0. Search for EasyBib to find the archived webinar.   I came away impressed and convinced that having access to a tool like this would help to demystify the citation process for students and to provide the streamlining that they seek.  I also knew, however, that EasyBib wasn’t the only act in town.  I recognized too that not everyone would agree that paying for a subscription would add adequate value over simply using the free tool.My next step was to ask my colleagues about their experiences and recommendations. 

I started with Ann Perham, my former practicum supervisor and a trusted career mentor.  Ann had wonderful things to say about Needham’s long experience with NoodleTools, but she hadn’t tried EasyBib’s subscription product.  NoodleTools

To try to get a better-rounded perspective on these two popular tools and their competitors, I decided to take advantage of our great MSLA Listserv to conduct a survey.  I used Google Forms to create the survey, a tool that I love because of its simplicity and its ability to embed the survey directly into the body of an email (I also love the “Show Summary of Results” feature—instant graphs and charts!).  VIEW the original survey. Twenty-seven kind souls responded to my survey and provided me with valuable information about their experiences.  The full results of the survey can be found in this Prezi presentation that I created to share with the secondary school librarians in our district. The results of the survey served to reinforce my conviction that subscribing to such a tool would be beneficial to students, faculty and the library. 

Reasons to subscribe vs. rely on free versions include:

  • Access to note taking tools/note cards and outline features (this was a dominant reason given)
  • Access to Chicago style (not often available in free versions)
  • Ability to save citations to an account and access them anywhere/any time
  • More accurate citations
  • Integration with Google Docs
  • Also, most respondents were in favor of district-wide adoption of a tool, citing consistency as the primary benefit.

In fact, the only downside to subscribing appeared to be lack of budget to do so. 

NoodleTools and EasyBib are the clear frontrunners, however, no clear winner emerged from the research.  It appears that a majority of their features are the same, and that either one will achieve the primary goals of providing a full-featured online citation tool.  The benefits of each tool are described in the presentation linked above.

We have decided to trial both tools here in Newton before we determine whether or not to subscribe, and if so, with which tool.  

I will conclude with a brief anecdote.  I recently spoke with a Library Teacher at an independent school who was able to provide a unique perspective:  her school had recently made the switch from NoodleTools to EasyBib.  Before I describe her experience, please bear in mind that this is only one school, so it certainly does not indicate a trend, nor are their needs indicative of all schools.  That said, her experience tracks with my limited exposure to the tools over the course of my research, namely that students find NoodleTools to be laborious while they find EasyBib simpler, faster, and more enjoyable.  Furthermore, the school conducted a test among faculty (a great approach to getting them on board), asking them to create bibliographies consisting of the same sources using the two different tools.  Again, teachers overwhelmingly preferred EasyBib for its streamlined approach relative to the lengthy process required with NoodleTools.  I love the fact that NoodleTools was created by a school librarian, and hope that she and her team are able to address these issues before EasyBib gets more of a foothold in the subscription market. 


Last Updated ( Monday, 09 January 2012 )

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