Information and Reference Management

What is Information and Reference Management? 

In general, information or reference management tools allow for digital organization of resources and bibliographic citations. Reference management tools might also be referred to as citation management or personal bibliographic management software. These types of tools allow users to save and organize bibliographic citations so that citations can be easily found accessed again. Many tools also enable other actions such create bibliographies or the ability to annotate saved PDFs.

What is the purpose of Information and Reference Management?

Reference management tools support the search, storage, management, and organization of digital citations, references, and texts. These tools often automatically collect and store the bibliographic metadata of collected works (i.e. author, date, title, journal, volume, issue, etc.) and establish digital links to the works for easy access at a later date. Many tools also automate the creation of bibliographies and in-text citations when writing.

In the context of higher education, there are two main purposes to using Information & Reference Management Tools:

  • For managing secondary sources in conducting literature reviews
  • For connecting students to digital works

How to use Information and Reference Management?

Managing Secondary Sources in Conducting Literature Reviews

Whether you or your students are collecting sources for a research project, paper, or assignment, information and reference management tools can be used to store and organize the literature you find. Tools often support group libraries for group projects, that all group members can contribute to and access saved citations. In achieving this goal, tools such as Endnote Basic, Zotero, or Mendeley are recommended as they are designed explicitly to support research activities related to the management of citations. However, faculty often rank Reference Management tools such as these as essential for research but less applicable or important for teaching (Emanuel, 2013).

Western Libraries offers support on getting started with tools such a these. For more support see Western Libraries Citation Management Software page

Connecting Students to Digital Works

More specific to teaching contexts, you may be drawn to Information and Reference Management tools as a way to share required or recommended readings with students. You might accomplish this goal by setting up and sharing a group library with tools such as Endnote Basic, Zotero, or Mendeley. However, a Course Readings Service has been developed by Western Libraries explicitly for achieving this purpose.

Tool Comparison

Course Readings Service (OWL) EndNote Basic Zotero
Functionality 3 stars 2 stars 2 stars
Accessibility 3 stars 2 stars 2 stars
Technical 3 stars 1 star 1 star
Mobile 2 stars 1 star 2 stars
Usage and Account Setup 3 stars 1 star 1 star
Social Presence 2 stars 2 stars 2 stars
Instructor Presence 2 stars 2 stars 2 stars
Cognitive Presence 2 stars 2 stars 2 stars

Please Note: We attribute the difference between scores for the Course Readings Service and other tools such as Endnote Basic and Zotero to differences in the intended purpose of such tools. As highlighted above, different reference management tools may serve very different functions. The scores represented in the tool comparison above reflect the suitability of the tools to teaching and classroom contexts and should not be taken as a reflection of their ability to achieve other purposes.

All Tools

Additional Resources

Hensley, M. K. (2011). Citation management software: Future and features. Reference & User Services Quarterly. 50(3), 204-208.

Emanuel, J. (2013). Users and citation management tools: Use and support. Reference Services Review, 41(4), 639 - 659.

MacMillan, D. (2012). Mendeley: teaching scholarly communication and collaboration through social networking, Library Management, 33(8/9), 561 - 569.