Where Bookends sucks

I am now checking out other alternatives as the fate of Sente is looking dismal. The best alternative for the users of Sente looks like Bookends. I think there is some kind of communication between the developers of the two applications. One of the reasons that we suspected the abandonment of Sente came from the developments on the Bookends side. we have seen, the developers of Bookends have been preparing to grab the former users of Sente.In their latest updates, since June 2015, they have been modifying their application to import Sente references. But, still, there are a lot of glitches to move references from Sente.

But, personally, I am more worried about the capabilities of Bookends as a reference manager than the migration. The migration is a work of few days. But, if the application has some fundamental weakness, that will be a pain for a long time; that I am afraid the pain of migrating my references might not worth the effort.

First the strengths:

  1. Bookends seems faster than Sente; at least at the startup.
  2. It works well with a number of other applications such as Devonthink, Tinderbox and Scrivener.
  3. And, most importantly, it has some cool tools called **Global Change**  which seem very useful. These tools helps to make a change to a number of references in one sweep. Sente also has this system; implemented differently.I think the Bookends has an upper hand here. One of the worst footprints of Mendeley from the Windows that remained in my reference for ages was: the Titles of the references were placed in the place of the Journal. I don’t why Mendeley does that. But, the Titles were exported as Journal. I was not able to change that for a number of years within  Sente. Bookends does it in a sweep, just a couple of seconds to fix about 1500 references. Yes, that is great programming.


and the issues:

I think bookend is quite good reference manger. But, it has some really deep issues:

  1. The PDF reader is ugly; and not even comparable to the reader in SEnte. Sente gives the best PDF reading experience ever; not even the dedicated PDF readers like PDF Expert, iAnnotate, Acrobat Reader can reach it. Bookends has a mediocre PDF reader.
  2. Not well organized: the tools and features are jumbled here and there. It is really not clear which of the menus do what. At the first look, the app generally looks unattractive. But, honestly, I am less worried about that. I just think some people might not appreciate it. Personally, I just want my job done. I am not going to wear this app for  my birthday party.
  3. But, the real issue, and the true depth of shit of Bookends is on the reference detection and downloading part. The whole focus of the Bookends seems on the MedPub. Generally, most reference managers can detect references from the major databases (search engines) like PubMed and Google Scholar. But, Sente has been efficient in doing it from a broad array of sources: that I cannot list all here. The most important of them, for me have been: Worldcat and  Stanford University Library. Sente made the process perfect by its feature called Targeted Browsing. The two sources offer the cleanest references while Google Scholar gives out the most incomplete metadata. So, when I was trying Bookends, I was hoping that Bookends would do the same.

Assume that I received a PDF book from a friend. I want to download the metadata. In Sente, I would drop the PDF to the library, Sente displays its Citation Lookup  dialogue box in which I will select the Title of the book and choose WorldCat.


The top 5 sources are the most important. The title of the book, “Italian Syntax…” is going to be automatically pasted in the WordCat. Now, look at the WordCat website.  gku8e

That Red Circle makes the insertion of reference so elegant. Clicking the red button populates the reference information. Worldcat gives a complete reference data; i rarely find a mistake. Note that these 5 sources can be expanded, if required. I used to have a large number of other sources including Stanford University.

Bookends has a similar feature. But, the implementation is inefficient because it is restricted to a few If I want to do the same in Bookends, the process is clunky and inefficient. The sources are not expandable that, if they don’t work for you, you will be stuck. The fact that I cannot grab references from the WorldCat database is really disconcerting to me because that is the number one source for me. All the references for books come from it. It gives the most complete metadata.


First, Bookends asks you to attach the PDF. You will get the citation window after  the PDF is attached. That is way step away. After you attach the PDF you will have the following window:


This is where I am frustrated. The part I marked with the big red rectangle is supposed to display the Title of  the book. But, it doesn’t. Therefore, if you have to put the title, you are supposed to do it manually. You have remember the title, or copy it before hand. That is strangely sluggish. Second, the sources at the right lower corner  are really useless to me.

Except Google Scholar, the rest are useless, really. I cannot modify or add a new engine either. So, I am stuck. The offer is Take it or leave it. You will be happy if you are a medicine student; fucked otherwise. Google Scholar is quite ok for articles. But, it is one of the most incomplete sources.

Bookends has another method of downloading references using an internal browser. But, I think that one is even worse. I put the title of an article; out of the total of 20 articles in google scholar, which Sente detected all of them, Bookends was able to detect just two.

All in all, I think Bookends is not really polished at downloading metadata.

The difference between Sente and Bookends might seem minimal here, from outside. But, for some one who will use the process thousands of times, even the tinies further step is one more pain. While I like many of the features of the application, I find it hard to adopt the app as my main reference manager  because of  this problem. So, I am contemplating either to stay with Sente to the last breath of the app, or check out other alternatives, Papers 3 probably.


2017-02-05: update

  • Now, Bookends has included further sources of data extraction. Now, I am now using Bookends as my main reference manager. Even if it has some weaknesses on the reading side, it turn out to be one of the most complete reference manager out there. I have noted my observations here.

11 thoughts on “Where Bookends sucks

Add yours

  1. Hi Dellu! Thanks a lot for youre article! Im a Sente user and worried with the same issues. Agree about the fact that Sente is the best here! Recently, i have started to use Papers 3, and im quite impressed with the search features… Just wandering, why such a lack of enthusiasm in youre part with it… Thx again!


    1. Hi Jon; I am sorry, I didn’t reply.
      I am glad you like Papers. The magic manuscript feature is great: i totally love that feature. I had some problems with Papers, however. Since I primarily work with Latex, the BibTex exports from Papers were not neat. Since the internal system is not transparent, that is, it is not modifiable (the formatting), I cannot have what I want in my output. Bookends has a Bibliography Format manager; where you can do whatever you want to do with your formatting; 100% freedom; manipulation, modification. Sente also has Format manager. I don’t think Papers has it.
      anyways, it is all personal needs and test. I hope you have fun with it.

  2. Moving over to Paper 3, but not yet. 2 more months to complete my PhD — so any workflow rebuilding is suicidal. I liked how Paper 3 works to download, collate, and organise my stuff. Never tried the bibliography output yet. I was hoping to use it with Manuscriptapp but the reviews of its current build is bad. I should stop distracting myself from the labour at hand!

    So Sente, Scrivener and Mellel for the next two months.

  3. I’m still holding on to Sente, but it looks dismal as ever. I’m curious to whether you have moved on (and to what?)

    1. Yes, the future with Sente is dismal. But, I am still using Sente; while experimenting with Bookends on the side. As I explained in this post, bookends has weaknesses in extracting references from Internet sources. But, still, it has some great features. The system is very transparent: that, is, annotations are maintained in the standard format, the configurations are also endless. Very rich reference manger. I also learned that Bookends have been under development since 1984–that means, it has very reliable history unlike Sente.
      Moving from Sente to Bookends is very simple. It is even possible to keep both side by side. Extract the references from the Internet in Sente; and send them to Bookends latter. Another strategy is to supplement Bookends with AppleScript and the like tools.

      1. Thanks for the follow up. My favorite feature is sente might be its usage in the iPad. My sense is that Bookends is weak on that end. Do you have any experience with the iOS version?

        1. I have never tried Bookends on Tap. It might be a good app; but, if it is not, you couple Bookends on the mac with other PDF readers like iAnnotate and PDF expert on the ipad. The annotations show up in both directions.

          1. Ahh, ok.I love that with Sente there is a seamless integration of the OS and IOS application. I do all my reading on the ipad, and have such a good workflow. I see that Sente just posted an update (, so I suppose like you I will keep hoping!

            1. Yes, Sente has seamless integration;and the ipad reader is amazing (some people have complained about it; but i found it amazing). But, about the update, I think this is just a fix they already promised to do for a while. I don’t think the chances are turning around.
              But, let’s just wish they will be back

  4. Thanks for this. I got Bookends years ago and noticed that it seemed aimed at medical research. But I have never (yet) used it intensively enough to run into the problem you discuss. However, soon I will need to do a book bibliography, and then it will really matter.

    1. Yes, if you don’t download references for hundreds and thousands of references, you will not have that much trouble. In addition, the developer, Joh, requested recently, has promised to add more sources in the future releases.

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