Bookends vs Zotero vs Mendeley vs Jabref

I have been very dismissive of Mendeley for many years now. For one good reason: the data is always extracted from Google Scholar. I get the worst, most incomplete reference from Mendeley.  Being an early adopter (staring from its beta stage; around 2008), I was left with frustrations with Mendeley. Now, it is time to appreciate one great quality of Mendeley that no other reference manager can emulate: its attempt to do the undo-able. That is, Mendeley tries to get the reference information by reading the PDF file directly. This technology is unique to Mendeley, so far as I can tell. While both Bookends and Zotero can extract some identifiers like DOI and ISBN, they never try to get the Title, the author and the date by directly reading the PDF file.  Mendeley does that. As a result, it is a life saver when you have a lot of junk to clean up.

I recently downloaded more than 3400 pdf files from a linguistic archive. Importing them to any of the references gives not a single relevant reference data–both Zotero and Bookends gave me zero result. I also tried Papers3. Quite interestingly, Papers was able to pick some of them. But, the data it gets was less than 20% success rate.

Then, I dragged them to Mendeley, majority of them get their references filled. Most of them get junk reference, of course, as usual. But, hey, this is technology. We have to do a lot of trial and error. Cleaning the junk library was much better than inserting references, one by one, for 3400 item. For that, I am now grateful of Mendeley.

But, ultimately I cannot live with Mendeley because it gets data from Google Scholar only–always junk data. That is why I have to move back these partially filled references to either Bookends or Zotero.

Completing the incomplete references in Zotero is a nightmare, I learned by the hard way. Zotero excels at getting data from browser (internet) and the attach the PDF over the reference. Having PDFs with incomplete reference or no DOI, however,  Zotero is a huge pain.  I  am a PDF guy. I rarely pick the reference from the web page. I always go to the pdf; and  attempt to fill up the reference when I have some extra time latter. For that, Bookends is much better. BE has a feature called Autocomplete (similar to the Targeted Browsing feature in Sente) which helps me highlight the Title of the book (article) from the pdf and tell it to search it somewhere in the web engines (google scholar, World Cat, or my local library website). That way, I don’t have to write the reference manually.

For Zotero, if you have missed to get the data from the website first, or that the PDF contains no DOI, the only option you have is to manually write the reference. Jabref is even better on that because you can copy and paste references from Google scholar to the existing PDF.

But, I find Zotero  better than Bookends on these two aspects.

  1. Direct syncing of the Bibtex file: using the Better BibTex plugin
  2. Automatically  getting the ISBN of the books. Zotero picks the ISBN of the books almost always correctly. This feature is coming to Bookends as well. But, BE is not really effective at yet.


How about Jabre?

It excels at manipulating references in the bibtex format. Furthermore, it as one unique feature that no other reference manager yet implemented–embedding the XML metadata into the pdf files. There are two good reasons to write metadata into the PDF files.

  • it improves searching: you can search Spotlight by the author or the Title of the book; or order the books by their date of publication. This is specially very useful if you use more advanced searching tools like FoxTrot, or (DTsearch in the windows)
  • you can lose the reference, or share the pdf without losing the reference data about it. If your library is lost or  corrupted, you don’t have to fill the reference data again. You can just drag the pdf and Jabref will populate the reference data for you.

The conclusion is: every reference manager has its own strengths and weakness. Each of them have their own niche users; and niche features. Bookends and Jabref are my all time favorite reference managers. I think I will keep all the 3 reference managers me for now. Some people own three cars, just for sheer fun of it, even if one car is usually enough. I don’t have to chose among these great softwares. I will use Zotero for the books, Bookends for everything else and Jabref for bibtex.


Mirroring ‘Oxford Scholarship Online’ on your mac using Bookends


Oxford publications started up a sort of revolution on how printed books are accessed online.

Most other publishers put the exact same book, in a single PDF or Epub format, online for sale. Oxford makes an important change that seems to start a revolution on how we consume books online. In Oxford’s system, each of the chapters of the books stand by themselves as published articles. Each of the chapters of the collection gets their own DOI that they can be read, downloaded or referred independently of the main book.

Look at this video how it works.

Now, we are in a position to have the cake and eat it at the same time. The old conflicts on whether to keep books broke into their chapters and sections (as such a system facilitates searching and discovery on each of the chapters), or, keep it together to be able to see the work as a whole immediately disappears. We have both the whole and the individuals at the same time.

So, I have been wondering on how to mirror that system in Bookends. I experimented on how each of these independent chapters could be managed. Bookends has a mechanism to manage Chapters separately; while still linked to the main book.  Bookends is such a well-thought application: each of the chapters are able to live by themselves just exactly like they are presented in Oxford Scholarship Online. I am so impressed. I haven’t seen any other offline reference manager that is able to manage chapters like Bookends (Oxford).

The more I use each of the features, the more appreciate how well-designed Bookends is.

For me, I used to split PDF books into specific page ranges (page 1-50; 51-100 etc) just to keep the large pdf books easier for my searching tools like Foxtrot. I have already explained the system before.

Now, with Oxford Scholarship online and Bookends, I don’t need to split. I simply download each of the chapters and attach them as chapters into a single reference entry in Bookends. The pdf files of each of the chapters are attached to their corresponding entries. It is much better system because I won’t have duplication of information. I only hope that all other publishers offer books in the same way to the Oxford Scholarship online.


Where Bookends rocks

Before, I wrote a few complains ( I have on Bookends as replacement for Sente. It has been almost 9 months since that post.

Now, I am updating my experience with the Bookends.

The good news: the latest version of Bookends (12.7.7) has solved one of the major complains I had on the application. That is: it can now extract references from a plethora of sources that the source of extraction is no more a problem.

In addition, I learned in the course of the previous months that the right method of finding references of PDF books is to use the ISBN associated with the books. Once you write the ISBN of the book in the ISBN field, Bookends happily can download all the reference data from Amazon using its Autofill feature. The Autofill feature is a super-feature. One day,  I put about 400 PDF articles collected over the years into Bookends watch folder; all of them have their DOIs printed in the first pages of the articles. It was just magic to see all the PDF files find their references filled automatically in a couple of minutes.

I also leaned that Bookends is much potent application than Sente when it comes to managing references. The tools embedded into it are unbelievably rich. It has organizational tools like: smart folders which support REGEX,  static folders,  labelling (color coding). It has a fully configurable Format Manager which enables the end user to import or export; rename the references in endless ways. The Format Manager in Bookends is the greatest feature I have ever seen in any reference manager. It is a dream come true. It is a liberating feature. I cannot say enough about it.

Bookends has other tools under Global Change. Finder replace that works across the whole library; batch changing of reference types, batch inserting data..and, other many types of manipulation tools.

Attachment handling and file renaming is superb in Bookends. The best part is: files are managed very transparently. You can explicitly put your files in a Dropbox folder without any hassle: while still they are attached to their references.

The Duplicate Finder tool embedded into Bookends is the best in the class. Jabref is great for finding duplicates. But it cannot reach the complexity and elegance of the duplicate finder in Bookends. You will never miss a duplicate with it.

If you are into Latex, it is also one of the most Bib friendly non-bib reference manager. It can assign unique Bibtex keys: and, the Format Manager can be manipulated to export in any of the Bibtex formats (Bibtex or BibLatex). You can also manipulate your format to export distinct (unique) bibtex fields. You don’t even need to export the reference to get your bibliography to work with Latex. You can make Bookends to work with your Latex file directly.

Bookends has  AppleScript dictionary. That again opens a world for who are into the scripting.

Integration with other super applications: I have never seen any reference manager as flexible as Bookends (I admit, Zotero could be even more flexible: I just don’t like that app; never tried it seriously.). For me, the fact that Bookends works well with Devonthink and Tinderbox is the best part of the story. Bookends is hand in glove with both Devonthink and Tinderbox. You can export and import in both directions; you can even directly sync them using some scripts (all the three are scriptable). Combining the three power tools is the nirvana for the knowledge worker. The world has never been greater.

The only feature I am still missing from Sente is the reading and annotating capabilities of Sente. The reading experience in Bookends is nowhere closer to Sente. Otherwise, as I am more using Bookends more, I am getting more surprises how a reference manager could be so rich and so capable. In an ideal world, BE would incorporate the annotation tools of Sente.

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