Organize Better with Bibliographic Managers

If literature research is a part of your current workload, using bibliographic managers can save you time by simplifying how you organize sources, write papers and share reading lists with others. Over the past 20 years BibTeX has been the defacto tool for engineers needing to create reference lists in conjunction with LaTeX.  Now there are a wide variety of specialized databases called reference managers or bibliographic managers you can use in conjunction with BibTeX to improve source management. These software tools commonly share the following features:

  • Import bibliographic information directly from the web or online databases
  • User-created organizational schemes using folders, tagging and note fields
  • Integrate into word processors to create in-text notes and bibliographies
  • Share citations with other researchers

Most of these managers are developed by publishers (EndNote Web, RefWorks) or academics (Mendeley, Zotero), with a wide variety of cost-models available. The CUL librarians are here to help you select and use many of these managers.

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Making the Case for Information Literacy 1

The new University Curriculum rolling out this academic year brings attention to teaching information literacy skills to the undergraduate population. In this series of blog entries, I will discuss what information literacy is, how it can be considered in the context of a college education, and why it’s a critical skill in the 21st century. I hope to also make a convincing case for consulting a subject liaison librarian for support with teaching information literacy in the classroom.

Information Literacy – what it is
Today accessing information is simple.  Turn on your phone, tablet, PC or any device hooked up to a network and you have instant access to petabytes of information. But information about fixing a sink doesn’t make one a plumber, so the need for learning critical thinking skills remains essential. Learning a discipline’s research methods, how questions are constructed, how data is collected, and how knowledge is disseminated and valued, is a goal of information literacy.

“(A)n information literate student should be able to conceptualize a research problem, state it clearly, identify the nature and scope of information needed, find that information efficiently and effectively, evaluate it well, organize it, and apply it competently and ethically to the problem at hand.” (Badke 23)

While these steps are most often explored in a research paper project, information literacy skills are used within disciplines in other ways. Scientists and social scientists write literature reviews to track the directions new research is heading. Engineers identify patents to understand how technology is evolving. Business managers seek out best practices to improve marketing cloud-based services to enterprise clients. In each case, information literacy skills help professionals understand where relevant data is found, how it’s organized, and how to apply it to the problem. Information literacy can be a framework to approach discipline inquiry.

Information literacy broadens students’ views of a discipline by working first hand with its literature. Students in upper level history and English classes work with primary texts to hone their analytical skills. Teaching students to critically read research papers help them to analyze experimental methodologies and interpret conclusions.  Tracking a citation over time demonstrates the impact of research. Analyzing web information for credibility improves bias-detection skills.  These are a few creative ways to engage students through information literacy instruction.

In the next blog entry in this series I’ll discuss threshold concepts, a way to approach information literacy that transforms student perceptions about information.

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Mourning Aaron Swartz

In October I noted the pending case against Aaron Swartz, an MIT fellow and proponent for the open access movement who was caught illegally downloading millions of academic journal articles from JSTOR.  This past weekend Aaron’s suicide hit the national news and blog-sphere and between the mentions of his technical achievements (helping create RSS at age 14, and a founder of Reddit), the discussion of free access to information continue. Obviously this complex and brilliant young man was a bright light to many who ponder where our electronic world is heading, and he was not shy about taking a stand for what he believed in. In honor of his achievements, take time this week to read more about Aaron and the Open Access movement.

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New Springer Web Site

Springer quietly relaunched their e-book platform
this month, with the old gaudy orange interface soon going away.  Two primary ways to access material are by using the search box at the top and browsing by disciplines listed along the left side. Users can access the advanced search page by clicking on the cog icon appearing next to the search box.

The new site contains tens of thousands of books to read and download.  Creating a personal account opens up more features and soft copies of books can be purchased for $24.95.

A new mini-site Springer Realtime was also launched that displays info-graphics like real-time user locations on a world map, a tag cloud of top search words and Twitter-like feed showing top title downloads. For coolness factor, check out the Icons page as it drop covers Matrix-style.


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New Engineering Research Guide

If you’re looking for a quick and easy way to access online resources for engineering, check out the new research guide at  This new site integrates all the prior research guides serving the engineering program, and adds new pages for mechanical engineering, senior design project and graduate resources.

This guide is important for off-campus users as database links are proxy-enabled, which means by using them you’ll be authenticated as an SMU user before going onto IEEE Xplore and other private databases.

The guide features a new search on the home page.  Called “Engineering Search Widget”, it uses the same Discover SMU search engine with a focus on our subscribed engineering resources.

Check it out!

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Harnessing Databases Seminar Slide Deck

We wrapped up our second and final session of “Harnessing Databases for Better Research” and most of our attendees wanted to get a copy of the slide deck we used.  Here’s the link:


Next semester we’re planning more seminars for graduate students.  Stay tuned!

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Mexican Drug Cartels Kidnap Engineers

Mexican Cartels Enslave Engineers to Build Radio Network
By Robert Beckhusen, November 1, 2012

One gruesome side effect of the rise of large drug cartels in Mexico is personal safety of engineers. The Zeta cartel, one of the largest criminal organizations, built and maintains a radio network through kidnapping and enslaving computer and network engineers. Engineers and technicians from IBM and ICA Fluor Daniel have gone missing over the past four years, never to be heard from again. Despite efforts from the Mexican military to locate and dismantle radio towers, cartels continue to add new ones in even more remote areas.

Narco Radio Tower Seized in Veracruz

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Peek Inside Data Center Innovation

Google Throws Open Doors to Its Top-Secret Data Center
By Steven Levy, October 17, 2012

North Korea has nothing on the nature of secrets when compared to Google’s data centers. For years reporters, competitors and network nerds have tried to find out how Google works their magic of delivering greater amounts of data faster every day.  Did you know they are the masters of server farm cooling? Or they’ve built much of their own equipment since 1999? If your future direction is to work or operate a data center, check this out!

Explore a Google Data Center

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Other Voices, Other Blogs:

Curious about presidential candidate’s position on science issues?  So are the National Academies, the Council on Competitiveness and a host of professional and academic groups, which created the web site  The site hosts “Barack Obama’s and Mitt Romney’s answers to the top American science questions: 2012” a series of questions and answers posted to both candidates. Issues of federal research funding, science education, climate change, and energy are addressed. The site also serves as a hub to news and opinion regarding the presidential race and its impact on the sciences.

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Library Services – Interlibrary Loan

While we often boast of our 2+ million books and having access to thousands of journals at our fingertips, SMU libraries doesn’t have the budget or space to acquire everything. Interlibrary loan (ILL) is one of our workhorse services, giving us the ability to borrow materials from around the world. Recently SMU joined the Greater Western Library Alliance (GWLA), a consortium of 32 research libraries in the central and western US. One big impact of joining this consortium is the speed we can get materials, dropping from weeks to days or even hours. If you’ve been dissatisfied with the time it takes to get books or articles in the past, I suggest you give ILL another try – you’ll likely be surprised!

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