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Publish, don't perish – Instalment 32

Download this!

While Instalment 31 of this column talked about free online tools for librarian authors, you can also find a number of free downloadable software packages to install on your own computer. These sometimes offer functionality or features not yet available in web-based applications, or can offer a sense of privacy, security, or robustness that similar online applications lack.

You may wish to investigate downloadable options rather than online tools if your Internet access is spotty, you often work on the road and might lack access, or you simply prefer your applications to reside on your own desktop. You may also find useful additional features in some of these applications: choose what best suits your purposes and working style.

In some cases, it can be difficult to differentiate between online and downloadable applications, reflecting our increasingly interconnected and always-online world. Browser extensions add functionality to your Internet experience; toolbars enable interaction with online communities. Find the right mix for the way you work and write.

Process this

Librarian writers tired of shelling out money for Microsoft Office and its ongoing upgrades can look into OpenOffice, a free, open source alternative. Its components include Writer, a full-featured word processor capable of saving in .doc and other formats, the Calc spreadsheet, Impress, for multimedia presentations, Draw, for creating diagrams and illustrations, the Base database application, and Math, for mathematical equations. New versions of OpenOffice are quite robust, making it a viable and attractive alternative to MS Office.

The principles behind open source software also dovetail nicely with the principles of librarianship; some librarian authors choose to use OpenOffice and other open source tools out of a philosophical commitment. Those with needed areas of expertise can also personally contribute to the development of OpenOffice and other open source software – you may, for instance, choose to combine your writing and technical skills to create documentation for these types of tools.

If you miss the days of simple full-screen text editors, minus the distractions and clutter (not to mention the bells and whistles!) of contemporary word processors, you can instead check out the multiplatform JDarkRoom. Just pick a colour scheme, and type away. JDarkRoom, as well as similar editors like DarkRoom for Windows or WriteRoom (for Macs) can be especially useful for projects like stream-of-consciousness morning pages. They also de-clutter the screen when you find it hard to resist checking e-mail, playing with fonts, browsing the Web, or otherwise distracting yourself from the hard work of writing.

Get social

The eSnips toolbar works with multiple browsers, letting users both upload and share their own content, and save web snippets or full pages for future reference. (The eSnips folks formerly produced the Net Snippets information management software, which as of March 2007 is no longer being updated or supported.) eSnips, a social content-sharing site, encourages users to form topical communities, and librarian writers might here find a new audience for their work.

Organize and find

Firefox aficionados can download and install Zotero, an extension "to help you collect, manage, and cite your research sources". Zotero automatically extracts citation information from web pages, and integrates with Microsoft Word and other word processors to allow you to insert formatted references and generate bibliographies. Zotero also lets you store PDFs and web pages for later offline reference or preservation, and includes easy note taking and search features.

Still in the note taking stage? EverNote is a handy application that lets you create and organize your notes on any research project. An intuitive interface and heavy-duty search help you find data. You can also export web or e-mail content into EverNote, drag and drop content in and out of the application, and send notes to others via IM or e-mail for easy collaboration.

If you attend library school or work in an academic institution, see if your institution has purchased a campus-wide licence for citation management software such as EndNote. (At a number of campuses, you will be able to download and install the software from a school-sponsored page by using your student or faculty ID.) EndNote helps users organize references, create bibliographies and import formatted citations.

Prolific writers who find simple spreadsheets insufficiently robust for their needs can also investigate submission tracking tools. These allow librarian authors to track where their articles are currently being considered, where they have been accepted, and where they have been rejected. One option here is Sonar, which lets you track the status of multiple submissions and organize information on various publication outlets. If you have only one or two submissions circulating at any one time, Sonar will be overkill; if you have multiple submissions going or are intending on launching a writing career, a tool like this can be invaluable.

Create connections

FreeMind, free Java-based mind mapping software, can be used for tasks as various as mapping out complex projects, brainstorming ideas, seeing relationships between multiple projects or creating a personal knowledge base. Mind mapping software helps users visualize and conceptualize relationships, and can be especially helpful to librarian writers who tend to work in a non-linear fashion.

Another tool, Vizual Einstein ME, serves as a "visual manager of information and ideas" and lets users store, visualize, cross-reference, and find information. Create notes, then generate links between them to map ideas and their relationships; notes can later be exported in text, RTF, or HTML format for use in other documents.

Of course, even the best software is only a tool, and these options only offer various ways of working with and organizing content. A solid tool, though, can remove some of the frustrations in organizing and working with content and let you focus on what’s truly important – your writing.