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Ringmasters of the EndNote Circus: Orchestrating Citation Management Software Literacy Efforts from the R&I Perspective


Chapel Cowden and Beverly Kutz

This article is based on a presentation at the Tennessee Library Association Annual Conference (Memphis, TN) in April 2015.


Librarians are often called on to provide instruction and support for topics or services that might appear to be outside of our bailiwick. Just such a conundrum arose recently when the UTC campus adopted the citation management tool, EndNote. The UTC Library, recognized as the best place on campus to receive citation-related information and assistance, became the de facto provider of EndNote training and information. In this presentation, learn how you can integrate any citation management tool into your information literacy sessions, adapt lesson plans, partner with faculty, develop tools for on-campus and distance students, and provide assistance beyond the 8-to-5 Monday-to-Friday timeframe for any citation management software, and jump through flaming hoops (just kidding). We will explore our successes and challenges, and will share tools and lesson plans that can be remixed or reused to provide support and instruction for any software. Ladies and gentlemen, step right up!


Welcome to the CMT Big Top!

Supporting a citation management tool (CMT) product on an academic campus can feel like being the ringmaster of a three-ring circus! Serving largely as sole support to a few thousand faculty, staff, graduate, and undergraduate students is a bit like being up on the high wire with nothing but a paper parasol as your safety net. If this sounds familiar, keep reading and you will be entertained and amazed (hopefully!) and informed (definitely!) about strategies for providing training and support for citation management on your campus.

You may be wondering why librarians (and not university IT) are supporting a citation management tool. Though it may not be the library’s bread and butter, providing instruction for a citation management tool does indeed fit into information literacy. The newly crafted ACRL Framework states that learners who are constructing their information literacy abilities respect the original ideas of others and give credit to those ideas through proper attribution and citation (Association of College & Research Libraries, 2015). Here lies the fit and the reason why we, as librarians, support a citation management tool for our campus.

In considering our roles as ringmasters, we realized that our efforts can be compared to three circus rings:

Ring 1 (Center Ring): Instructional efforts with citation management tools 
Ring 2: Tools for supporting citation management activities
Ring 3: The “challenges” of supporting the use of a CMT 

A bit of background

The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga (UTC) is a mid-sized public university with just under 12,000 students supported by 2,000 full-time and part-time faculty and staff. The UTC Library has 21 librarians, six of whom are instruction-focused, and 20 staff members.  

The Library provides a subscription to Thomson Reuters’ EndNote to faculty, staff, and students. EndNote offers researchers and writers a way to store, organize, and share references. It allows users to produce bibliographies in any of 6,000+ styles. Its Cite While You Write (CWYW) feature works with Microsoft Word and a few other word processing programs to allow writers to easily cite sources in any style and concurrently build reference lists with those sources. The online and desktop versions sync automatically so that citations, attachments, reference groups, and annotations are available to the user anywhere, anytime.

While the use of EndNote online for a few citations in an undergraduate paper is relatively simple, the stakes are higher and usage is far more complex with a doctoral dissertation, master’s thesis, or faculty publication. EndNote users engaged at this level of research and writing often require in-depth training and support in their use of the more robust desktop version of EndNote. In this paper, we outline the strategies and tools we have developed that allow a small number of librarians to provide training and technical support to a mid-sized campus community. We also share support tools and artifacts (see URL at end).

Erecting the tent: A history of EndNote at UTC

There are a number of excellent citation management tools on the market. Although we find EndNote to be an excellent tool for researchers and writers, it is not our intent to promote EndNote as the best or only CMT. To this end, a little history on the use of EndNote at UTC wouldn’t go amiss. 

There are a number of citation management tools utilized by various faculty on the UTC campus, but prior to 2008 UTC did not provide a subscription to faculty or students for any citation management tool. In 2007 the UTC Library established a subscription to Thomson Reuters’ Web of Science® and in 2008 added a subscription to EndNote online (then called EndNote Web). As part of making this new software tool available to campus, the Library began offering workshops designed to help faculty and students learn to use EndNote Web. Although UTC did not offer a subscription to the desktop version of EndNote at that time, by 2010 we had begun teaching EndNote desktop to graduate students. We were finding that increasing numbers of students completing a thesis or dissertation were being strongly encouraged by their departments to use EndNote. In 2012, the UTC Library began offering the campus a subscription to EndNote desktop as well as EndNote online, and by the 2013-2014 academic year, the UTC Graduate School started requiring the use of a citation management tool with all theses and dissertations. Primarily because of the subscription, Library-led training, and Library-provided support for EndNote, graduate students were advised to choose EndNote as their CMT. Today we have a few thousand EndNote online and desktop users (see Figures 1 and 2 for an idea of the number of new users).


Figure 1. EndNote online accounts created by UTC students, staff and faculty 2011-2015

Figure 2. EndNote Desktop downloads 2013-2014

Figure 2 shows the number of (cumulative) EndNote desktop downloads from September 2013 to September 2014. We had an additional 517 EndNote desktop downloads this past 2014-2015 academic year.

With the availability of EndNote to a campus community of over 12,000 people, there is a significant demand for software training and support. Currently most of this support is being delivered by only two librarians!  In order to avoid being overwhelmed by the demands for individual support as well as the delivery of training, we have had to don our Ringmaster top hats and get a bit creative.

Ring 1: Drawing the Crowd

In order to facilitate the use of EndNote on campus and support the student population in its use, it was necessary to develop a full slate of instructional offerings. The development of these offerings was not immediate, but instead grew over the course of a few years. The first venture into this arena took the form of workshops. While workshops saw more participants in the infancy of the program, they are currently experiencing a decline in attendance. Workshops are now offered a handful of times throughout the fall and spring semesters to modest audiences numbering from two to 12 each. The declining numbers may be due in part to a new model for workshops: the “workshop on demand.” This model allows professors to book these sessions as stand-alone workshops during their regularly scheduled class times (we count these as classes rather than workshops).  

Our primary instructional offerings for EndNote take the shape of good old-fashioned bibliographic instruction sessions, in partnership with faculty in other departments. A large number of faculty on our campus make use of EndNote and see the value of it for their students. They are often tired of receiving work containing abysmally constructed citations and look to the Library for help. Classroom instruction for EndNote usually includes a focus upon the importance of properly citing sources and the effective organization of references and their corresponding articles. Several of our undergraduate and graduate classes have some sort of EndNote instructional component. For example, the UTC English department offers a Scientific Writing course (ENGL2820) that provides students with valuable experience developing a research proposal which includes a literature review. Several of the Scientific Writing professors bring their classes to the library to meet with an instruction librarian for help with scientific literature searches and to learn how to use EndNote online. While it could be argued that students should learn to construct citations on their own (and we wholeheartedly agree), utilizing EndNote in Scientific Writing research both requires a strong understanding of a given citation style and allows the students to work with a tool that will be valuable to them when writing future scientific reports and articles.

Catch ‘em before the first act: Introduce EndNote at orientation

We find that faculty and graduate students are often unaware of citation management tools, or they don’t realize that UTC Library offers EndNote subscriptions, training, and support.  Sometimes this lack of awareness exacts a hefty penalty for graduate students who are coming down the home stretch on a dissertation or thesis only to be told that they have to remove all their manually created citations and bibliography and replace them with citations from a CMT like EndNote. The earlier we can help raise awareness of the requirement for a CMT, the better.

We are invited to introduce EndNote at a number of orientations on campus. For example, the UTC Graduate School conducts orientation sessions for all new graduate students each fall. Instruction librarians have a portion of this time to talk about EndNote. An orientation where people are being inundated with information is definitely not the place to do any extensive training, so we take this time as an opportunity to introduce ourselves, tell them students they’ll be using a citation management tool for their thesis or dissertation, show them where to find the EndNote software, and point out training opportunities as well as how to get help. Even this amount of information can be a bit overwhelming, so we share key information via a public slideshow in Google Docs and then provide attendees with a small card containing the URL to the document.

Keeping in mind that your audience is distracted and often a bit overwhelmed, and your presentation time is limited, an effective CMT orientation presentation generally involves little more than showing students:

Where to get the citation management software
Where to find online tutorials and help
How to get personal help

Fill the stands: Instruction by the numbers

EndNote instruction represents a hefty percentage of our bibliographic instruction. Figure 3 illustrates that in the past four years our EndNote instruction has ranged from 9% to 15% of our total classes. Considering that during that same period our average number of classes was 344 annually, that means our EndNote instruction has ranged from approximately 30 to 50 EndNote classes per year. Plus, as you know, there are always students who are absent the day their class comes to the library for instruction and they need to be “caught up.” We found ourselves not only teaching a significant number of EndNote sessions, but also doing quite a lot of individual tutoring as well.


Figure 3. EndNote classes as percentage of total classes taught

Tightrope walking: Online instruction

A few years ago UTC began to really focus on distance education and online learning. We realized that online education presents entirely new challenges in delivering EndNote instruction and support. We researched a number of online training delivery tools such as WebEx, Adobe Connect, GoToMeeting, etc. We knew we needed an online meeting space that would allow us to deliver classes and workshops and provide individual tutoring and troubleshooting.

The University made our decision for us when they purchased several Adobe Connect classrooms and allotted two of them to the Library. We use these classrooms for individual assistance when a student or faculty member is unable to meet face-to-face. We have also delivered an EndNote online workshop using Adobe Connect which was recorded and made available on our EndNote web page. We expect to do many more online recorded workshops and classes as we build our support for the University’s online education program.

Crack the whip: Train the trainer classes

We definitely needed help teaching all these classes and workshops! While we continue to provide the lion’s share of EndNote training and support, we know that we need a broader base of support in the Library. Although nothing is a substitute for using a CMT with one's own research and writing, we felt that there were things we could do to help our fellow instruction librarians become more fluent with EndNote. We started with a focus on EndNote instruction and instituted train the trainer classes! The focus of our train the trainer sessions is to provide other instruction librarians with both a familiarity with the CMT software and with tips and guidelines for delivering EndNote online instruction. In a typical session we cover:

How best to engage student interest in the CMT
Step-by-step example lesson plans
Tips on delivering CMT training

We actually go through an entire class on EndNote online, allowing our colleagues to participate as students but also focusing upon how to get certain key points across and discussing specific software details that need to be covered.

To keep up our high standards for training, we gave these new EndNote instructors extensive documentation on the what, whys, and hows of successful EndNote training sessions. We also provided a suggested EndNote online instruction outline:

1. Give students a reason to care—what does the product do?
2. Create an account
3. Add references (from multiple databases)
4. Review references
5. Demo other features of the product (attaching PDFs, creating groups, etc.)
6. Creating bibliographies; integrating the sources into your paper!

For more details, go to the URL at the end of this document and see Teaching EndNote Online in the Train the Trainer folder.

Ring 2: Online support tools

No matter how many workshops we run or classes we teach, or how many other EndNote instructors we recruit, there’s a 24/7 element to CMT support that we just couldn’t fulfill without the benefit of online support tools. Online support tools allow us to:

Provide EndNote information and help after hours
Co-locate materials in an easily accessible location
Assist professors and students of distance education classes
Save our time by directing patrons to “frequently asked questions”  materials online rather than answering the same questions repeatedly 

Types of online support tools

Library website
The Library website was our first consideration for online support. To keep our EndNote help page clean and easy to navigate, we pared it down to just the essentials plus a brief frequently asked questions section. We considered the following challenges when designing the site: 

A concern that users won’t know where to start or what kind of help to choose if they have no prior EndNote experience
Include everything we want while still keeping the page spare and clean
We looked at our considerable list of frequently asked questions and wondered how much they would really help

Our website currently offers a brief description of the two versions of EndNote with some verbiage to help students choose the version best for their work. In addition the site provides:

A link to set up an EndNote online account
Instructions and links for downloading EndNote desktop software
A curated list of links to online training
A brief EndNote FAQ

Download instructions for databases

Every database vendor platform handles the export of EndNote data differently. Early in our EndNote support efforts, we were fielding a significant number of questions each semester about downloading references to EndNote. We were concerned that our patrons needed download help at times when we weren’t available to answer their questions. An additional consideration was that every librarian spends at least an hour a week answering questions at the Reference (now Commons) Desk, yet not all librarians were as familiar with EndNote as we were.

To answer these concerns, we developed an online solution, making EndNote download instructions available on our library EndNote help page in the box titled “Exporting from Databases to EndNote,”

Though originally a Google Docs spreadsheet listing download instructions for Windows-based computers, this help tool has evolved over the years into a SQL database where we store download instructions by database vendor, including instructions for both Windows and Mac users. Each year, we plow through our entire list of vendors, checking that our download directions are accurate, and making necessary corrections. This yearly overhaul is a fairly time-consuming endeavor but the results have been satisfying. While the number of database exports to EndNote continues to rise, the number of help desk questions about database downloads has dropped to nearly zero. Plus, all librarians have this online tool to help them answer the random EndNote download question. 

Recommendations for implementing an online list of EndNote database download guidelines:

Choose a default browser. We chose Mozilla Firefox because it seemed to have the fewest problems or inconsistencies. It also works with both Windows and Mac.
If your default browser doesn’t work well with the vendor platform, identify which browser provides best performance.
If your CMT has both online and desktop versions, consider providing written instructions for each. The process for downloading to EndNote online is often different from that for EndNote desktop.
Although our backend organization centers on the vendor platform, the dropdown list on the website uses the database names. Although we’ve all had patrons who answered the question “What database are you using?” with an answer like “EBSCO,” in general, patrons identify the actual database name.

Online tutorials

Online tutorials and videos can be a dilemma. On one hand, tutorials and videos are effective as a first stop for students looking for help. On the other hand, online tutorials/videos are time-consuming to create and require constant maintenance and replacement as software and features change. 

We provide a curated list of tutorials on our EndNote help page. This list includes basic EndNote training videos produced by Thomson Reuters and UTC EndNote workshops recorded using Adobe Connect. Most importantly, we provide a link to the EndNote YouTube channel from Thomson Reuters. 

You cannot create all the tutorials that will be needed. Our advice is to look for any training or online assistance offered by the CMT company.

Although online tutorials are great, the bottom line is that many folks will attempt to use these (especially the short ones), but will often still need help or have more questions. People really just want that individual assistance!

Chat service

Ask a Librarian chat service is another way for patrons to get help with basic EndNote questions any time the library is open, although our statistics show that only a small percentage of our chat traffic concerns EndNote.

E-mail me, maybe
We field a fairly substantial number of EndNote questions by e-mail. Out of curiosity, one of us tracked our e-mail support questions for the past few years (see Figures 4 and 5).


Figure 4. EndNote e-mail assistance from one librarian


Figure 5. EndNote e-mail assistance as percentage of total e-mail help from one librarian

Many of the longer e-mail exchanges are with graduate students using EndNote for their dissertations and theses.

How many times do I have to repeat myself?

We often found ourselves typing the same long sets of step-by-step instructions or advice to patrons. We started saving documents which we could copy and paste into new e-mails as needed. Our problem was remembering where we stored the documents!  The answer to this was an online tool just for us: a wiki. This wiki is primarily a support tool for the librarians, helping us to organize our own responses to common questions, store the (hard-won) answers to tricky or difficult questions, and keep our EndNote knowledge-base at our fingertips. We also point patrons to the wiki on occasion.

Ring 3: Individual support

These are the areas that are more of a challenge. In EndNote support, this is the personal, one-on-one level where we get down and dirty! Where we get down in the sawdust and deal with each individual steaming elephantine pile of EndNote trouble!

We provide EndNote support to individuals in a number of ways:

in-person research appointments
online research appointments via Adobe Connect
telephone research appointments
via chat with our Ask a Librarian service
e-mail assistance

UTC instruction librarians conduct an average of over 200 individual research appointments each year. The percentage of these research appointments that concern EndNote is growing rapidly as you can see in Figure 6. In 2014, 47% of our one-on-one appointments were EndNote focused.


Figure 6. EndNote research appointments as a percentage of the total

Without some careful planning, individual CMT support can EAT YOU ALIVE!

Over the past three years, we have seen quite a number of graduate students who were close to defending a dissertation or thesis but had somehow missed (or thought they were exempt from) the mandate from the Graduate School that they must use a CMT like EndNote. As you can imagine, the news that they must now go back and build an EndNote library with all their references, and dismantle their Word document in order to insert citations and bibliography using the EndNote software, is a dismaying prospect. (We’ve come to consider a box of tissues as a basic necessity for these high-stakes in-person consultations!) Working with citation management tools can be really frustrating and cause much tension and stress. It’s not enough for us to have technical expertise. It’s also important for us to embody those soft skills of diplomacy and compassion.

Regardless of where the adoption of EndNote falls in the dissertation schedule, working with these graduate students often involves long sessions, fairly tricky problem-solving, and in-depth technical assistance. 

One lesson we’ve learned is to ask students who want help learning EndNote to watch an online training video before coming for a personal appointment. Whether the student is learning EndNote desktop or the online version, viewing an online training video before a consultation with us reduces the amount of time we spend on basic “how to use EndNote” concepts and allows us to focus on more advanced topics and to have more time for individual problem-solving. 

In addition to Kleenex and compassion, we’ve also found written guidelines to be helpful. Currently we are collaborating with one of the directors of the Learning and Leadership (EdD) program on campus, providing extensive, detailed guidelines on using EndNote with EdD dissertations. These instructions will be posted in the graduate students’ course management system (Blackboard). A copy of this draft document is included in the cache of artifacts available at the URL provided at the end of this article.

Free tickets to our circus

Supporting a CMT like EndNote on a campus our size with just a couple of people dedicated to the task has presented an interesting series of challenges. What we’ve described in this paper represents an organic process over the years of developing tools, skills, and an infrastructure to manage the rapidly expanding CMT training and technical support demands. Specifically, our answer to these demands has been a combination of developing training protocols, creating a variety of online support tools, using existing vendor-created training and support, recruiting our instruction colleagues to the EndNote training/support effort, and continuing to learn from our mistakes and successes!

We are sharing with you the tools and training protocols we’ve developed. These are available at  (note: this URL is case sensitive).

We would love to hear about your experiences in supporting your own citation management software circus, and we welcome your feedback on the tools and techniques we’ve discussed.


Association of College & Research Libraries. (2015). Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education. Retrieved from


Chapel Cowden, Health and Science Librarian at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, can be reached at

Beverly Kutz, Instruction Librarian at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, can be reached at


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