OOo Off-the-Wall: Back to School with Bibliographies

Setting up a bibliography is hard enough, but misleading OOo examples don't help the process. Learn how to do it the right way.

A bibliography, also known as "Works Cited" or "Reference List", is a list of sources for ideas contained in a document. Typically, the list is accompanied by citations, brief references within the body of the document, that direct readers to detailed information in the list. Depending on the format used, both the sources of ideas and of direct quotations may be used in a bibliography.

Bibliographies are used commonly in academic or research papers. In that form, they are considered to be not only proof of honesty but also an acknowledgment of the author's intellectual debt to others.

Whether you are using the Chicago, Modern Languages Association or American Psychiatric Association style for bibliographies and citations, OOo Writer's bibliography tools are flexible enough to handle your needs. However, the process of creating the bibliography is confused by two things. For one, bibliographies are lumped together with indexes and tables of contents. Second, OOo Writer provides misleading samples for its bibliography database. For this reason, it is worth walking through the process step by step to avoid confusion.

The Parts of a Writer Bibliography

Information for Writer bibliographies may be stored in a database. There is a single database for each user of on the system. Called biblio.odb, it is located in the /.openoffice.org2/user/database folder in each user's home directory. It is based on the file of the same name in the /presets/database directory of the main installation in the /opt directory. When assembling a bibliography, you have the option of using this database or of storing bibliographic information within the current document.

Within a document, bibliographies consist of two parts:

  • The list of works at the end of a document. This list can be built by using records in the bibliographic database for the document or from records created when a text citation is entered.

  • The citations within the text of the document. These citations guide readers to the complete reference in the list at the end of the document. In Writer, they are made from the Short Name (Identifier) for a record. They are roughly equivalent to the entry markers used for other tables and indexes, but they are only one field in a database that has additional entries.

Working with the Database

Writer's database includes sample entries. Unfortunately, these samples need to be replaced, because they confuse more than they help. They are misleading or incomplete in several ways:

  • The Identifier, which is called the Short Name in Insert > Indexes and Tables > Bibliography Entry, is the content for the text citation or bibliographic entries. However, the sample entries use a meaningless code that is useless for citations unless they are changed.

  • The fact that which fields you need depends on the bibliographical style and the type of source you are using is obscured by the fact that all the samples are books. In fact, in any given record, many of the fields are going to be blank.

  • The samples use the fields incorrectly even for books. For example, they use the Title column, which is supposed to be for articles and shorter works, rather than the book column. Similarly, they use the Page field to list the number of pages in each book. In fact, the field is intended to list either the starting page or the range of pages covered by an article or smaller work. These errors could cause false results if you were searching for information.

These errors are worth noting, because you might spent long minutes puzzling how to apply the example of the samples. You can't, so delete the samples instead of wasting your time.

Modifying a Bibliographic Database

To add or edit a bibliographic database:

1. Select Tools > Bibliography Database. The bibliography database opens. Sample records are included.

2. If you are editing an existing database, use several buttons on the toolbar to help you find a record to edit:

  • The Autofilter arranges rows in alphabetical or numeric order according to the column you select. Using Author is often the most useful filter.

  • The Standard filter allows you to set custom filters based on the column, the condition and the value. For example, if you set the filter to Type=14, only unpublished sources would show.

  • The Remove filter button returns the display to the default setting of showing all records.

  • The Column Layout button sets the order of columns, starting from the left side of the table.

Each column head has a right-click menu that you can use to Hide the column to simplify the table. You can unhide columns by selecting Show Columns from any other column head.

3. Do one of the following:

  • To add a new record, select Insert > Record. A new row is added to the table. It has an arrow in the row header.

  • To edit an existing record, click anywhere on its row. The currently selected row is listed in the status bar of the database table.

The easiest place to add or edit information for a record is in the fields at the bottom of the screen. The fields correspond to the tables at the top of the screen.

You do not need to fill in all of the available screens. Instead, enter only the definitions you require for the form of citation you are using. A book, for example, requires different fields from a magazine article or an Internet site. Consult a guide to the bibliographical style that you are using for information about exactly what information each type of article needs.

Remember that each record must have:

  • A Short Name, called the Identifier in the database table. This field is the content for any text citations to the record. The structure for this field depends on the citation style and the type of record you are using.

  • A Type, such as book or unpublished.

For most citation formats, you also need to enter the Author, Book Title or Title for an article or shorter work, year of publication and the publisher. In some cases, you also may want to use one of the User-Defined fields for the city.

4. Add or edit any other records.

You do not need to worry about the order of records as you enter new ones. When you are finished, you can use the Autofilter button to arrange them in the order you prefer.

5. When you finish, close the bibliographic database window.

You do not need to save the database with a command. It is saved automatically when closed.


-- Bruce Byfield (nanday)


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Anonymous's picture

Is 1.2 the last version ?


filim's picture

Bibus is alive and very well - now works with both OOo and MsWord - latest release ver 1.2

Is possible Re-use bibliography for other style?

mauri's picture

Hi!, I have some questions.
- Is possible Re-use the bibliography for other styles? To complete a bibliographyc daba dase is a hard work for me. If I want use this bibliography for other journal, for example, I want to introduce:
Author(s): Borges Jose Luis, Garcia Juan.

Ok, then I'd want the reference will show for one journal
[1] Borges J. et al
and for other journal
[1] Borges Jose Luis, Garcia Juan
Is this possible? How?
In LaTeX, BitTex, the data needed is selected in the data base filtering with style selecting. In the first example, only the first letter "J" of de author name is selecting and "et al" is added, but the data base has all the name "Jose" and there are all author names "Borges Jose Luis Garcia Juan".

Thanks for your time and I'm sorry for my poor english.

Reference List

ajondo's picture

The part about setting the title for the bibliography was great help.

i did not know about how to re-title the bibliography Works if you are using the MLA style or Reference List.


APA - Psychologist, not Psychiatrist

Magnus Larsson's picture

Great HOWTO!

But as references concern details, and I am a psychologist, there is one detail that I want to comment on: To my knowledge, and according to the APA style manuals, APA stand for American Psychological Association, not American Psychiatric Association......


Magnus Larsson

Aren't the Short Names supposed to be meaningless in the Samples

Anonymous's picture

After all they are SAMPLES waiting for you to put in the Real Content.

Re: Aren't the Short Names supposed to be meaningless in the Sam

Bruce_Byfield's picture

My assumption is that a sample is meant to show you how to do something.

The sample database uses no recognized bibliographical style, and misuses the fields as well. In my book, that makes it useless as a sample.

A lot of people -- including me -- puzzled over the sample for some time before realizing how to use the database.

Title limits

Anonymous's picture

I tried to insert a book with a long title and it won't accept it. Do you know a solution for this?

ERROR MSG: The string 'EPA's Problems with Collection and Management of Scientific Data and Its Efforts To Address Them.' cannot be converted because it exceeds max length '50

Great article

Anonymous's picture

I just wrote a 20 page report not too long ago and having this article then would of been great. I hope in the future, OpenOffice will have a complete template setup for IEEE style for us Computer Students!

I could create one, but that would be too much work/time for me that I can currently afford.

If I do create one, is there a file a could backup and transfer to other pc's to provide my template to everyone ??




Stephan's picture

Well, let's face it - the current bibliography support in OpenOffice is a pain in the neck.
But wait - there is hope:
Check out Bibus. This Python program solved many of my referencing problems in OOo.

Isn't bibus outdated?

Anonymous's picture

Isn't bibus outdated? I heard that it isn't updated for some time now.

New Bibus release

Anonymous's picture

Bibus is alive and very well - now works with both OOo and MsWord - latest release ver 1.2


Anonymous's picture

Is 1.2 the last version ?

Yes, I think that the

TIMBaER's picture

Yes, I think that the current version (1.2) is the last version.

Distributing templates

Bruce_Byfield's picture


You could post your template to:

But check first. There may already be a template for the citation style you need.

Thank you!

Scriptics's picture

Hi Bruce,

thanks for the link!