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The future of Citavi licenses at universities – an uncertainty that also affects the TUHH

Executive Summary

The future of the Citavi Campus license at the Hamburg University of Technology (TUHH) after March 2025 is uncertain. Citavi, a reference management program that has been used at the TUHH for many years, has undergone a dynamic development: From enthusiasm about many functions to current uncertainties due to company takeovers and data protection concerns.

  • Looking back: Citavi has been used at the TUHH since 2008.In addition to program functions, the reliable support was so convincing that a campus license was purchased. In addition to the official Citavi support, the university library provided assistance with questions about Citavi.
  • Present: The takeover of Citavi by companies such as Lumivero triggered data protection concerns, among other things. The quality of the previously reliable official support declined.
  • Outlook: The TUHH cannot guarantee a license renewal after March 2025. Recommendations and support for the choice and use of alternatives are offered and developed by the TUB’s literature management team.

The following article offers more detailed insights into the historical development, current criticism as well as recommendations and alternatives to Citavi and literature management at the TUHH.

For many years, the reference management program Citavi has been used by many members of the Hamburg University of Technology (TUHH) for working with literature. It is not yet possible to say conclusively how licensing will continue after March 2025. In this article, a (critical) look at the development of Citavi and current recommendations for the use of reference management programs are shared:

1. A look back – Citavi and other programs at the TUHH

Researchers at the TUHH discovered Citavi in 2008 and were so enthusiastic that the computer center ultimately financed a campus license. The University Library organized the necessary support. From 2011 there was also a Citavi team version. This made it possible to create and edit individual or team projects of any size. The EndNote reference management program, which had also been frequently used until then, quickly lost its importance for TUHH researchers. At the beginning of 2017, the Computing Center finally stopped purchasing EndNote licenses. In addition to Citavi, the reference management service Mendeley, which came into play as an appealing free and web-based tool for reference management, has certainly contributed to this in the meantime. After Mendeley was sold in 2013 to Elsevier, which at the time was primarily a scientific publisher, and new business models for reference management were introduced, many of Mendeley’s advantages fell victim to the scissors. Citavi, on the other hand, continued to develop and added a comprehensive knowledge management system. While many researchers enjoyed using Citavi, the library also had to face criticism time and again. Why is a commercial Windows-only program supported? The answer was, with a clear conscience, for many years: because it is so good and the support was exemplary at the time. The support team was usually able to solve questions quickly and easily.

2. A look at the present: the adoption of Citavi, discussions in the community and triggers

A leap into the year 2023: The market for reference management programs is in a similarly dynamic phase as the academic publishing landscape. Continuous critical observation is imperative.

2.1 The Citavi takeover

Citavi, which was once developed by the Swiss development company Swiss Academic and received excellent support from them, is increasingly coming under fire. After an initial sale to the company QSR International in 2021, Citavi has been offered via Lumivero since 2022. Lumivero is a data analysis software platform that resulted from the merger of QSR International, Palisade and Addinsoft. This is in line with the trend of service providers and publishers trying to attract researchers (and the associated data) with a comprehensive portfolio of tools, including reference management programs. In addition, research behavior and trends are also to be sounded out in order to be used in “tailor-made” offers. There is also no clarity regarding future pricing. There are therefore fears in many places that Citavi may no longer be licensed in the near future.

2.2 Exchange in the community, termination of licenses at other universities and details of the reasons for this

In addition to increasing discussions in forums, social networks and mailing lists, a recent (virtual) exchange of experiences on switching from Citavi to Zotero, in which around 240 people including colleagues from the TUB took part, highlighted the urgency of the issue.

Citavi has always been a popular software for literature management, not only at the TUHH, but in German-speaking countries in general. In addition to the range of functions, this is also due to the campus licenses available in many places. University members in Germany generally do not pay for the use of Citavi, as the respective universities or university libraries bear the costs.

Development since the takeover: decline in support
The Citavi takeovers mentioned above present universities, libraries and other information institutions with various challenges. The once exemplary Citavi support (including direct contact persons and fast response times) is showing an increasingly negative trend. The day-to-day work of the TUB’s reference management team has shown that requests for minor and major support requirements are arriving in the task pool far more frequently than was previously the case. These include, among others:

  • non-functioning logins,
  • missing license links,
  • incorrect data deliveries.

Other participating institutions at the above-mentioned event reported similar experiences.

Data protection concerns

In addition to the support issue, data protection concerns also play a decisive role when taking a critical look at the development of Citavi. Lumivero is a US company and the USA is not a safe third country in terms of EU data protection law. In Baden-Württemberg, these developments have already led to the Citavi state license expiring on March 31, 2024. Citavi was previously available there via a consortium license at all universities in Baden-Württemberg. Similar decisions are also imminent elsewhere. This also means that more services and communication for switching to alternative reference management programs must be offered with relatively little lead time (sometimes a few months to a year).

3. A look into the future: need for action at the TUHH

Even though the Citavi Campus license at the TUHH runs until March 2025: The University Library cannot currently guarantee an extension beyond this date. This blog post and other communication channels are therefore intended to inform you as early as possible that Citavi may no longer be licensed at the TUHH.

3.1 Recommendation and Zotero as an alternative

As Citavi only runs on Windows computers, the TUHH has been offering advice on the open source alternative Zotero for many years. This includes workshops, seminars and individual consultation appointments. In the coming year, the TUB will also create instructions for a (potential) switchover in addition to previous tutorials.

For long-term projects at the TUHH, it is first important to consider research and project planning (note the time frame) and the individual functions required (see also the survey on the functions used by reference management programs at the TUHH). Considering the leaps in development of Zotero (increasing comparability of the range of functions), it is then important to weigh up which reference management program offers the most promising or sustainable perspective for your own research.

3.2 Support from the TUB’s literature management team

For researchers and other members of the TUHH who are faced with the decision to switch to a new reference management program or the basic choice of a reference management program, the TUB Reference Management Team offers comprehensive support as usual.

Questions? We will be happy to advise you on reference management

The Literature Management team welcomes your questions by email to literaturverwaltung@tuhh.de. You are also welcome to use our open online consultation hours via Zoom (identification code: 503035; meeting ID: 832 9724 8626) for questions regarding literature management (Fridays from 09:00 to 09:30).

Alexander Unteutsch
Telephone: +49 40 42878 2855

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