4 minute read

Jekyll-scholar is a plugin that generates bibliographies and in-text citations, formatted according to any one of hundreds of citation styles. Getting it to work with GitHub Pages was not so easy.

Why jekyll-scholar?

I am at the literature review stage of my research process and, as I want to document each step, I thought I’d write a few posts on the papers and background topics I was reading. I soon realised, however, that I didn’t know how to add citations and generate a reference list in my markdown files (LaTex and BibTex have been my tools of choice for academic writing until now) in a way that works with jekyll and GitHub Pages and avoids me adding them manually (which does not scale).

Some googling led me to the jekyll-scholar plugin, which seems popular and sounded like exactly what I need. As usual with these things though, I quickly ran into some issues that took several hours to resolve.

In case it’s helpful to others, here’s what I had to do to get jekyll-scholar to work on my GitHub Pages site.

How to use jekyll-scholar with github-pages

1. Use GitHub Actions to build and deploy GitHub Pages site

For security reasons, only a limited number of third-party plugins are supported by the GitHub Pages automated build pipeline using the default 'Deploy from a branch' method. It is possible, however, to use GitHub’s continuous integration and continuous delivery (CI/CD) platform, Github Actions, and create a custom workflow that installs any jekyll plugin. This is actually very easy to do from your GitHub Pages repository page:

  1. Open the Settings–> Pages tab
  2. Under 'Build and Deployment', change the 'Source' from 'Deploy from a branch' to 'GitHub Actions'
  3. Add the suggested workflow yaml file (saved under .github/workflows)

You can see my final workflow file here.

Note: if you have a Gemfile.lock file committed to your repo then it may cause issues: add it to .gitignoreand remove it from your git cache (git rm --cache Gemfile.lock)

2. Add the jekyll-scholar plugin

This is also straightforward:

  1. Add gem "jekyll-scholar", group: :jekyll_plugins to your Gemfile (you can see mine here)
  2. Add - jekyll-scholar to your _config.yml (see mine here)

3. Downgrade ruby

Ideally, the two steps above would be all that is needed to get up and running with jekyll-scholar on GitHub Pages but when I tried adding a citation and building my site locally I got the error message Liquid Exception: tried to create Proc object without a block.

After a lot of googling I landed on the most likely source of the problem being incompatible ruby versions between github-pages and jekyll-scholar. I have not spent a lot of time trying to dig into this to figure out why it is an issue, or if there is a better way to solve it, but downgrading ruby from 3.1.2 to 2.7.2 solved the problem and so this is what I am doing for now.

Downgrade ruby locally

  1. Install older ruby version locally using chruby (ruby-install 2.7.2)
  2. Restart your terminal
  3. Select older ruby version with chruby 2.7.2
  4. Re-run bundle install to update gems
  5. Run bundle exec jekyll serve to validate fix

Downgrade ruby in build pipeline

  1. Add a .ruby-version file to the root of your repo and specify ruby version 2.7.2
  2. Remove the ruby version line from the jekyll.yml workflow

4. Add a BibTex file with a list of references

Export a list of references in BibTex format from your reference manager, name it references.bib and place this file into a new folder called _bibliography.

5. Choose a citation style

The default style used by jekyll-scholar is apa but this can be changed in the _config.yml file to any csl style (I found the style repository from Zotero useful for choosing one of these).

How to remove the duplicate numbers using a numeric citation style with jekyll-scholar

I wanted a numeric citation style and ran into difficulty with the list of references doubling up on the numbers (see the issues reported here and here). This is due to jekyll-scholar using an ordered list for the references, which by default adds extra numbers.

I used the solution suggested by the developer and added <style>ol.bibliography li { list-style: none }</style> to the layout file of my posts. This results in a list without numbers but it does not offset the numbers as it should according to the style. I will look into this further at a later date.

6. Add citations and a reference list

You can now add citations and lists of references following the syntax described here.

For example, here is a reference to one of the first SETI papers [1].

Now I can get on with my literature review and make notes with citations as I go along.


  1. 1. Cocconi G, Morrison P: Searching for Interstellar Communications. Nature 1959, 184:844–846.