Sunday, 2 October 2011

Thing 14: Organising references

I remember quite clearly the trauma of attempting to sort out my references for an assignment. Aged 17, in college studying Psychology and Sociology. We were told to find our own citation style and just stick to it. I disliked the tutor immediately. I wanted rules. It should have been clearer to me at that point that perhaps I was destined for a career in information management, rather than health and social care.

Going back to University as an adult, studying for an Open University degree and I was swimming in citation rules. The MLA citation style handbook was permanently lodged in my bag, pages folded, sticky notes all over it, stars and question marks pencilled in the margins. It was painful. Creating a bibliography was one of those jobs that seemed to require an awful lot of effort with very little visible reward.

Fast forward two years later and I found myself with an old and clunky version of Endnote reference manager. I wasn't about to dump my handbook yet, but my attitude towards my references changed. I found myself saving references, even if I hadn't used them in my work. My personal research library was born. A change of workplace (and computer), and an introduction to Refworks meant that I had to dump my library with no easy way to transfer the files between the two. (Dare I admit my Endnote library was on a 2.5" floppy disc?)

Now, a switch in citation software wouldn't be quite so traumatic, and it certainly wouldn't result in the loss of several years of citation collections. The first thing I noted when downloading Mendeley was the option to import my existing libraries from either Endnote or Zotero. There was even the ability to sync with CiteULike.

I recently compared different citation software packages, putting CiteUlike, Connotea, Endnote, Refworks and Zotero to the test. You can see my thoughts on the packages here via Google Docs. But I didn't include Mendeley. I can happily admit that this was a mistake. It's got some excellent functionality, combining both a reference management system and the social elements of connecting and collaborating with researchers. It is very similar and has a lot in common with Zotero, but each seems to have it's own strengths. Zotero is great for grabbing citation information from the web, as it's embedded within your browser.  And in the same way that bookmarking tools like Delicious, CiteULike, etc are being used for resource discovery, so is Mendeley.  What's most interesting about Mendeley is it's apparent goal to make science research accessible to all and is encouraging authors who own the copyright to their papers to upload it and make it freely available. [Telegraph]

I played with it for a long time. Discovered with great delight I could add an app to my smart phone so my documents really could travel with me. I have only one teeny tiny complaint and that is around connecting to other researchers. I don't personally know Paul Matthews, lecturer at UWE. But I'm interested in his work. I'd like the ability to 'favourite' or 'follow' him, without adding him to one of my 'contacts'.

It's a small quibble. I will happily add this to my toolbox.

Problem is, whilst I was thinking about Mendeley, I also came across Quiqqa. I already like the ability to  mindmaps to visualise topics. I think I need to step away from the computer.

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