Tuesday, 4 October 2011

CPD 23 - Thing 14 - Reference Management Systems

Zoetero, Mendelay, Citeulike

A good reference management system is one of those tools that put you in danger of coming across as insufferably smug when talking to people who aren't using them. I know this because back in my student days I wasn't an early adopter of this technology. That was foolish of me because we had free access to Endnote so there was no excuse. Once I got into the swing of things I learnt to love Endnote. Who doesn't love technology which genuinely saves you time and makes your life easier?

Thing 13 asked us to look at two free reference management systems, Zoetero and Mendelay. We were also encouraged to try Citeulike, a tool which is primarily designed for sharing articles. Although there is an overlap it really performs a different function to the other two systems.

I tried all three tools but I focussed on Mendelay because it seemed like the most relevant. I use Firefox at home so Zoetero would work for me personally but its browser compatibility issues would make it harder to recommend it to students.

Mendelay compares well to Endnote particularly bearing in mind that it is free and the latter is a commercial product.

· It performs the essential functions of a reference management system so it would save students time and make their lives easier.

· It would also almost guarantee that their references were correctly set out. This isn't always the case when they do their references by hand.

· It is easy to use. Give yourself time to explore it but once you've had a look round it will all make sense.

· The "watched folder" feature is a really nice touch. It means that Mendelay can be used to tidy your research up if you've allowed it to get a little messy.

Areas for improvement

· Why does everything have to be a download? Very few workplaces will let you download anything without begging. I don't know about other institutions but at my own place students wouldn't be able to download this onto a college computer. There's definitely a gap in the market for a web-based, free, reference management system. Unless anyone knows of one?

· It's easy to use once you've spent some time playing with it. There might be space to make it a bit more intuitive though. I'm picturing a slightly panicked student trying to use it at the last minute.

Reference management systems are genuinely a great idea. I'm happy to have two new free systems that I can recommend to students. At the moment I'm particularly pleased with Mendelay but I will look at Zoetero in more detail in the future.

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