3 August 2012

Thing 14: Zotero / Mendeley / CiteULike

This thing is something I have dabbled with in the past as I try to keep up with referencing tools. Supporting students and researchers is a key part of my role and I think this ought to include information management if I can manage it. At my university we have a licence for EndNote and EndNoteWeb so this is promoted as the tool of choice and we run plenty of training on it too. It's OK but these are the defects:
  • It's not social: you can only share libraries with other EndNote users
  • I don't think it's a good idea to put your eggs in a subscription basket as most students and researchers will find themselves moving around in their careers and may not have an EndNote sub. However, you can always export and import your library to a new system.
  • It's not the prettiest or the friendliest tool out there.
  • EndNote the software is only available on campus PCs - for your own laptop you need to shell out around £60. EndNoteWeb is a cut-down version accessed via the web.
It does integrate well with Word and the full EndNote package is bells and whistles. I try to use EndNoteWeb myself as I have to train on it and need to know how it works.

I have tried Mendeley and used it for a project where we wished to share a list of references with the wide world. It worked well for that. It's also fab at indexing a load of PDFs but generally speaking I find it a bit clunky to use. You need to download and install it, and then there's the web interface.

Zotero I used once about a year ago and found it OK - again, I liked being able to share my references. I think you can see them here? They are part a work thing and part a Welsh flora thing I did as part of some voluntary work for the National Botanic Gardens of Wales.

My big problem is that I am accumulating various bits of library-related stuff and I have no way of indexing it all and keeping it neatly together. Some of these are articles but others are blog posts or reports etc. I sort of shuffle along in a disorganized state, Googling things I already found, re-downloading things I already have etc. It doesn't take too long - that's the problem! If I ever undertook some serious research or writing again, I'd have to put my eggs in one basket and I'd probably pick Mendeley.


  1. Thanks Sam, some interesting perspectives here, especially the limitations of using EndNoteWeb and the difficulties that this may produce for your users. I feel reassured that if you needed to, that you would opt for Mendeley. This makes me feel like my experimentation time hasn't been wasted :-)

  2. I am one of the founders of Docear, which is a new software for organizing, creating, and discovering academic literature. Today, we released version 1.0 of Docear after a ~2 year beta phase. If you are interested in reference management, you might want to have a look at Docear. The three most distinct features of Docear are:

    1. A single-section user-interface that differs significantly from the interfaces you know from Zotero, JabRef, Mendeley, Endnote, ... and that allows a more comprehensive organization of your electronic literature (PDFs) and the annotations you created (i.e highlighted text, comments, and bookmarks).

    2. A 'literature suite concept' that allows you to draft and write your own assignments, papers, theses, books, etc. based on the annotations you previously created.

    3. A research paper recommender system that allows you to discover new academic literature.

    And Docear is free and open source and available for Windows, Mac, and Linux. More information can be found in our Blog, including a detailed explanation of what makes Docear superior to Mendeley, Zotero, etc. (at least in our opinion :-) ). http://www.docear.org/2013/10/17/docear-1-0-stable-a-new-video-new-manual-new-homepage-new-details-page/

    If you don't like reading, there is also a 6 minute introduction video on our homepage http://www.docear.org ;-)

    In case you are using a BibTeX based reference manager such as JabRef (and you don't want to switch to Docear), you might at least be interested in Docear4Word http://www.docear.org/software/add-ons/docear4word/overview/. Docear4Word allows you to insert references and bibliographies from BibTeX files to MS-Word documents. Hence, it makes writing papers much easier, since e.g. JabRef has no own MS Word add-on.

    Finally, I would like to point you to a recent Blog post I wrote about what makes an evil reference manager. Maybe the post helps you deciding which reference manager to use (even if it's not Docear). http://www.docear.org/2013/10/14/what-makes-a-really-really-bad-reference-manager/