Zotero, Mendeley and managing my personal information

This week I was tasked with choosing a PIM (Personal Information Management) tool between Zotero and Mendeley.

The jury’s still out for me on this one. It just seems to me that the learning curve is a little steeper than necessary for advanced features with PIM and it might be hard to convince experienced researchers to make the move when they have already developed systems that work for them.

I tried Mendeley over the summer for my term project with my summer class, mostly because, I think at the time, Mendeley had the MS Word plugin that would sync a bibliography for me. If I’m not mistaken, that is something that Zotero does now too. However, I found out that I didn’t actually like the bibliography feature, at least as I was working on an annotated bibliography, because the Mendeley plugin didn’t like that I wanted to “get between” the entries and add an annotation. I love MS Word and consider myself to be an advanced user, but it can be frustrating when the dummy-proof formatting features take over assuming they know what you want. I ended up using the Mendeley bibliography in a separate doc, and then copying and pasting the entries elsewhere so that I could have them and manipulate them. Call me stubborn, but I wasn’t quite ready to hand the control over and didn’t have the time to learn all the fine points on how it actually could have worked for me more efficiently.

My other main frustration with PIMs, and this goes for both Zotero and Mendeley, is that importing something manually is cumbersome and tedious. If the automated importer doesn’t sense the article, you are stuck fixing the metadata. In some situations it’s not a big deal, but alternative sources, like web media–videos, online interviews, etc, maybe me wonder how the PIM can even help if I’m still doing all the work. With Mendeley, it didn’t even always sense the bib data within an article from the UW-Libraries database. I asked myself, “Wouldn’t it be easier to just go back to “my old way” and do “export citation information” in APA format and copy and paste it right into my project document?” For most small research projects, yes, I think it is easier my old way–especially if the alternative is manually entering the metadata. However, I can imagine for a dissertator, PIMs are the WAY. TO. GO.

I know it sounds like I just bagged on Mendeley, so why would I pick it over Zotero now? Truthfully, going into this week, I expected to make a switch to Zotero because I was disappointed in my first impressions of Mendeley. I downloaded Zotero (Mac platform) and did some compare/contrasting. To me, they are almost exactly the same. They look almost the same. I don’t feel like one is more intuitive than the other. I liked that Zotero’s save citation dialog box doesn’t require a click to make it go away like Mendeley does after you save something–but at the same time, I duplicated records more than once with Zotero because I wasn’t watching for the dialog box after I clicked and hit it a second time to be sure.

I also like that Mendeley has a dedicated iOS app, while there are only 3rd party apps for Zotero. I’m not convinced I will use the mobile feature, but it’s nice to know.

The feature that pushes me a little toward the Mendeley side is the “Recommend related documents” button that searches your library and recommends other similar results for you. I could see this as a useful tool when researching to be sure you hadn’t missed anything. If it exists in Zotero, I couldn’t find it. I am still open to using Zotero and I don’t feel like I know how to use the full capacity, especially with annotations, on either, but I figure I should continue to give them a shot.

An Opportunity to Earn Our Keep

Corrall, Kennan and Afzal discuss bibliometrics and research data management services in their 2013 article from Library Trends. Because of internet research and e-resources, university library services have changed though their mission remains the same–supporting learning and research activities. The authors paraphrase Ball and Tunger’s (2006, p.563) argument that “libraries need to cease resembling museums and become efficient ‘business enterprises.’” Typically, I resent notions of commercialized learning, but this smacks of Library 2.0 and “3.0,” and I do think that’s something that we need to keep working toward.

There is a gap and therefore, an opportunity, for academic libraries to offer services using bibliometrics and data management for trend analysis, publication strategies, faculty reviews, grant writing and job applications. As it turns out, bibliometrics is a home-grown research area and specialization, not something LIS has imported or borrowed from other fields, but even this study gives evidence that libraries need to get going on putting it into practice.

The survey used by the authors targeted academic libraries in Australia, New Zealand, Ireland and the UK. While many of these libraries had bibliometrics and RDM programs in place and/or plans for more, many of the librarians stated that they didn’t feel prepared with the knowledge, skills or confidence they need to implement them. There is a call for LIS curriculum for RDM, even in the form of electives and short courses on data curation, technical skills and ICT skills (information and communication technology? …British vocab, I guess). 

The authors point out that most MLS programs prepare their graduates with a “general education for all library sectors” (p. 664) and that such specialties may not be applicable to all. I can say that even after working in my field for six years, there are parts of my job that my first Master’s did a lousy job of preparing me for and I have had to do-it-myself–we can say that professional schools need to add X or Y to their curriculum, but there will always be something lacking. I’m glad that someone is paying attention to what academic libraries could do and prepare themselves for so that they stay viable. Actually, we all need to do that!