New online tool helps academics manage research

In Campus News, News

By Portia Bode
Daily Titan Staff Writer

Mendeley, a new online research tool, may be coming to Cal State Fullerton next semester.

Mendeley is like the iTunes for academic papers; a free research management tool that allows you to share, organize and manage your research, said Ben Romberg, Mendeley’s community liasion.

According to Romberg, Jan Reichelt and Victor Henning, founders of Mendeley, were studying for their doctorate degrees when they found that managing hundreds of research papers required for their thesis’ was a laborious and time-consuming process, academic sources were difficult to access and that the software to properly do this was either unavailable or too expensive.

They decided to develop their own software that could manage their research. Reichelt and Henning founded Mendeley with the help of Paul Foeckler, who oversaw the technology development of the company, Mendeley’s site stated.

According to Romberg, simultaneously, Jason Hoyt, a PhD graduate at Stanford, saw the need and opportunity to improve collaborative research using the Internet. He founded of his own start-up called Ologeez, however, Jason later joined Mendeley.

Mendeley now assists students in managing and organizing research papers easily and effectively – the Web site provides a free to use network which lets users manage their papers online, discover emerging trends and connect to other like-minded researchers, Romberg said. The site’s aim is to create a “Last.fm for Research,” said Romberg.

Entering citations by hand and writing a bibliography can be the most tedious part of a dissertation or term paper. Mendeley can do this for students by managing all their sources and citations, from research papers to books, for free. At the click of a button you can import sources from Amazon, Google Scholar and hundreds of other sites, Romberg said.

Mendeley hosts a secure online database for students to upload and save their research papers ‘in the cloud,’ allowing students to share, tag, review and recommend documents to friends and colleagues, said Romberg.

Just as sites like Last.fm lead to the discovery of new music and the creation of social networks around specific musical “scrobbling,” Mendeley is making it easier to find top authors and create virtual research networks by scrobbling research paper collections, said Romberg.

Mendeley has over 7.5 million research papers uploaded. With a collection that doubles in size every eight to ten weeks, Mendeley is set to become the largest research repository in the world, said Romberg.

Mendeley software is primarily designed to be advantageous for researchers because it can automatically extract the details of a journal article directly from the research paper for citation and categorization which helps the research process, said Romberg.

Mendeley can also generate a bibliography in hundreds of different citation styles at the click of a button.

In a later version, Mendeley will allow users to develop their own citation style. This will make it easy for Mendeley users to share and collaborate on research projects, allowing public and shared collections of articles and discovering a growing social network of academics in a multitude of disciplines, said Romberg.

CSUF faculty members are looking into bringing Mendeley to CSUF students as early as next semester.

Colleen Greene, Pollak Library’s systems librarian, is currently researching Mendeley for the library.

“I’m not sure how that would work on the public computers really to be honest because you have to download the local software onto your computer, but I believe it’s only tied to one user,” Greene said.

Greene thinks the library staff would teach it, but she’s not sure how they would support Mendeley’s desktop client on public computers since it doesn’t give users the opportunity to log in; the software is automatically tied to the computer, Greene said. “If it supports multiple users, I haven’t discovered it yet,” Greene said.

“It’s a product I can see us teaching pretty quickly, probably even next semester,” Greene said. This would depend on how quickly the public computers could support the software, added Greene.

Greene thinks it will be a great tool for students who are working on group projects because the research information would be easily accessible to the group members.

As Greene said, the library doesn’t host general workshops that teach students how to use these types of research tools anymore. Greene added that the instruction librarians would teach it when they are doing library instructions with a class.

Greene also said that many of the research databases that Mendeley syncs with are science-oriented. Mendeley’s initial emphasis was on the science community, Greene said.

Anne Houtman, associate professor of Biology and director of the General Education Biology Program at CSUF, is starting to explore Mendeley.

“I’m very excited about the possibilities. I’m looking forward to showing it to the research students in my lab,” said Houtman. “I think it will be a good way for us to keep up to date on the literature in our field, and to communicate better with each other about what we’ve read and what we still need to read!”

The 0.9.5 beta version of the software was released Dec. 4, finalizing and improving many of the existing features and building improvements in preparation for the launch of version 1.0. early in 2010, said Romberg.

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  • Colleen Greene

    Students and faculty can start using Mendeley at any time; it’s free and available to anyone from: http://www.mendeley.com.

    There are some definite logistical challenges I need to work out though before I can make a recommendation to our instruction librarians as to whether or not they might want to test it out and consider teaching it to classes during bibliographic instruction sessions.

    Doing any sort of hands-on instruction of Mendeley’s desktop client would be tricky since the desktop client authenticates against a single user.

    The inability of Mendeley to “grab” and save snapshots (local copies) of web pages, like Zotero can, is another challenges. Mendeley’s web importer does not yet work with the online resources I use most in my fields of study, so I either have to download a PDF copy and add it to my Mendeley library using the desktop client, or I have to use Mendeley in conjunction with Zotero for this purpose.

    Also, I still have to manually enter, or fix, the citation metadata for most of the research materials I import into Mendeley.

    So, yes, in theory, our librarians can teach this tool as early as next semester. However, I would like to see these challenges resolved by Mendeley first before I fully recommend this product to our librarians or instructional faculty. And considering how promptly Mendeley support aresponds to requests, I am hopeful we can resolve these challenges.

  • Colleen Greene

    Mendeley support notified me this morning that a web page “snapshot” feature (like Zotero’s) is coming soon. This is very good news, as it will allow researchers to save a website source, such as a blog post, preserving an archived version of the page at that particular date/time, which is accessible even if the web page is later revised or made inaccessible.

  • Ricardo Vidal

    Hi,

    As part of the Mendeley team, I’d like to take this opportunity to address some of the challenges described above.

    Regarding the use of public computers, users can perform most of their tasks directly on Mendeley Web. Therefore not requiring a local desktop application be installed. Users can add, edit, remove files from their library just using a web browser and their Mendeley Web account. When they get home, they can sync their Mendeley Desktop application with a simple click.

    Also, we have a portable USB version of Mendeley Dekstop in the planning and this would allow each user/student to carry around their library in their pocket.

    Although Mendeley can not yet take “snapshots” of webpages, users can attach HTML documents to entries and the text within said HTML documents will be full-text searchable just as the PDF documents. And also keep in mind that Mendeley allows sync with Zotero.

    Another addressed topic is the web importer. If there are any sources that it does not yet support but you would like so, please just contact [email protected] and we’ll do our best to add it to the list of supported sites/sources.

    As for metadata extraction, if there happen to be specific PDFs that you are having trouble with import, I recommend you also contact [email protected] with a copy or two and we’ll try to make your reference management easier 🙂

    Finally, we’re glad that you’re considering teaching this tool as early as next semester. Please feel free to contact us with any questions.

    More on how Mendeley works regarding Mendeley Web and Mendeley Desktop can be found here:
    http://www.mendeley.com/how-it-works/

    And teaching material can be found here:
    http://www.mendeley.com/spread-the-word/

    Kindly,
    Ricardo Vidal
    Community Liaison @ Mendeley

  • Colleen Greene

    Ricardo,

    Thank you for addressing the challenges I posted in my Comment. I am very pleased with Mendeley so far, and extremely pleased with how responsive the Mendeley team is to my support requests.

    I certainly intend to keep using it and following up on new features.

    I do eagerly await the release of a web page “snapshot” feature. I currently use and sync with Zotero, but do think it would be a bit much to try to teach our faculty and students to use 2 different products to make this functionality happen. So I will probably demo the product to our librarians and recommend holding off on instruction until this functionality is in place on Mendeley.

    The local desktop application does not concern me as much as the snapshot feature, because the Library can always record video tutorials that can remotely walk faculty and students through the desktop installation and configuration.

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