Wednesday, 5 September 2012

CPD Thing 14 Reference management software

Reference Management Software - helping to bring order in an otherwise disordered world?
Order or disorder? Prairie planting of spring bulbs at Ascot House (National Trust), Buckinghamshire.
Image (c) Stephen Gregory

Thing 14 encourages participants to investigate reference management software, or to reflect on experiences on using referencing software in the past. To my shame, I had no previous experience of using RMS, although I recall that such packages have been available, commercially at least, for many years now.

I haven't been an extensive writer of assignments, professional papers or reports, and therefore my need for RMS has always been somewhat insignificant. On reflection, I guess that the thought of getting to grips with a new piece of software, successfully integrating this within my word processing package, and making effective use of it, would have been far more time consuming than rewarding. This Thing has demonstrated just how wrong that misconception was! 

It's some time since I worked in higher education librarianship, where I suppose greatest knowledge and usage of RMS occurs. Awareness and demand for RMS in my current organisation has been very low. To be fair, how many of us can truly  say that we successfully and confidently use indexing, referencing and content page features within our standard word processing packages? These relatively simple tools can help make life easier when creating reports or longer documents, but how many of us have taken the trouble to find out about them and use them? There are strong parallels aren't there! If you are like me, then you'll probably have done all of your referencing manually, and this will have been reasonably straightforward when using Harvard, and with a small set of cited documents. On the rare occasions when creating a longer reference list, or indeed when required to use numeric or Vancouver referencing, then this can become more problematic, especially when citing the same reference at several different points in your document and trying to retain numbering consistency. Isla mentioned her similar experiences in the Thing 14 brief.

So is there scope within my routine work to use RMS? In providing literature search results and current awareness bulletins, probably “yes”. But these aren't straightforward bibliographies are they? And so I guess that some manipulation and experimentation with output formats will be required. [Anyone have any experience of using RMS in these contexts?] My colleagues are experimenting with Reference Manager at present and I await their findings with keenness. Were our service to develop into providing more narrative and evaluative research (see my Blog on information synthesis / value adding) then the argument and benefits for using RMS are clear. In this context RMS could make our work more efficient, alongside the possibility of creating a database of frequently used references easily sourced within our RMS repository.

As part of Thing 14 I explored Mendeley, a freely available internet client and desktop download, with add-ons for reference import and citation management within word processing packages. The registration, download of the desktop client and installation of the add-ons was all straightforward. Within an hour, I had viewed the helpful training presentations, installed the package, explored the desktop and internet clients, imported references from documents already held on my laptop, imported additional references from a variety of internet sites and databases. In this time I had also drafted some sample text, inserted references and created the bibliography all using Mendeley's intuitive features. The integration with Open Office, my word processing software, with Google Chrome for reference harvesting, and the synchronisation between desktop and internet clients all worked perfectly. So my experiences were all very positive, and I had wondered why I hadn't used such systems previously! Very definitely time well spent.

Mendeley offers a range of collaborative tools too and I plan to explore some of these in a little more detail. The Mendeley profile will be of interest; I'll complete my details more fully and see if other Mendeley users share similar interests. PDF annotation will also be helpful. I like the idea of being able to create my own notes and comments on PDF documents. I doubt whether the PDF sharing function will be of relevance to me, but can see the value of this function for a team of colleagues working collaboratively on something, or within a research grouping. However, I'm struck once again by the need to caution our users about copyright and database licensing terms and conditions, with this type of activity.

So Thing 14 leaves me with some follow-up actions:

  1. Investigate and implement Mendeley more fully, including profile and seeing if other users match my interests. Equally importantly try to incorporate using Mendeley as a matter of routine.
  2. Find out about my colleagues feedback on Reference Manager, and see if this can be used within our context of literature search results and current awareness bulletin creation. If yes, how is this achieved and could similar be achieved in Mendeley?
  3. Check out CiteULike. This would be useful to have some basic knowledge on this.

1 comment:

  1. Further action point - to check out others experience of using different reference management software packages.