This is what the cloud was made for! I love Zotero. It’s always there yet never in the way. And it’s very good at grabbing metadata, which is nice when I have PDFs from interlibrary loan.
Zotero is a great tool. If you’re doing any kind of academic research, you should give it a try. And, of course, it runs perfectly on Linux.
This is another post that’s not exclusively Linux related.
It’s about capturing academic articles across different machines and OSs.
I did a roundup of some citation management tools a few weeks back. Ultimately, I decided to use CiteULike.
Since then, I’ve been using it to keep track of articles and it’s been working pretty well for me.
CiteULike is a bookmarking tool for academic articles. Rather than just capturing URLs, though, it also captures article metadata, allowing you to export your articles into a citation format, like Chicago or MLA. The citations usually need to still be cleaned up, but it’s easier than starting from scratch.
CiteULike also represents a way to organize your articles, allowing users to tag them.
I’ve mostly been using CiteULike for its citation functionality, but it’s also been very helpful in keeping my work organized.
Despite the sick amount of time I spend online, or perhaps because of it, I have trouble reading PDFs on the screen, and most academic articles are PDFs. So my workflow is to skim an article and then, if it seems like it might be useful for what I’m working on, I print it and then capture it in CiteULike. So I have the hard copy to work from and mark up, but the citation online. Plus, if I lose or misplace a printed article, it’s not too hard to find again.
What’s nice about this workflow, though, is that I can grab stuff whenever I’m near a computer, but even if I’m not near a printer. For example, I can find some articles, tag them with “printthis” or something like that, and then, the next time I’m near a printer, I just let them go and re-tag them with something more useful.
And it really pays off when it’s time to export citations. Even though the citations aren’t perfect, they’re easy enough to fix up and work with, saving me time and mental energy.
CiteULike isn’t great about pulling in metadata, so about half of the time, I export citations out of a subscription service as BibTex, a markup language, and then import the BibTex into CiteULike. It’s not as convenient as using a browser button, but it’s easier than crafting a citation by hand. But CiteULike also lets you search other people’s holdings, assuming they’ve made them public, so if someone else already has the metadata imported, you can just copy their work with the click of a button.
CiteULike also lets you upload files to attach to your records, which is a nice way to make sure you don’t lose hard-to-find material if your local computer crashes (although I’m not as conscientious about this as I should be).
CiteULike is very convenient, and because it’s browser-based, I can use it across OSs. There are actually a few cross-platform citation management clients (and quite a few Linux-only ones), but those are only helpful on computers where I have installation privileges. The convenience of CiteULike is that it’s something I have full access to no matter where I’m working.
If you find yourself doing academic research fairly regularly, try CiteULike for your next project. You’ll be shocked how convenient it is having everything in one place. Manila folders full of articles are nice, but virtual folders have their uses, also.
A final note: CiteULike has some recommendation functionality based on articles you capture. I’ve never used it but I do glance at the recommendations from time to time. It seems like a good idea in theory, but it hasn’t been great for me in practice. Maybe it will improve as my database gets bigger.
I recently looked into citation management tools for an article I’m working on.
About citation management tools.
So the whole thing was very meta.
I’ll post a link to the article once it’s available in a few months, but for now, I wanted to talk about these tools from a technical standpoint.
All three tools pretty much do the same thing. They allow users to capture book and article metadata and export the data in a bibliographic format, like MLA, APA, Chicago, ASA, etc.
They also allow users to organize their research, so all of their articles on a given topic are in one place. All three support tagging and have some social sharing aspects.
Technically, all three tools are different, though. Mendeley is a standalone client. Zotero is a Firefox extension. And citeulike is entirely web-based.
Mendeley is pretty robust, allowing you to organize web-based files as well as local ones. And the client has a web sync. But the sync didn’t work horribly well for me. Metadata would get corrected at work, but it didn’t seem to make it to my home set-up. But I was also syncing my data to Zotero and I wonder if there were just so many versions of things floating around, that Mendeley got confused.
One nice thing about Mendeley, though, is that they have a Linux client, so using it is really no big deal. It installs like any program, once you add the Mendeley repository.
I’ve played with Zotero on and off for years. Like Mendeley, there’s a web sync option, so you can access your research across computers. It works well but the Firefox dependency is a real killer. I don’t use Firefox very often and I don’t want to have to switch browsers when I’m doing research.
citeulike didn’t knock me out. It’s tough to get it to effectively grab metadata. It seems like at least 75% of the time, I had to export citations in BibTeX, a standard citation format designed for LaTeX, and then manaually import the BibTeX into citeulike.
But in the end, I’m sticking with citeulike because it’s web-based. I just install a browser button into ANY browser, and I can grab (some) articles relatively painlessly.
Mendeley has an easy browser button, too, but it still requires the client to export your work into a bibliographic format.
So even though Mendeley is easily the most robust of the three tools (you can view and annotate PDFs using it), citeulike is the easiest to implement. So I’m sticking with citeulike for now.
Zotero is working on a standalone client, and while I really love the ease with which Zotero grabs metadata, a client just feels like a lot of work. It’s something else that needs to be updated. It’s something else that needs to be opened. And it’s something else that needs to be installed.
Given that I usually print articles and keep them in folders, annotating them by hand, citeulike seems to be the easiest way to keep track of my research and generate semi-clean bibliographies.
Also, some institutions (including my own) provide access to RefWorks. RefWorks is pretty nice, but they only have browser buttons for Internet Explorer and Firefox. Like with Zotero, that’s kind of a deal killer for me, even though RefWorks has some nice functionality, like using a URL resolver to link to subscription material automatically.
I appreciate that Mendeley took the time to develop a Linux client and I feel like I should support that, but the idea of a standalone client feels like overkill. Having said that, I might eventually check out some Linux citation management clients, just to make sure I’m really not missing out on anything. Referencer is well-reviewed but looking for a new maintainer. And JabRef also looks interesting.
Committing to a reference management tool represents a new research work flow for me, but I’m hoping having everything in one place will eventually pay off for me.
But if nothing else, I’m learning lots about BibTex.