November 12, 2017

Wrangling the Vast Literature for Students, Professors, Researchers: Medeley

As I try to read all the science papers I would love to read, there is really no time to do so.
As I entered graduate school in the late 80's and early 90's we were in a period of time where one could read just about all the eye or retina or lens based papers one needed to be aware of.

As more and more genetics and biochemistry that just happens to be done in the EYE also floods general cell and molecular biology, genetics, and biochemical journals, one now must be selective. This needs a solution. You need a solution and you would like to have that solution without spending lots of money to do so. So here is your solution that I know works for me as a University Professor and Medical Research Scientist.

The literature. Mine is bio-science, your's may be in the Arts or Sciences. No matter, because as a student or educator, scientist or clinician, you may already know there is the extremely difficult task of wrangling your collection of papers.  We need to do this for planning experiments, writing
grant applications, writing papers, writing books, writing a thesis, and just keeping a current research model organized that guides your current work.

So, you need to be taught how to survive and use the literature constructively, and to do that with electronic resources. No matter what field you go into, you need to start keeping your own collection of papers and chapters now. I am going to tell you the best electronic way to do so. Also, how to manage bibliography sections easily as you write assignments, essays, manuscripts, even
presentations, or also...grant applications.

I have used software over the years, since about 2001, to keep my own data-base of literature that I use, and use to write with. Or to "cite while you write". Software that is commercial has become a pain though. As more profit oriented companies accumulated these software packages, they figured they had academics trapped into using them and they required updating almost every year. That required lots of $$$$$$. But, luckily some library science and computing scientists around the world developed an open source, free alternative called: Mendeley.

If you do not have a Mendeley account now, I recommend that you go to
and make one for yourself. Not only will this program provide you a low or no-cost way to manage your literature hunting and reading needs, this system lets you use a Web-site interface, and freely downloadable Mendeley Desktop programs for any computer system you use. The program also will install an add on tool to automatically build a reference list (bibliography) from within Microsoft
Word (Windows, Mac) or Libre Office (All platforms). The later is free Office software (previously called "Open Office"). If you like writing in Google Docs, you can always build your bibliography in the end by opening your google doc in Libre Office and then building. I suspect it will not be long before a Mendeley plug in arrives for Google Docs too.

You can also use Mendeley Apps on your iPhone, iPad or other iOS, or Android phones.YOUR library of references is keep synchronized in your online Mendeley account (the cloud). You can also install a plug-in into your web-browser that lets you add papers to your library automatically as you look at the paper on the journal's website. Mendeley will also store the PDF versions of the paper for you and you can use it as a reader.

The most useful feature of this program is also sharing. We never work alone. I can make groups for the research projects in my lab, for example, and select papers from my library to list in that group to share with all of my staff and students who also have Mendeley accounts.

As my students move on and leave Oakland University, they do not have to worry about copying their literature data base or keeping backups of their library on a specific laptop or desktop. That is all taken care of by Mendeley in their free account.

So if you are tired of spending hundreds of dollars to update your bibliography management software every time your operating system is updated or you need to put a licence copy on another computer, then Mendeley is the program for you. I have used it to write actual papers that we have published recently and I can vouch that Mendeley works just fine. The Mendeley group updates the software to fix bugs on a regular schedule and my Mendeley account presents me with other literature I may not be aware of yet, related to my own work, based on recent additions to my library and my own publications.

So this week. Please make yourself a account and start taking control of your literature.

PS. Some final pointers:

1. If you already have a large library of papers in one of the popular commercial packages like Reference Manager or EndNote, you can export those libraries and import them to start your first Mendeley library using the importing tools when you log into your Website account. That is what I did. I imported almost 7,000 references to start mine off, so I did not have to start over.

2. Mendeley has tools to find duplicates in your library to help clean it up.

3. You can make a profile in Mendeley, and so many use the software now that other persons in your field will be notified of your own works and publications, increasing the number of people finding and reading your own work.


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