Thursday, 6 January 2011

Mendeley and repositories - pragmatics in a Web World

I tried playing with Mendeley a good few months ago but did not feel I had particularly mastered the mechanics even if I thought I understood the principles.

I was aware that Les Carr had written about Mendeley via twitter, but just as I am preparing for a sabbatical I am rather more focussed on what tools I need to use and master.  I guess in terms of web science this could be seen as "eating your own dog food". The bit of Web Science i find interesting is the emergence, place and role of "social machines" plus the observations of the way in which the technology and engineering of the web respond to social manifestations. Web 2.0 may have been copyrighted, but it was right there in Tim Berners-Lee's conception of the Read Write Web - as with so much of what we recognise in technology today the story is one of incremental distributed development from the bottom up, rather than grand design from the top down.  Although having the odd insight into the possible grand design is proving very useful :-)

In that context I made the following comment on the previous blogs comparing Mendeley and Institutional Repositories which Les authored as Repository Man.
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Hmm.. I contrast Mendeley and IRs in a rather different way.

An institutional repository where rich data is collected which enables the dynamic building of a sort of contour map of research (substitute or add other spheres of focus eg educational resources).

For the individual researcher/teacher it generates a useful map of their home territory, but combined with other local researcher's deposits it shows estates, villages, cities. (although such visualisations only exist in my head - and there is something about Korbinky's the map is not the territory in there

I use my IR because it's effectively a cloud server with overheads but it's part of my local infrastructure and I have to/need to/ want to use it a bit.

The contents of Mendeley on my desktop (when I understand what I am doing) is the by product of my personal intellectual endeavours to note, observe, perhaps reflect and create order out of information I have processed as part of some research activity. it's the proxy for those photocopied collections of annotated papers of old. It's quite useful and reassuring if I can use it's tools on different platforms and then aggregate the results of those disjoint bits of effort.

If I am lucky it may help to let me reason and derive or represent understanding.

I use it If there is a low threshold to storing external info via Medeley i might  use it in the hope of getting some extra value from it.

If/ when I master the tool then I can share and compare, perhaps add or contest my understanding if others have gone about using it in the same way as I have, in my particular sphere of interest. My collection becomes an artefact. The sets of collections a set of artefacts for discussion, but perhaps also mathematical analysis and or abstract reasoning.

Of course it might be that my conception of Mendeley has been mediated by my need/compulsion to use my local institutional repository. And the understandings of IRs innate thus gained.

Functionally I think of Mendeley as an alternative and potentially better solution to using a reference manager and some form of half cocked personal electronic 'librarianship'.

I am planning to try to use Mendeley (again) because I plan to share my collections (content and abstract structure) with a few folk I can think of, but don't mind sharing with other folk too if they are interested. But that use will only be sustained if the overheads are low and I master it! If I am pressed and Mendeley is flakey I will stick with the half-cocked methods.

I am not an evangelist of open sharing but I do have it as an objective which I would like to work - that may be about personal politics as much as being part of my academic identity.

That same view prevents me being antagonistic to my IR even if I sometimes find it frustrating. I guess that with my IR, overheads and mastery within my control , so I knuckle down and use it.

1 comment:

Mr. Gunn said...

Hi Su! I think perhaps what you're missing in the comparison of Mendeley to an IR is the research catalog side of Mendeley. Mendeley is a great desktop PDF organizer for scholarly literature, but it's also a crowdsourced research database. Take a moment to browse around at http://www.mendeley.com/research-papers/ and see if you find anything interesting.

We also do free instructional sessions on getting the most out of Mendeley, so if you can round up a group of people, we'll schedule one for you.