Citation Manager Roundup

In April of this year, the two most popular free citation managers–Mendeley and Zotero–both underwent some big changes. On April 8th, TechCrunch announced that Elsevier had purchased Mendeley, which had been surmised in January. 1 Just a few days later, Zotero announced the release of version 4, with a number of new features. 2 Just as with the sunsetting of Google Reader, this has prompted many to consider what citation managers they have been using and think about switching or changing practices. I will not address subscription or paid products like RefWorks and EndNote specifically, though there are certainly many reasons you might prefer one of those products.

Mendeley: a new Star Wars movie in the making?

The rhetoric surrounding Elsevier’s acquisition of Mendeley was generally alarmist in nature, and the hashtag “#mendelete” that popped up immediately after the announcement suggests that many people’s first instinct was to abandon Mendeley. Elsevier has been held up as a model of anti-open access, and Mendeley as a model for open access. Yet Mendeley has always been a for-profit company, and, like Google, benefits itself and its users (particularly the science community) by knowing what they are reading and sharing. After all, the social features of Mendeley wouldn’t have any value if there was no public sharing. Institutional Mendeley accounts allow librarians to see what their users in aggregate are reading and saving, which helps them make collection development decisions– a service beyond what the average institutional citation manager product accomplishes. Victor Henning promises on the Mendeley blog that nothing will change, and that this will give them more freedom to develop more features 3. As for Elsevier, Oliver Dumon promises that Mendeley will remain independent and allowed to follow their own course–and that bringing it together with ScienceDirect and Scopus will create a “central workflow and collaboration site for authors”.4

There are two questions to be answered in this. First, is it realistic to assume that the Mendeley team will have the creative freedom they say they will have? And second, are users comfortable with their data being available to Elsevier? For many, the answers to both these questions seem to be “no” and “no.” A more optimistic point of view is that if Elsevier must placate Mendeley users who are open access advocates, they will allow more openness than before.

It’s too early to say, but I remain hopeful that Mendeley can continue to create a more open spirit in academic publishing. Peter Hoyt (a former employee of Mendeley and founder of PeerJ) suggests that much of the work that he oversaw to open up Mendeley was being stymied by Elsevier specifically. For him, this went against his personal ethos and so he was unable to stay at Mendeley–but he is confident in the character and ability of the people remaining at Mendeley.  5. I have never been a heavy user of Mendeley, but I have maintained a free account for the past few years. I use it mainly to create a list of my publications on my personal website, using a WordPress plug-in that uses the Mendeley API.

What’s new with Zotero

Zotero is a very different product than Mendeley. First, it is open-source software, with lots of ways to participate in development. Zotero was developed by the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason University, with foundation and user support. It was developed specifically to support the research work of humanists. Originally a Firefox plug-in, Zotero now works as a standalone piece of software that interacts with Firefox, Chrome, and Safari to recognize bibliographic data on websites and pull them into a database that can be synced across computers (and even some third party mobile software). The newest version of Zotero includes several improvements. The one I am most excited about is detailed download display, which tells you what folder you’re saving a reference into, which is crucial for my workflow. Zotero is the citation manager I use on a daily basis, and I rely on it for formatting the footnotes you see on ACRL TechConnect posts or other research articles I produce. Since much of my research is on the open web, books, or other non-journal article resources, I find the ability of Zotero to pick up library catalog records and similar metadata more useful than the Mendeley import bookmarklet.

Both Zotero and Mendeley offer free storage for metadata and PDFs, with a cost for storage above the free level. (It is also possible to use a WebDAV server for syncing Zotero files).

Zotero Mendeley
300 MB Free
2 GB $20 / year 2 GB Free
6 GB $60 / year 5 GB $55 / year
10 GB $100 / year 10 GB $110 / year
25 GB $240 / year Unlimited $165 / year
Some concluding thoughts

Several graduate students in science 6 have written blog posts about switching away from Mendeley to Zotero. But they aren’t the same thing at all, and given the backgrounds of their creators, Mendeley is more skewed to the sciences, and Zotero more to the humanities.

Nor, as I like to point out, must they be mutually exclusive. I use Zotero for my daily citation management since I much prefer it for grabbing citations online, but sync my Zotero library with Mendeley to use the social and API features in Mendeley. I can choose to do this as an individual, but consider carefully the implications of your choice if you are considering an institutional subscription or requiring students or members of a research group to use a particular service.

  1. Lunden, Ingrid. “Confirmed: Elsevier Has Bought Mendeley For $69M-$100M To Expand Its Open, Social Education Data Efforts.” TechCrunch, April 18, 2013. http://techcrunch.com/2013/04/08/confirmed-elsevier-has-bought-mendeley-for-69m-100m-to-expand-open-social-education-data-efforts/.
  2. Takats, Sean. “Zotero 4.0 Launches.” Zotero, April 11, 2013. http://www.zotero.org/blog/zotero-4-0-launches/.
  3. Henning, Victor. “Mendeley and Elsevier – Here’s More Info.” Mend, April 19, 2013. http://blog.mendeley.com/community-relations/mendeley-and-elsevier-heres-more-info/
  4. Dumon, Oliver. “Elsevier Welcomes Mendeley.” Elsevier Connect, April 8, 2013. http://elsevierconnect.com/elsevier-welcomes-mendeley/.
  5. Hoyt, Jason. “My Thoughts on Mendeley/Elsevier & Why I Left to Start PeerJ,” April 9, 2013. http://enjoythedisruption.com/post/47527556151/my-thoughts-on-mendeley-elsevier-why-i-left-to-start.
  6. For one, see “Mendeley Sells Out; I’m Moving to Zotero.” LJ Villanueva’s Research Blog. Accessed May 20, 2013. http://research.coquipr.com/archives/492.

One Comment on “Citation Manager Roundup”

  1. Great post, and timely too. We are discussing the possibility of officially supporting a research management app in our library and are leaning towards Zotero because it is more open in nature. Plus, we have people who are signatories to the Cost of Knowledge petition against Elsevier. There is definitely a distrust issue that won’t help Mendeley.


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