The battle of Zotero versus Mendeley (Thing 14 – CPD23)

Over the past year I have been experimenting with Reference Management Software. Previously my experience was with Reference Manager, which is the main reference management software offered at my institution. However from talking to students and staff I’ve realised that although it is the officially supported software, a lot of students and staff are using different software and I think it’s important that I am knowledgeable in these as well.  So over the last year I have been experimenting with  Endnote, Mendeley and Zotero. So who wins Zotero and Mendeley?

…It depends on what I am doing.

I still like Reference Manager, it does what I need it to at work. I record the research output of my departments and publicise them on our blog. This entails creating Web of Science and Scopus alerts, entering the new records into Reference Manager and every month producing a bibliography for a blog post. Now it is all set up it is quite a routine job and with the ability to direct export from Web of Science and Scopus into Reference Manager, it is a relatively painless activity. There are still niggles (diacritics and monographic series) but all in all it does the job well and I have so much data in my Reference Manager library I am quite happy to stay with this set up.

However I am now recommending Endnote to the students, especially when they can also use Endnote Web, for me this offered the best solution to the many computing needs (using multiple computers, not always on college system, access to multiple operating systems and multiple text editors) that I’m faced with when teaching a class of students. Even then it doesn’t meet everyone’s needs, which is why I’m happy that I have experience in Zotero and Mendeley.

For me personally I am using Mendeley. The reasons for choosing it are:-

a) To begin with it works with Linux (yes I am one of those people), trying to get software that works with Linux automatically limits your options. However the more I use it, the more I love it.

b)It links the pdf with the reference, I can annotate the pdf, highlight bits of the pdf, add notes to and it is all linked up with the bibliographic details = Literature review heaven.

c) My recently discovered ability to search other people’s Mendeley libraries. I like to think I’m fairly good at finding information (bit embarassing if I wasn’t), however after searching Google Scholar, education databases, psychology databases and library science databases I still found far more relevant articles by looking at people’s Mendeley libraries who were similar to mine. Lots of extra articles for me to read that I may never have found.

d)My watched folder. I have created a watched folder so that every time I add a new pdf to it, it will also add it to Mendeley, I repeat = literature review heaven.

All of this comes with a caution of course. Sometimes the details you take across are incorrect, sometimes it can’t dig out the bibliographic details, so you do have to enter them manually. Also I still haven’t found a way to transfer a bunch of items from web of science into Mendeley that doesn’t involve exporting into other reference management software and moving it in Mendeley. I also need to experiment with finding people and using groups, but that can wait until I’ve handed my coursework in. Despite all this I still heart Mendeley and just wish I had something like this all those years ago when doing my BSc and MA. How much easier it would have been.

But what about Zotero, as a confirmed Firefox user I should be happy with Zotero. I do think it has some plusses over Mendeley, which are the ease of getting lots of references into it from Web of Science and actually I find the importing from a web page a lot easier than Mendeley’s web imported, also the Zotero toolbar is very like Reference Manager and Endnote so less to learn. For me the problem is that I find the menu options in Zotero itself less than intuitive. I know it wouldn’t take me long to learn, but at the minute I haven’t got the time, so I chose Mendeley which was a lot easier for me to use straight away. I also find the half page screen really cramped, especially on the netbook. I could make it full screen but I actually get the point of it being half screen, just not on my netbook.

So that’s my overview of the reference management software I use which is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Reference Management Software. I hope it has been useful. A far more involved overview is available in Wikipedia which I have found really useful when students ask me which software they should use.

P.S. If anyone would like to buy me a Mac to test the software there, please do.


About Lynne Meehan
Librarian interested in teaching, infolit, ux and open access. Also Mum, knitter, baker, walker and very amateur photographer. I may also like cows.

2 Responses to The battle of Zotero versus Mendeley (Thing 14 – CPD23)

  1. Ye says:

    Zotero provide a standalone version, which is not very different from Mendeley desktop.

    • Lynne Meehan says:

      That’s true, there is a standalone version now. The original post was written in 2011 and the functionality of both Mendeley and Zotero have changed since that post e.g. I can batch import from Web of Science into Mendeley now. Perhaps I should look at both again. Thanks for the comment.

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