Wednesday, 25 August 2010

More on Mendeley and Repositories

Yesterday's post Comparing Social Sharing of Bibliographic Information with Institutional Repositories created a few comments, so I thought I'd make some more observations from an outsider's point of view.

I think that Mendeley are a fascinating example of the Open Access problem. OA is about moving knowledge from researchers' private environments (their laptops, hard disks, CDs and filing cabinets) into the public space (repositories, websites, search engines). Mendeley's software spans both those environments - bibliography management for the desktop feeding researcher profiles and CVs on the Web.

As Victor Henning pointed, Mendeley are part of Cambridge's JISC DURA project, which aims to take advantage of Mendeley's position bridging the desktop/Web to try and encourage more public repository deposits. This is a very interesting proposition: maybe a users of a such a service will be more inclined to make their work Open Access? Perhaps the simple act of buying into the "Mendeley proposition" will cause them to be be more favourable to Open Access than they would otherwise have been?

From the outside it's difficult to understand the extent of Mendeley's penetration into a University. What is visible is the public profiles that Mendeley users have created. Although the Mendeley API doesn't allow searching for users, I have been able to identify 53 public profiles from the University of Cambridge through Google (and a lot of manual verification!) Incredibly, only TWO of those 53 researchers have any existing deposits in Cambridge's institutional repository.

This is potentially great news: Mendeley's software has gained takeup from users who aren't repository users. They aren't preaching to the converted, they are getting new users to work in the open, to start to make the transition from the desktop to the Web.

But the OA battle hasn't been won yet. Of those 53 profiles, 21 contain no publication information, and of the 32 list their publications, only 9 have made any of their publications open access through the Mendeley service (a total of 40 PDFs).

The social bibliographic approach that Mendeley are promoting is a promising way forward. It's offering people something that they haven't seen from the repository, but it's not a principally Open Access offering, and it's no silver bullet for providing open access. Commentators who have suggested that repositories are old-fashioned, and that everything can be solved by Web 2 solutions, are being over-optimistic. Repositories are hard work because changing researchers' working practices is hard work and I guess there's no single magic solution that's going to make that effort disappear!


  1. Here's the comparable data for Southampton's Mendeley usage: 43 public profiles, of which 25 have no publication data. Five users have made a total of 27 PDFs available from Mendeley. Unlike Cambridge, 23 users are also institutional repository users. That's not such a spectacular difference as 2/53, but it's still worth pursing.

  2. "Commentators who have suggested that repositories are old-fashioned, and that everything can be solved by Web 2 solutions, are being over-optimistic." If those commentators are suggesting that web 2 solutions based on evanescent web sites make a solution are not just over-optimistic, but wrong!

    Mind you, I've not thought of Mendeley as either a repository (beyond my desktop) or as a web 2.0 solution (yet... since it definitely isn't).

    Permanence is hard work and takes resources. Permanence is one of the strong plus features of successful institutional repositories.

  3. Les,

    Have you tried ?

  4. That's certainly the idea, Les! Keep an eye on Mendeley Web, as there are some fairly big developments to come that will change this analysis a bit. Also, I'd just like to point out to anyone who may have missed it that you can now search Mendeley for Open Access content:

    I really believe we can convert the low percentage of people with IR deposits into a high higher percentage, simply by making it so much easier to do.

  5. Nice comments Les. I’ll make some comments from my point of view at Symplectic (we’re part of the DURA project).

    It’s interesting to note some of the considerations that led to the DURA project implementing the solution it did. Because of copyright considerations and the wish of a university to be able to mediate the deposit process (in however heavyweight or lightweight a fashion), a close integration between Mendeley and the existing internal university CRIS was chosen as the solution, rather than direct integration of Mendeley and the digital repository itself. The CRIS is designed to sit close to academics, and specialises in easy end-user orientated digital repository deposit workflow and reporting, whereas the digital repository is designed more for use by librarians.

    I agree that making it easier to move knowledge from private to public is the way forward, and I’m personally quite excited about the expected increase in university deposit from Mendeley users at Cambridge through DURA – this model is easily applied to other repositories at other universities too. Deposit rates have traditionally been quite slow because digital repositories focus on permanence, and not on making it easy to deposit. The approach of hooking into the research cycle earlier (where Mendeley tends to be used and full text is already at hand) and presenting deposit opportunity reminders and a single-click repository deposit for university staff who have a Mendeley account may be a great way to higher deposit rates. And by passing through a university system, the university has its opportunity to hook into the academic’s deposit experience where legal issues are a concern.

    Fingers crossed for a boost in deposit rates.