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!

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Comparing Social Sharing of Bibliographic Information with Institutional Repositories

Everyone seems to have been talking about Mendeley over the past year! They have won a string of prizes, most recently the Guardian "Activate Future Technologies" workshop award for the project most likely to change the world for the better. They have achieved these accolades by providing bibliographic database software for the desktop ("like iTunes for research papers"), coupled with a social web site through which researchers can share their bibliographic collections. They have been successful to the tune of 47,5671 users and 34,852,751 documents (according to figures on their home page), with some commentators suggesting that they may soon provide access to more bibliographic data than Thomson ISI!

Now a lot of these "documents" are private material that are just stored on researcher's desktops. I am not interested per se in which software is being used to manage private bibliographic metadata. But the extent to which the "social sharing" agenda is successful is obviously crucially important to the repository community - to what extent is research being shared publicly, and in particular, to what extent are full texts of scientific papers being provided as Open Access through Mendeley's site.

To investigate these issues, I took a snapshot of some of their user profiles. Mendeley have 33678 public Computer Science profiles listed, so I took a 10% (3423) sample of those. Of that sample, 2918 or 85% have no publications listed at all, while 6% have only 1 or 2. Just 2% have 10 publications or more listed. The whole sample has a total of 2317 publications listed, with 681 providing PDFs from the Mendeley website. If this sample scales up (and the method I used does not constitute a proper random or representative sample), then the computer science part of Mendeley would have about 23,000 publications listed, with just shy of 7000 full texts.

By contrast, our departmental repository ( has about 15,500 publications listed, of which 7121 have public full texts. So, based on my quick investigation, it looks like that the part of Mendeley's social sharing site which deals with Computer Science (insert boilerplate text about disciplinary differences) seems to be functioning on a similar level to a dedicated departmental repository. They have more bibliographic records; we have more (just) records with public full texts.

The interesting contrast between the Mendeley approach and the repository approach is that the one starts with services on the researcher's desktop that are then used as the basis for offering open access, whereas the other starts with web-based open access that leads to desktop bibliographic tools. It might appear, if my partial and approximate study is anything to go by, that neither approach trumps the other in terms of open access outcomes.

The repository community should certainly embrace and work with services like Mendeley, but we should see them as complementary to our activities, not a replacement for them!