Thing 18 of 23: social citation sharing for those who don’t like Alcuin

In some way its seems a bit odd that Zotero should be one of the 23 Things, given that it’s not primarily a social media tool. Zotero is really a tool for managing references and I’ll talk a bit about that aspect later in the post. But I think it’s been included in the programme as one example of social citation sharing – how people (especially researchers) can discover what others in their field are reading.

A recent BL conference on ‘The Digital Researcher’ included a presentation that gives a short introduction to social citation sharing and listed some of the sites, including LibraryThing, Zotero, Citeulike, Connotea and Mendeley. As usual, I decided there was only one way to try these sites out. Since there’s no point in social networking if no-one out there likes the things I like, I needed to see what they had on a particular topic.

So this week’s test figure is Alcuin an English scholar at the court of Charlemagne. Search for him on Newton and you’ll get 319 results from the University Library alone. Search for him on Google and you’ll get over 300,000 results. He’s even had a college named after him. How he does fare on social citation sites?

LibraryThing has 91 results, though a surprising number of them turn out to be publications by the Alcuin Club. On the other hand, some clicks on familiar titles and I’m looking at the libraries of people like ’Dr Boondock’ who runs a site called Old Norse News, ”Aethelstan” a.k.a. Professor Sarah Foot, and ”jonathaneum who is “the curator for the Martin D’Arcy Collection at the Loyola University Museum of Art, Chicago”. These are the kind of people whose books it might be worth knowing.

Zotero has 0 results when I try a similar search, I suspect because it’s not letting you search on people’s individual references, only groups they’ve set up. And though Alcuin has a page on Facebook, he obviously doesn’t have a Zotero group yet.

Citeulike has 12 results, but mainly because some poor modern scholars get landed with Alcuin as a Christian name. There are only two articles or books actually dealing with Alcuin, and two people who have listed them. While yangjustinc’s library includes some titles that look randomly intriguing (for example on working class masculinity), they’re not medieval. I found one other probable (late) medievalist: ‘Swashford’, but in terms of networking, that’s not impressive.

Connotea bills itself as for “researchers, clinicians and scientists’, but surprisingly has one reference to the right Alcuin, bookmarked by clairwil who’s obviously an Italian into medieval science and mathematics. Again, interesting to know, but a rather meagre haul.

Mendeley has 5 out of 13 references to the correct Alcuin. This picks me up 2 or 3 medievalist scholars.

For humanities research, therefore (or at least my small corner of it), LibraryThing looks the only one worth trying for social citation sharing currently, even though it’s limited to books only. You can also set up watch lists on LibraryThing to watch other people’s new books (and presumably other people can now marvel at anything I add), so it might be worth me doing that. In previous comments Curt also mentioned the possibility of watching tags (which is fine if you choose distinctive ones).

Meanwhile, back to Zotero as reference management software. I’ve been using Endnote for reference management for the last ten years or so, and I am not yet sure I want to swap over. There’s lot of features in Zotero that make it potentially a better bet for me. It’s free and it would allow me access to my references via the web. It can supposedly not just grab PDFs of articles from JSTOR, but index them. You can also embed references into HTML pages, so that people with Zotero can capture references you cite easily (useful for those who footnote their blogs!)

On the downside, I’ve seen suggestions that Firefox slows down once you get very big collections (and mine has nearly 3500 references). Its output styles also look a lot fewer than those of EndNote and I suspect it may be harder to create new output styles than in EndNote (which is complex enough). I suspect that I need quite a lot of playing with it before I’d want to commit to it, since EndNote is a vital part of my research. So this Thing may need to wait till after the 23 Things for detailed exploration.


One thought on “Thing 18 of 23: social citation sharing for those who don’t like Alcuin

  1. I haven’t really investigated the social side of Thing 18 at all, as I’ve been concentrating on working out whether and how Zotero and/or Mendeley can do what I want of them (after a bit of fiddling, the answer is yes). So this is a very interesting post, thank you.


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