Classically Inclined

June 13, 2011

Tech tools – managing those pesky PDFs

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 9:30 am
Tags: ,

I’ve finally caved and realised that filing all of my PDFs of articles in subfolders along with whatever piece of academic work I’m using said article for isn’t going to work any more. The approach of having a subfolder called ‘Articles’ alongside whatever I was writing worked just fine for the PhD, and for the various other projects that I ran alongside the PhD. However, their bibliographies are now starting to overlap. The Stoic exile article, for instance, uses a lot of the same biblio that chapter two of the thesis did, and while it was fine to have one big folder of articles for the PhD as a whole, jumping between the Stoic Exile article folder and the PhD article folder is… well, let’s say that I’ve only been trying to run this routine for a week or so, and it’s already irritating the hell out of me.

So! Clearly what I need is one centralised place to keep all my PDFs. I could just shove them all in a folder marked ‘articles’ and just hope, but this seems a good a time as any to experiment with some of this bibliographic management software that people keep on sounding keen on. I had heard really good things about Papers2, but alas! That only operates on a Mac platform, and I’m a Windows girl. My two options seemed to be Mendeley and  Qiqqa. Mendeley tends to go head to head with Zotero when #phdchat has these kinds of discussions,  and after looking at the feature comparison charts I figured that I’d give it a go rather than Qiqqa – the main advantage of Qiqqa seemed to be a lot of ‘also by this author’ material, and I’ll admit that I’m sceptical they have much background data of any use to a classicist. So I downloaded Mendeley last night, copied all my PDFs into it, and then found myself looking at a huge job of getting all the references right on nearly four hundred documents.

I’m not saying that I am completely convinced by Mendeley’s pitch – I’m deeply sceptical of the claim that it creates effective academic social networking, not to mention this metadata of which they speak (a good chunk of my PDFs are scans of articles rather than PDF files, and as my transfer of data last night showed, the metadata is rather thin on the ground). A lot of the supposed benefits are, shall we say, causing me to raise my eyebrow in a sceptical fashion. But I’m figuring that I can’t afford to be properly sceptical until I’ve given it a go – and if I do end up being right in my hunch that I’m likely to be a research community of one, then at least I’ll have well-ordered PDFs out of it. I guess this starts with going through the files when I have a spare moment and making sure that the reference information is in order and that each article is properly tagged with the projects I’m using it for. One might argue that there are perhaps better times to do this than a fortnight before negotiating a transatlantic move… but I’m going with the old adage that there’s no time like the present.

(I suppose the second stage will be working out whether I can get the automatic citation tool to work in MS Word, and figuring out what the hell to do with citation references that aren’t in PDF form, like books, but baby steps.)



  1. I’m fond of Refworks, provided A: your institution has a subscription and B: you trust “the Cloud”…It would also resolve your citation problem.

    Comment by Sarah Clark — June 13, 2011 @ 3:23 pm | Reply

    • Unfortunately, there’s a problem with RefWorks’ big selling point, that it can talk to databases – it can’t actually cope with L’annee Philologique, the main Classics reference database! So when I have tried to use it, it’s always ended up as far more work than it’s actually worth. I’m turning to Mendeley here to solve one problem, how to herd far too many PDF articles effectively; so long as it does that, any other additional features will be a bonus.

      Comment by lizgloyn — June 13, 2011 @ 3:28 pm | Reply

      • Argh! I’m not familiar with that database, but as a librarian, I’m all too aware that refworks plays better with some tools than with others. I’d suggest contacting your library or refworks IT if you haven’t (from experience I know the latter is very responsive), but if you have a decent solution right now it might not be worth the bother.

        Comment by Sarah Clark — June 13, 2011 @ 4:06 pm | Reply

        • I went to a Refworks training session and the trainer spent fifteen minutes after class trying to get L’annee to play nicely – all, alas, to no avail. I’m also now in limbo between finishing the PhD and finding a permanent academic position, so I don’t have institutional access for much longer anyway. So I think I’ll see how Mendeley works as a tool for now, and maybe experiment with RefWorks again if the opportunity arises.

          Comment by lizgloyn — June 13, 2011 @ 4:40 pm | Reply

  2. I’m using Mendeley and EndNote Web at the moment (ENW is the “official” library choice, and I’m trying out Mendeley myself.) If you have access to the publisher’s PDFs, Mendeley does a nice job on the metadata. If not, see if you can find a citation export function on the publisher website, library databases, Google Scholar, and/or library catalogs. Mendeley handles Bibtex, RIS, and Endnote formats without any problems I’ve found so far (excluding the faulty data that comes out of, say, GS sometimes!) There’s also a browser bookmarklet that can read a lot of publsher websites and, reportedly, Google Books. Mendeley does not work on our library databases very well, because we use a proxy login that “messes up” the URLs.

    I haven’t used it much, but the Mendeley PDF importer can check Google Scholar for info–whether that’s of any use would depend on how well GS covers your field. I was able to view the PDF, type in the article title, and search GS with some success for library science/education articles.

    Comment by Rebecca Hedreen — June 14, 2011 @ 2:07 pm | Reply

  3. I haven’t tried any of these: I happen not to work that way. But I was greatly entertained by Mendeley’s suggestions for articles on specific topics. Under philosophy of mind, I was offered a range of articles on various medical conditions, some of the brain (which would have a chance of being relevant) but most of other organs.

    Comment by Richard Baron — June 15, 2011 @ 4:02 am | Reply

    • I don’t usually work like this either, and the main problem I’m trying to solve is a sensible organisation of the PDFs – I’ll see how well it does with that before I start worrying about the other features!

      Comment by lizgloyn — June 15, 2011 @ 11:25 am | Reply

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