Monday, November 19, 2007

Experiment with a free online citation manager: Connotea

Recently I have had a few discussions with other librarians and a faculty member about the possible effect of full-text access on serendipity. The young faculty member was especially concerned that students wouldn't have the experience of flipping through a journal and finding something unexpected that alters one's outlook or focus on research. Yet, in a recent meeting including students, the students all said they wanted full text access. Sometimes both print and electronic access is prohibitively expensive. Will we lose serendipity along the way?

After these conversations, I began to consider information seeking behaviors. In many studies, it has been shown that amongst faculty an "invisible college" exists, whereby much of their information comes from colleagues and conferences. Students, not yet part of the larger scientific network of their discipline, lack this access...and one may think then that serendipity should play an important role in their explorations. However, the Web is becoming more social, and perhaps that can make up for the serendipitous discovery in the library.

Take, for example, Connotea . I wrote a paper in library school on the value of social bookmarking in academia, and then promptly set it aside. I think I have shown Connotea to only one class in my library instruction this semester. I realized that is likely because I don't think of it as the type of research tool where you get the article you are looking for; rather to me it is a vehicle for exploration...and maybe that serendipitous discovery.

Connotea...what is it? Connotea is a

free online reference management for clinicians and scientists

With Connotea, you can save and share citations with your colleagues. Think of it as bookmarks that are accessible through any computer because they are Web-based. Some people might be familiar with or furl (which is the application where I place the NAS links). Connotea is a similar concept with a focus on academic citations.

Where does the exploration and serendipitous discovery come in? Connotea is searchable. You can search on a subject, a user, or a tag. For example, I searched on "crustaceans" in honor of a reference question that I had a few nights ago. Eleven article citations were found. In addition, though, the people who have these articles in their citations have tagged them with descriptive words or phrases. Connotea lists these hyperlinked tags. Some of the tags for the article I found were
  • Molecular Evolution ~ Molecular-Ecological Adaptation
  • crustaceans
  • toxicology
  • Vibrios
  • Phreatoicopsis raffae
  • Infection and or Contamination Control
  • research
  • Taxonomy~Phylogeny
  • Madagascar
  • Pathogen Characterizations and or MisCharacterizations
  • uploaded
  • Environmental disturbances-vector proliferation
Furthermore, the user names for the people who saved these articles are also hyperlinked. This allows you to click on a tag that interests you to see what articles might also have been given this tag. You can also click on the user name of the person who saved an article you found to be of interest. That way you can see what else he or she is reading. From there you might click on one of his or her other tags, and discover another user whose interests match your own. It is an expanding network. You can even subscribe to an RSS feed for a person or tag you would like to follow.

So I wouldn't recommend this to a student deep into their research necessarily, but I would recommend it to a student just exploring topics, looking for the focus for their own research. In addition, of course, I recommend it to anyone who might want to keep track of their citations online. Personally, I tend to prefer a bibliographic citation manager such as Endnote for this purpose because it creates a bibliography, but one nice thing about Connotea is your references can be exported into one of those programs.

Happy explorations!

No comments: