Mendeley is two things. First, it is a PDF library/reader. Second, it is a citation manager.
Currently, I used Papers for the first and Endnote for the second. Both work well enough -- if not perfectly -- but it is a pain that I have to enter every paper I want to cite into two different programs.
(Don't tell me I could export my Papers citations library to Endnote. First, I'd have to do that every time I update my library, which is annoying. Second, Papers was created by someone who clearly never cites books, book chapters, conference proceedings, etc. So I'd have to fix all of those in Endnote ... every time I export.)
(Also, don't tell me about Zotero. Maybe it's gotten better in the last year since I tried it, but it was seriously feature-deficient and buggy beyond all belief.)
At first, I was pleasantly surprised. Unlike Papers, Mendeley is free so long as you don't want to use their Cloud functionality much (I don't). Papers is convinced there are people named Marc Hauser, Marc D Hauser, M D Hauser, and M Hauser. Mendeley can be led astray but has some nice options to allow you to collapse two different author records -- or two different keywords.
(On that note, my Papers library has implicit causality, Implicit causality and Implicit Causality all as different keywords. Once Papers has decided the keyword for a paper is, say, Implicit Causality, nothing on G-d's green Earth will convince it to switch to implicit causality. And its searches are case sensitive. Mendeley has none of these "features.")
Also, Mendeley will let you annotate PDFs and export the PDFs with your annotations in a format readable by other PDF viewers (if, for instance, you wanted to share your annotated PDF with someone). That's a nice feature.
These would all be nice additional features if the the core functionality of Mendeley was there. I'm sorry to say that the product just doesn't seem to be ready for prime time.
I typed "prime time" into Flickr, and this is what it gave me. Not sure why.
photo credit here.
The first disappointment is that Mendeley does not have smart collections. Like smart playlists in iTunes, smart collections are collections of papers defined by various search terms. If you have a smart collection that indexes all articles with the keywords "implicit causality," "psych verbs" and "to read", then whenever you add a new paper with those keywords, they automatically go into the smart collection. This is very handy, and it's an excellent feature of Papers (except that, as mentioned above, my smart folder for implicit causality searches for the keywords "implicit causality," "Implicit causality" OR "Implicit Causality").
I suspect Mendeley doesn't have smart collections because it doesn't have a serious search function. You can search for papers written by a given author or with a given keyword, but if you want to search for papers written by the conjunction of two authors or any paper on "implicit causality" written by Roger Brown, you're out of luck. Rather, it'll perform the search. It just won't find the right papers.
That might be forgivable if the citation function in Mendeley was usable. The idea is that as you write a manuscript, when you want to cite, say, my paper on over-regularization (18 citations and counting!), you would click on a little button that takes you to Mendeley. You find my paper in your PDF library, click another button, and (Hartshorne & Ullman, 2006) appears in your Word document (or NeoOffice or whatever) and the full bibliographic reference appears in your manuscript's bibliography. You can even choose what citation style you're using (e.g., APA).
Sort of. Let's say you want to cite two different papers by Roger Brown and Deborah Fish, both published in 1983 (which, in fact, I did want to do). Here's what it looks like:
Implicit causality effects are found in both English (Brown﹠Fish, 1983) and Mandarin (Brown﹠Fish, 1983)At least in APA style, those two papers should be listed as (Brown﹠Fish, 1983a) and (Brown﹠Fish, 1983b), because obviously otherwise nobody has any idea which paper you are citing.
This gets worse. Suppose you wrote:
Implicit causality effects have been found in multiple languages (Brown﹠Fish, 1983; Brown﹠Fish, 1983).Correct APA 5th Ed. style is, I believe, (Brown﹠Fish, 1983a, 1983b). Actually, I'm not sure what exactly the correct style is, because Endnote always takes care of it for me.
There are other issues. Mendeley doesn't have a mechanism for suppressing the author. So you end up with:
As reported by Brown and Fish (Brown﹠Fish, 1983; Brown﹠Fish, 1983), verbs have causality implicit in their meaning.instead of
As reported by Brown and Fish (1983a, 1983b), verbs have causality implicit in their meaning.Nor does Mendeley know about et al:
Hauser, Chomsky and Fitch (Hauser, Chomsky﹠Fitch, 2001) put forward a new proposal....blah blah blah...as has been reported several times in the literature (Hauser, Chomsky﹠Fish, 2001; Brown﹠Fish, 1983; Brown﹠Fish, 1983).That is, the second time you cite a paper with more than 2 authors, it doesn't contract to (Hauser et al. 2001). Unfortunately, there is no work-around for any of these problems. In theory, you can edit the citations to make them match APA style. Within a few seconds, a friendly dialog box pops up and asks you if you really want to keep your edited citation. You can click "OK" or click "cancel," but either way it just changes your carefully-edited citation back to its default -- at least it does on my Mac (the forums suggest that this works for some people).
It's possible that people who don't use APA won't have as many of these problems. Numbered citations, for instance, probably work fine. I've never submitted a paper anywhere that used numbered citations, though. So I either need to switch professions or continue using Endnote to write my papers.
One can hope that Mendeley will solve some of these issues. I found discussions on their "suggested features" forum going back many months for each of the problems discussed above, which suggests I may be waiting a while for these fixes. I do understand that Mendeley is technically in beta testing. But it's been in beta testing for over two years, so that's not really an excuse at this point.
Alternatively, maybe Papers will add a good citation feature (and discover books). Or maybe Zotero will confront its own demons. I'm going to have to wait and see.
It makes one appreciate Endnote. Yes, it's a dinosaur. No, it hasn't added any really useable features since I started using it in 2000. But it worked then, and it still works now. There's something to be said for that.