Supporting researchers with the new Mendeley Reference Manager

Laura ThomsonLaura Thomson, PhD, is Head of Reference Management at Mendeley. She has been with Elsevier since the start of 2015, and brings over 18 years’ experience with information products and research solutions to her role. Praised by her group for her clear vision and creative approach, she plays a key role in shaping how reference management is discussed and driven at Elsevier. With some exciting new developments happening with Mendeley’s reference management solutions, we met with her to find out more.

We recently heard from your colleague Gaby Appleton about the overall vision for Elsevier’s researcher solutions, especially Mendeley. How do Mendeley’s reference management solutions, specifically, fit within that vision?

As Gaby will have told you, the vision for Elsevier is to contribute to improving the information system supporting research. Our aim is to help researchers work even more efficiently so they can spend more time making discoveries.

That’s a statement that truly resonates with me. I started out as a biochemist and, as that career progressed, other tasks started to take over more of my time. In many ways, it stopped being fun because there was less time to do the real research.

The vision for Mendeley is to provide researchers with time-saving tools that help speed up and simplify their workflows. We want to take reference management off researchers’ minds by making all the tasks related to collecting, organizing, reading, annotating and citing as simple as possible – and key to this is the development of the new Mendeley Reference Manager.

With that guiding vision, communication with researchers must be very important to your team’s development plans.

Absolutely. The tools we offer must address challenges in researchers’ daily reality, so we are in constant communication with a range of researchers – those that use Mendeley, those that use other solutions, and those that don’t use any digital software at all to manage their references. These aren’t just casual conversations either. We have a robust user discovery program consisting of weekly sessions in which researchers test what we’re doing and give feedback.

This is an ongoing process, allowing us to provide researchers with a reference manager that not only addresses feedback gathered in the past, but also continues to develop over time with regular releases responding to feedback we continue to receive. Mendeley Reference Manager will evolve as researchers’ needs and the research landscape evolve.

Can you tell us more about the new developments you’re making with Mendeley Reference Manager?MRM image 2

In 2008, Mendeley was launched as a reference manager for researchers. Over the years, we’ve continued to develop Mendeley Desktop and the reference manager products.

More recently, though, it’s become increasingly difficult to keep developing the original Mendeley Desktop in the way we and our users need. A key element of this is how often we release a new version; with Mendeley Desktop we release four to five times a year, but with the new Mendeley Reference Manager we are releasing every two weeks. This means that we can respond faster to user feedback, and get new functionality and fixes out more regularly.

We have also built Mendeley Cite – a new citation add-in for Microsoft® Word. As with Mendeley Reference Manager, we have developed this very much in response to user feedback. For example, users have increasingly been asking for citation support in Microsoft® Office 365 but we could not offer this with the existing Mendeley citation plugin, as it’s built in VBA. We have built the new Mendeley Cite in JavaScript so users can now cite in Office 365.

Can you give us some more details about Mendeley Cite, and any other changes people can expect with the new Mendeley Reference Manager package?

In terms of new functionality that’s already available, two tools I’m really excited about are Mendeley Cite, as mentioned, and Mendeley Notebook – we’re hoping both will really help simplify researchers’ workflows.RNS_963_b.Cite version image

Mendeley Cite enables users to cite references and generate a bibliography, just as they could with our existing citation plugin, but as I mentioned, Mendeley Cite now works with Office 365. You also don’t have to be a Mendeley Desktop user to use Mendeley Cite – it works with your cloud library which is loaded into the add-in, so there is no need to switch between applications when citing, another feature that users were asking for a lot.

Mendeley Notebook is our brand-new note-taking tool. It’s a working space for keeping thoughts in one place, making it quick and easy to collect highlights from multiple PDFs and add you own comments. Researchers told us that they liked having highlights and annotations associated with the PDF, but that they were usually reading multiple PDFs at once and wanted their notes from all of these in one place. With Notebook they can do this.

We’ve also made the reference management experience generally more accessible and streamlined by making a lot of things just that bit better. A user’s library now automatically syncs to the cloud when they’re signed in; notifications about whether an action was successfully completed are a lot clearer; the look and feel has also been updated… And we’re continuing work on more features and functionality, which will release throughout 2019 – watch this space!

Gaby also talked about Elsevier’s commitment to source neutrality and maintenance of user control. How does the new Mendeley Reference Manager align with that?

Mendeley Reference Manager remains a place where researchers can gather papers and documents from any publisher or source. We do not give priority to Elsevier content; there’s no change there. Research support solutions of this type must remain source neutral. It’s essential for the researcher to remain unrestricted in that.

How do you feel now that the new version is out in the world?

I’m naturally excited to see the response to the new Mendeley Reference Manager. The development vision was very much informed by conversations with researchers about daily challenges. The post-release feedback on the new version is a key part of our development vision because it feeds our continuous iterative development. So, I’m excited and I know the development team are too.

And, lastly, where can people go to see all this for themselves?

The new Mendeley Reference Manager can be downloaded from www.mendeley.com/reference-management/reference-manager-beta. It’s currently in BETA, and doesn’t have all the functionality of the existing Mendeley Desktop just yet – but, as mentioned, we’ll be making releases to it every two weeks. The BETA works alongside Mendeley Desktop so you can try it out whilst still using your existing Desktop – just sign in using your Mendeley credentials and your library will sync.

You can get Mendeley Cite from Microsoft AppSource at www.mendeley.com/cite/word/install.

We’d love to get feedback on both of these to help inform future developments. So I encourage everyone to let us know their thoughts using the feedback links within Mendeley Reference Manager and Mendeley Cite. We really hope everyone enjoys using them!

Thank you very much for your time.

You can find out more about all-things Mendeley here

Mendeley’s vision for supporting researchers

Gaby-Appleton-at-MendeleyGaby Appleton is the Managing Director for Mendeley and Researcher Products at Elsevier. She leads an expert product management team in a mission to support millions of researchers with better digital information systems. The aim is to help them have more impact with their work and effectively demonstrate that impact, to stay up to date, to organize and share their knowledge, and to advance their career. She brings over 15 years’ experience to her role along with a passion for the world of research. We met with her to discuss the development vision for Mendeley.

Thank you for taking the time to discuss the development vision for Mendeley. How would you define that vision?

Our vision for Mendeley and indeed for all the Elsevier solutions is to contribute to improving the information system that supports research — an ecosystem of tools and data that addresses real challenges in researchers’ daily reality.

What informs that vision?

Above all, it’s informed by conversations with researchers, which is something I spend a lot of time on. Not that it is a hardship! Spending time with them is truly one of the highlights of my job. Hearing about ground-breaking research from people who are so enthusiastic about what they’re doing is inspirational.

But it’s also essential. The Mendeley team that is responsible for defining our vision needs that open, honest contact with researchers.

Why are those conversations so important?

Because our development strategy has to focus on the problems we can solve for users. If we were doing something because it was exciting technologically but it didn’t address real challenges, then we’d be completely missing the point. We need to ground our development in researchers’ needs.

That’s why we start by listening to gain insight into their challenges, then look at what the technology can do, and finally design solutions to those challenges.

What is the vision for Mendeley’s development that has come out of conversations with researchers?

Based on all the challenges researchers have talked about, we’ve adopted four principles to guide our development strategy: source neutrality, interoperability, transparency, and user control.

Source neutrality means that researchers can use this information system to retrieve, store and disseminate information regardless of the publisher. An unbiased view is the essence of good research and we want to ensure that our platforms and tools are open to content beyond Elsevier’s. Mendeley users can receive recommendations on what to read next (Mendeley Suggest) based on what they’ve already added to their library, and funders-imagethese recommendations are not limited to Elsevier – they can be from any publisher. And we don’t restrict that to papers. Researchers have talked about challenges with staying abreast of funding opportunities, so we’ve worked to provide one of the largest aggregations of funding information, maintaining source neutrality and transparency. The same applies to career postings.

Interoperability is about ensuring that applications, tools and data sets from different providers can work together. The Mendeley API represents our commitment to interoperability with any tools that researchers need.

Transparency is vital to researchers. If they receive an alert or recommendation, they need to know what prompted it. Otherwise, they can’t know if it’s relevant without spending time assessing it. If they are looking at search results, it’s great if they can see how their search string relates to those results. That helps with filtering and refining the hit set. An example of how we maintain transparency is in the functioning of Mendeley Suggest. It makes recommendations for further reading based on what a user and their colleagues are reading, but crucially, it includes information about why that article is relevant.

Control is all about giving researchers control of their own data, where it’s shared and how it’s used by the system. If they don’t want their data to be visible beyond a select group of users, or they don’t want their behavior to provoke recommendations, they should be able to opt out of those features. User control is all about making it easy for an individual to find the settings for preferences. A good example in our system is Mendeley Data, which makes it easy for users to define exactly who sees their data. Similarly, the organization, privacy and recommendation settings of researchers’ reference manager library are easy to control. What displays in a Mendeley Profile is entirely at the user’s discretion.

That’s where our development team constantly strives to take Mendeley: to keep it open to content from any source; to make sure its application programming interface is compatible with multiple tools and platforms; to give users insight into how its features make recommendations; and to ensure that it’s easy for users to set their preferences.

You’re currently developing a new reference manager, now available in BETA, which is a completely re-platformed and updated version of Mendeley’s core reference management function. How does it align with this vision for Mendeley?

I’ll leave it to my colleague Laura Thomson, our Head of Reference Management, to talk about the new Mendeley Reference Manager in more detail in her upcoming interview. Briefly, reference management tools are what we’re best known for. Mendeley Desktop is now ten years old and, while it’s developed incrementally over that time, to really act on users’ feedback and make some big improvements, we felt we needed to take a new RNS_963_a.General version image (2)approach and take advantage of new technologies that have become available since the original Mendeley Desktop was built.

The new Mendeley Reference Manager remains free-to-use and publisher agnostic. The Mendeley API remains open, allowing researchers and developers to create interoperability with multiple tools. We’ve ensured that the settings for the library, recommendations and so on are transparent and in researchers’ control. It’s unique in satisfying those four aspects of the vision for an information system supporting research.

Every aspect of Mendeley follows the same principles and is informed by real-world conversations: from reference management through data sharing to showcasing impact.

We would never pretend that we have all the answers, but we listen. We’ll continue to communicate with researchers as we work on each application of Mendeley. Our goal at Elsevier is an information system that supports research, and Mendeley aims to remain a core part of that.

Thank you very much for your time.

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Find out more about the information system supporting research here