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Innovations in Reference Management

Beacon cited through fog

Beacon cited through fog

Who would have thought that reference management could be so interesting? We spent a  very informative and enjoyable Thursday in snowy Milton Keynes, at the Innovations in Reference Management (#IRM10) event (part of the OU/JISC TELSTAR project). All thoroughly blogged by Owen Stephens, and tweeted by many.

Owen Stephens and Jason Platts of OU described the outputs of the TELSTAR project, which integrates the OU’s Moodle VLE with Refworks. This means that students using the VLE can move seamlessly between their reading lists and Refworks, locating resources, maintaining consistency of style and generating bibliographies easily.

Paul Stainthorp of Lincoln University described some exciting, bleeding-edge uses of Yahoo Pipes to mashup data from Refworks, OPAC, and Amazon. Arguably even more bleeding-edge was the presentation by Euan Adie from Nature Publishing, who showed us Help Me Igor, a reference manager plugin for Google Wave. Speakers from CiteULike and Mendeley also gave us fascinating insights into their respective social-tinged bibliographic management offerings.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Kevin and I brought to the table the theme of web preservation. With reference to our work with JISC-PoWR, UKWAC and ArchivePress, we reminded anyone who hasn’t heard our spiel already that there are many important, valuable and eminently citable web resources, notably blogs by academic researchers, that are at risk of disappearing – making references to them virtually useless.

Authors may not be responsible for ensuring their readers can access the resources they reference, but we think they should at least give them a fighting chance of doing so! We  therefore proposed that students and researchers should be encouraged to locate and cite copies of web resources in stable web archives (such as the UK Web Archive) rather than “in the wild”.

We also discussed the idea that persistent collections of web resources could be created at the institutional level, whether that were an open archive of blog posts by a university’s researchers, or a closed repository where researchers can store copies of the web resources they cite.

One of the strong themes that emerged in discussion was the need for information literacy/digital skills training at all levels to address current tools and trends in reference management; and to re-assert the purpose, value and nature of citation in online digital environments

An interesting suggestion also made was that reference management tools are becoming a natural part of the environment, just as email has: is provision of specialised applications by universities an “aberration”?

I’m inclined to think not, after all it was clear from the workshop that there’s still a need to support ongoing study and research effectively, and scope to develop and validate new approaches.  Microsoft Word may now include reference management features, but that doesn’t obviate the need to educate people in how to use them effectively, and why.

We’re very grateful to Owen for including us in his programme: this is a fascinating area, where e-learning, libraries, preservation and publishing collide, and I’m sure we haven’t heard the last of it.

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