If you were to invent for academics, how would it work? It would allow for bookmarking, tagging, and sharing. It would pull metadata from academic resource databases. It would allow me (the layprof) to organize collected essays and citations with a minimum of clickage. And it would do all these things in a browser, from on or off campus, independent of platform. In short, it would be quite like CiteULike.

This is a little story about my first pass into CiteULike, and if it’s not entirely a happy story, we should still bear in mind the possibilities, the promise, the 2.0ness of it all.

I abjectly learned about CiteULike just recently (designed by Richard Cameron over a year ago). Sitting through some screencasts made by Tannis Morgan at UBC , I saw how this social bookmarking tool could be useful not only as a way to track journal contents, specifically tagged articles, and other academics’ bookmarks — through RSS — but also as a means to build a library of collected resources — available anywhere and to all.

Holy digital hotness! said I. I’ll try it for myself! And here’s where minor chords start to well up in the background.

Creating an account on CiteULike was childsplay; in ten seconds I was ready to bookmark and collect. Stunned a bit by the possibilities, and revived a bit by narcissism, I decided to start a collection with articles I’ve written. Tough luck, bucko. Though CiteULike offers to browse through some 6500 journals, this roundup doesn’t include the ones that have sponsored my thoughts. In fact, many of the journals seem to be science-related. As ever, the humanist is the redheaded stepchild of resource sharing ventures.

That’s ok, said I. I’ll find some article that’s at least in my field. I saw that Nineteenth-Century Contexts was one of the proffered journals, and scanning a recent edition I saw listed an article about Mary Shelley by Diane Long Hoeveler. Very good, said I. I’ll collect that:

Two links offered to let me ‘view the article online’. Excellent idea! But these links led me to publisher sites, one of which offered a “free sample,” the other demanded $33.67 plus tax. Much disturbing mention of shopping carts. This will never do, said I. Since I am off campus, what I seem need is a way for CiteULike to create paths into Bowdoin’s collections.

So I added the citation to the mysterious Hoeveler article to my own collection, tagging it in the process. Only one-word tagging, please.

A couple of cool features to notice here: I (or anyone) can track my collection through RSS. And metadata from this collection can be gussied up for EndNote with just one click (note how my tags turned into keywords in this EndNote record):

But the problem remained: how to actually connect to the article? I dug around in CiteULike’s FAQs and felt more assured that offcampus proxy access to articles would make those shopping carts disappear. For this functionality, CiteULike pointed me to a COinS Browser Extension written by Dan Chudnov at Yale .

In order to install this little extension, I had to first install Greasemonkey in my Firefox browser — not too difficult, but, trust me, we’ve lost the layprofs by now. The COinS extension allowed me to designate my own institution’s OpenURL resolver, and plug that resolver into OpenURL links now ‘discovered’ in my browser. That way, theoretically, one could click on a resource link on any site and actually access that resource through one’s own institution. You can see this in action here: note the new link that invites me to “Check availability @ Bowdoin”.

But, alas, here’s what happened to me when I clicked that invitation to check availability@Bowdoin:

Note that none of the metadata for the article has been passed through except for the article’s date. At this point I had neither the time nor the skill nor the patience to figure out where the glitch was; I only knew that I was off campus and out of luck accessing an article I found on CiteULike.

Never give up, I told myself. With one last bit of inspiration, I decided to see whether the little bookmarklet that CiteULike distributes (“Post to CiteULike”, rather like’s “Remember this” bookmarklet) would work going the other way. That is, suppose I’m signed into Bowdoin’s databases, and I run across an article I’d like to post onto the CiteULike. That’s just a click of the button, right?

The FAQs warn me that automatic metadata export into CiteULike would only occur with supported databases, which are: AIP Scitation, Amazon, American Geophysical Union, American Meteorological Society, Anthrosource, Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) portal, BMJ, Blackwell Synergy, CiteSeer, HighWire, IEEE Xplore, IngentaConnect, IoP Electronic Journals, JSTOR, MathSciNet, MetaPress, NASA Astrophysics Data System, Nature, PLoS Biology, PubMed, PubMed Central, Science, ScienceDirect, SpringerLink, Usenix, Wiley InterScience, e-Print archive. (See what I mean about the humanities?) Well, JSTOR seemed my best bet, so I rooted around in Bowdoin’s library site until I found an article on Mary Shelley in JSTOR. Here was one from ELH: “Narratives of Seductions and the Seductions of Narrative: The Frame Structure of Frankenstein” (Ok I see what you mean about the humanities).

When I clicked my bookmarklet to Post to CiteULike, here’s what happened:

Hmm…. that really didn’t take the drudge out of drudgery, did it? I mean, yes, some barebones metadata is passed through, but all to the title field; I have a fair amount of tending, cutting, and pasting to do if I want this to be a real citation. If I feel like more work, I can download a PDF version of the article to my computer, then upload it into CiteULike so I can privately retrieve the article wherever I am. I can’t share the full text with other Mary Shelley aficionados, though: they have to try their own luck tunneling into their own publisher-paying institutions. Otherwise, you know, that’d be stealing.

I believe wholeheartedly that around the world, from within and without institutional walls, academics are happily collecting and sharing resources with CiteULike. I can see this happening minute by minute on the home page:

But at least right here & right now, I can’t fully play. And I feel swamped by “everyone”. How many of “everyone’s” tags link to articles I can understand, much less evaluate and collect?

Once the mechanics were ironed out, this would be my next wish for CiteULike: the creation of discipline-based communities, so I could track the tags of colleagues pondering British literature — and feel less intimidated by clustering geophysicists.

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