Over the course of the past weekend, I’ve been moving my collection of PDFs and ebooks over to a new desktop computer, and updating my Mendeley archive to accommodate the move. Unfortunately, I don’t have a paid account, so when I migrated the files from one computer to the next (via Dropbox), the actual digital files were no longer associated with their entries in Mendeley.
This is a serious problem when you have over 1000 entries. As of yesterday, I had managed to associate most of the files with the 1004 existing entries, with another 220 to be added.
The majority of these files are journal articles that I xeroxed as a grad student, and which I have been gradually digitizing and OCRing over the past two or three years. There are also a number of PDFs that I have downloaded from Google Books (for works that are in the public domain) or JSTOR (for works that are not). Most of the references that I use are not available through either; these include manuscripts (obviously), monographs from expensive presses, and articles from obscure journals that never made the leap to digital or perished before this became a possibility. Consequently, I’ve needed to feed the better part of an entire filing cabinet full of moldy (and unfortunately neglected) xeroxes into an automatic document feeder, bulk-scan them to PDF, and run Adobe Acrobat’s ClearScan OCR on the scanned files.
Obviously, this is a laborious, time-intensive, and painstaking process, replete with paper jams and other scanning complications, but the result is well-worth it.
Having entered all of these files into Mendeley and updated their publication information, I can quickly search my archive (including the contents of every file that has been successfully OCRed) for information about a research topic and generating a pretty comprehensive bibliography of works. On top of this, Mendeley will provide complete citations for any of the entries I use, according to all of the most common formats (Chicago, MLA, etc.). There is also a social aspect to Mendeley, allowing you to “friend” other researchers and search other archives, but I haven’t made much use of this aspect.
I do not think I exaggerate when I say that Mendeley has been a “game-changer” for my research. It has taken two of the most tedious aspects of publication (reviewing the literature, especially my own files, and formatting citations), and automated them. When I am writing an article or when a colleague asks me a question over email, I no longer have to wonder whether I have anything on the topic filed somewhere in the cabinet in my office in New Brunswick, NJ; I can merely run a quick search on my own files and produce a PDF.