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One of the first projects I worked on at the OU was a Jisc-funded project called Telstar. Telstar built a reference management tool, called MyReferences, integrating RefWorks into a Moodle Virtual Learning Environment (VLE). Well, that MyReferences tool shortly reaches, what the software people call ‘End-of-Life’, and the website world like to refer to as ‘Sunsetting’, in other words, MyReferences is closing down later this month. So it seemed like a good time to reflect on some of the things I’ve learnt from that piece of work.
In a lot of ways several things that Telstar and MyReferences did have now become commonplace and routine. References were stored remotely in the RefWorks platform (we’d now describe that as cloud-hosted) and that’s almost become a default way of operating whether you think of email with Outlook365 or library management systems such as ExLibris Alma. Integration with moodle was achieved using an API, again, that’s now a standard approach. But both seemed quite a new departure in 2010.
I remember it being a complex project in lots of ways, creating integrations not just between RefWorks and Moodle but also making use of some of the OpenURL capabilities of SFX. It was also quite ambitious in aiming to provide solutions applicable to both students and staff. Remit (the Reference Management Integration Toolkit) gives a good indication of some of the complexities not just in systems but also in institutional and reference management processes. The project not only ran a couple of successful Innovations in Reference Management events but led to the setup of a JiscMail reading list systems mailing list.
Complexity is the main word that comes to mind when thinking about some of the detailed work that went into mapping reference management styles between OU Harvard in RefWorks and MyReferences to ensure that students could get a simplified reference management system in MyReferences without having to plunge straight into the complexity of full-blown RefWorks. It really flagged for me the implications of not having standard referencing styles across an institution but also the impact of not adopting a standard style already well supported but of designing your own custom institutional style. One of the drawbacks of using RefWorks as a resource list system was that each reference in each folder was a separate entity meaning that any changes in a resource (name for example) had to be updated in every list/folder. So it taught us quite a bit about what we ideally wanted from a resource list management/link management system.
Reference management has changed massively in the past few years with web-based tools such as Zotero, Refme and Mendeley becoming more common, and Microsoft Office providing support for reference management. So the need to provide institutional systems maybe has passed when so many are available on the web. And I think it reflects how any tool or product has a lifecycle of development, adoption, use and retirement. Maybe that cycle is now much shorter than it would have been in the past.