Accessing Your Zotero Library on an iPad with Mendeley

iPad in ActionOne of the most exciting developments with the research tool and citation manager Zotero is the push for Zotero Everywhere, a browser-independent version that we’ve already covered on ProfHacker. You can now use the alpha version of Standalone Zotero with Firefox, Chrome, Safari, and Internet Explorer on any of the three major computing platforms: Windows, Mac, and Linux. But the one place you can’t use Zotero—and where I often need it most—is on the iPad.

It’s true that if you have a 3G iPad or a wifi connection, you can view your Zotero library from within Safari (provided you have enabled syncing). The web interface, however, is not searchable or optimized for a mobile experience. And plus, you have to be online to access it.

Enter Mendeley’s universal iPhone/iPad app. Mendeley is a research tool similar to Zotero (see our coverage of Mendeley for an introduction to the tool). And you can use it to get your Zotero library (including attached notes and PDFs) onto the iPad.

The workflow is fairly seamless, but does take multiple steps:

  1. Import your Zotero collection into Mendeley’s desktop application (available for Windows, Mac, and Linux). You can do this by selecting Zotero integration from within Mendeley’s preferences. Mendeley will find and import your Zotero library, as well as any future items you add to Zotero.
  2. Sign up for a free Mendeley account. Note that Mendeley follows a “freemium” model: free accounts provide 500 MB of personal storage space for your citations and associated PDF files, while a monthly fee will get you more storage space (e.g. 3.5 GB for $5/month, 7.5 GB for $10 month, etc.). Once you have your Mendeley account, sync the desktop application with your online account.
  3. Install the Mendeley iPad app, sign in to Mendeley with your account name and password, and sync.

That’s it! As you can see, there’s faceted browsing panel to scroll through various documents:

Mendeley iPad App

And selecting any given document will show that document’s details:

Mendeley iPad App Document Window

I do have a few caveats, however:

  • Since your storage space is limited (especially if you, like I do, opt for the free 1 GB level), I recommend selectively syncing your folders. In Mendeley Desktop, you can select which folders you want to sync.
  • Selective sync will also save time—the first time you sync to the Mendeley server can take 15-20 minutes, depending upon how many citations and files you’re syncing.
  • And the greatest drawback to this method: it’s one-way. If you make any changes to a reference within Mendeley, those changes will not be reflected in Zotero. This drawback is most apparent to me when I read PDFs. Let’s say I have a reference with an attached PDF in Zotero and I want to read it on my iPad (the Mendeley App has a native PDF reader, but you can also open PDFs in external apps, like iAnnotate). If I’m using the Zotero→Mendeley Desktop→Mendeley iPad app method, and I open that PDF on my iPad, any annotations I make on the PDF will not show up in Zotero.

Still, despite these caveats, I’ve found Mendeley to be a good way to have my Zotero library on hand, so to speak, on my iPad, even when I’m offline. Until somebody develops a Zotero app (which seems entirely reasonable, given that Zotero has an open read/write API), it’s an useful workaround.

Have you found other ways of accessing your Zotero collection on your mobile devices? Have you found that Mendeley works great for you without Zotero? What are the advantages or disadvantages of using one or the other (or both) for making your research sources available, wherever you are?

[iPad photo courtesy of Flickr user Incase / Creative Commons Licensed]

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