Reviewed December 2015
Kai Alexis Smith, Librarian-in-Residence
Hesburgh Library
University of Notre Dame

RefMe is a reference manager that has a clean and intuitive interface. It is free for users and only requires registration. There is no software to download and it's compatible with all browsers. The WebClipper, an add-on for Google Chrome, can pull in citation information from across the web including webpages, images, books, articles, and more. RefMe automatically syncs across mobile devices, both iOS and Android. RefMe has also created a constantly updated citation database pulling from such sources as Spotify, Youtube and Google Books. When a desired citation is identified, with one click it can be added to a “project,” or citation group.  

So how is RefMe different from major players RefWorks, Mendeley, EndNote, and Zotero? First, RefWorks and EndNote desktop require users to pay a fee for use. Zotero and Mendeley are free, but additional storage for PDFs and other attachments costs a small fee. By contrast, RefMe is free, but does not provide any storage space for attachments, leaving no option to annotate PDFs, a feature offered by EndNote Web and Mendeley. Like others, RefMe provides the option to add notes to citations. Mendeley and RefMe have apps (Zotero’s apps are through third parties, and Refworks provides a mobile site but not an app per se). Zotero and RefMe apps have a barcode scanner feature compatible with iOS and Android.

refme 2RefMe’s WebClipper is slick. Like Zotero, It allows users to clip citation information without leaving the webpage. To change the source type or edit a field, users do not have to go back to the website account as they would need to in RefWorks. However, the WebClipper fails more times than not to accurately recognize the correct source type of a page. By default, it recognizes everything as a webpage, and meanwhile Zotero’s interface allows users more flexibility in the browser with editing citations and providing more control over accuracy. The RefMe dashboard allows users to create citations manually as well as search the RefMe citation database. The citation database could be improved. Search results only span one page, Boolean searching is not an option, and several searches resulted in citations that were not always accurate.

refme 3.pngIn its current state, RefMe is not ideal for scholarly research and especially not for art and art history researchers. There needs to be more accuracy in identifying artwork and pulling in citation information for images. Unfortunately, the WebClipper fails to recognize artwork from high-profile museum websites such as the Art Institute of Chicago and the National Gallery of Art; a search in the RefMe citation database for a few famous artists returned no results. When users search within their library catalog or even subscription databases such as ARTstor and JSTOR, the WebClipper doesn’t pull in the information. Yet, there was much success when referencing resources in Google Scholar, Amazon books and Google Images.

RefMe offers an institutional package that has benefits. There is a one-time set up agreement fee of up to $1,000 based on full time enrollment of students, which at the time of writing is being waived for early adopters. In return, the institution provides an online presence for RefMe, participates in testing, and identifies and tags citations style(s) for their users. Library branded user support is available 24/7 for students and faculty, and library staff have access to a dedicated account manager, accredited training, and an educator’s toolkit.

Despite its many shortcomings, this reference manager has potential. An investment in improving this citation tool can make it more accurate and robust for all users. Especially, art librarians can help RefMe improve the artwork citation database search and provide feedback on how the WebClipper interacts with images online and in library subscription databases. RefMe is still in beta, but has potential to grow and possibly compete with established reference managers.