Digging into digital research

Over the past few weeks, I have been leveraging Zotero heavily in my work and general information curation. With deadlines knocking on my door I know I have to be organised. So while I make extensive use of Diigo and Delicious, as well as Evernote, when it comes to the serious academic stuff Zotero has to come up trumps.

Zotero is a citation management system, which allows for tagging, searching, note taking, collections, and shared libraries.  I admit, I don’t share my libraries with anyone – but I could if I was collaborating on a research paper of some kind.  Our students at CSU are introduced to Endnote, but I much prefer Zotero as it is a Firefox addon that collects, manages, and cites research sources from all my computers. It’s free and easy to use. There are other systems around, but for now Zotero is my workhorse.

More schools should adopt these tools too. In secondary schools it’s  time to move away from Pathfinders created in Publisher  to providing our students with strategies for information curation to support Guided Enquiry, or Project Based Learning or other tactics for deep engagement with information and knowledge.  Another similar tool that supports a school integrated approach is BibMe. An education institution account provides a customised for the school environment.

What do I do with Zotero that is different from social bookmarking or organising information with Evernote?

My most recent project has been to write a chapter for an upcoming IFLA/IASL publication. Right…folder for that!  I already had a few folders  being kept busy for other articles, presentations and course work,  but the book chapter became the priority.

As I researched deeply, in the various databases, in Google Scholar, in blogs, and other information sources, I was able to collect relevant information pertinent to my  topic of investigation. However, my ‘collection’ process was more than just bookmarking, or collecting a  screen capture. Zotero can extract key metadata from Web pages and insert them into citations, so I was also able to grab the citation information (neat metadata trick) directly from each of those sources (automatically) and link it with either  the pdf or  screen capture record of the document I wished, thus keep an authoritative information trail.  In some instances, I also added some notes as highlight or reflection of the content that I was interested in. I can go back to the original source as well, as the URL is also stored.

Then of course, Zotero synchronises with Word. Once I began writing, I was able to  insert the reference in the text in the appropriate manner drawing on my curated list. Finally, I was able to generate the Reference list automatically.

However, whenever I’m researching, I do also find things related to other topics I want to keep a track of. So while I’m busy with my folders, I also take time to use tags – and we’re all used to doing this automatically aren’t we? These tags allow me to filter information that I have collected at a later date for a different focus.  So Zotero allows me to organize my research into collections, and the collections are highly flexible, and better still,  an item can belong to multiple collections simultaneously.

So what’s cool?

  • Zotero is optimized for JSTOR, Flickr, YouTube, Google Scholar, ProQuest, EBSCO, and other online archives/databases. Click the Zotero icon in the URL address field to pull in key metadata.
  • Create citations for offline resources such as books, journal articles, and personal communications.
  • Organize citations by tag or folders; generate reports based on tags or folders.
  • Take notes and attach files (e.g., PDF or Word files) as needed.
  • Capture snapshots of Web sites and online images with metadata (note that there are interesting copyright implications).
  • Zotero supports the OCLC OpenURL Resolver Gateway protocol. Clicking the Locate button within Zotero will direct users to the appropriate database within the Libraries.
  • You can also sync your Zotero library, including all your references, snapshots of the HTML version of all your articles, and all the PDFs using the Zotero servers. This syncs your library to every other computer you’re using.

However, Zotero has a low storage limit – you only get tiny 100MB storage space for free. Never mind – Dropbox to the rescue, as you can also sync your library using your own WebDAV server.

Zotero is an excellent tool for any scholar, researcher, or student to have in their toolbox. Its utility extends well beyond preparing to write a paper, however, as it allows you to grab nearly anything off the web and insert it into the Zotero system.   Yep – that’s it…and my chapter is done!

Jason Puckett at Georgia State U provides an excellent Libguide for Zotero. His  Zotero: A guide for librarians, teachers and researchers  is coming soon from ACRL Publications and will be published in print and several e-editions including DRM-free formats.

There! Now I’ve shared my digital digging strategy. Now it’s your turn to give it a go and become a digital age scholar!

8 thoughts on “Digging into digital research

  1. Hi Judy,

    Zotero is fantastic, I sing it’s praises to anyone who will listen, especially new ‘mature age’ students! The fact that it’s web browser based seems to make it a much easier application to navigate and learn. I also love that Zotero works well with OpenOffice as well, great for those who don’t have the cash (or don’t want) to pay for Word.

  2. Pingback: Librarian Blogs « SLM509LMT

  3. fantastic article Judy – thanks.The sooner we can kids using this tool in schools the more chance we have the opportunity to students to truly engage with coming to terms with digital literacy

  4. I’m writing a thesis proposal for my Master’s program, so I’ve been exploring the various citation management and research tools available for storing/creating citations from online (and print) sources.

    One problem I’ve been running into is the lack of metadata support for sources not easily retrieved from EBSCO, Google Scholar, etc. (My thesis topic is on Digital Natives and Online Distance Learning, so there’s a lot of credible material out there that isn’t cataloged in the supported archives/databases) Has anyone come up with a good workaround for this?

    I find myself duplicating and triplicating my sources in an effort to ensure that all of the relevant information is stored somewhere I can easily access (I use Delicious, Evernote, and StumbleUpon for bookmarking and I’ve tried EndNote, CiteULike, Mendeley, and Zotero for citation management).

    Don’t get me wrong, I really like all of the tools I mentioned above–they each have their place and pros/cons–but I would prefer a more comprehensive/integrated solution…if it’s out there!

    BTW – I’m going to check out the Libguide by Jason Puckett you mentioned in your post. It’s always possible that the majority of the problems I’m running into are more “user-centric” than “tool-centric.”

    • I’m still not a competent user by any stretch, but I did find that there are a number of ways to capture information in Zotero – more than one place to click, so to speak! Sometimes it requires the ‘collector’ to add information – but that’s easily done, and once done the information is stored for you and automatically generated in the reference style of your choice. I also love being able to drag and drop items that I have in full pdf format (sometimes I need to keep full digital copy on hand). At a guess you probably still have some nice new options to discover. Evernote is a great adjunct – but Zotero is the writing support tool for me :-)

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