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!