Road test: Zotero




Even before it came down the pipe, Zotero was getting great buzz- attributable both to the powerhouse reputation of Center for History and New Media, and to the formidable blog presence of some of the CHNM and GMU folks (Dan Cohen, Caveat Lector, anyone?) As a skeptic when it came to citation managers, I was stoked to hear that open source Zotero worked as a Firefox extension, meaning that it lived in your browser, thus requiring no added installation of a program I probably wasn’t going to bother to use.

And let me reiterate, I’m not one of those librarians that shills for Endnote or other citation managers. I hate it when librarians try to proscribe habits. Besides, I never figured out how to use them, why it would make sense for me to use them, or why libraries spent money on them. And in a conspiracy-bent I don’t trust commercial database vendors, and they’re all in cahoots with commercial citation manager vendors. But I went ahead and downloaded the Zotero stuff, installed it, and forgot about it.

I finally got a chance to test it last week, when a patron called and wanted a list of sources to consult on the 1921 Tulsa race riots. In ten minutes, I was able to pluck citations directly from the online catalog and some newspaper indexes- I could even get citation information from web pages. I added annotations, and captured screen shots of PDF pages. And in another 90 seconds, I was able to export it as a perfectly formatted bibliography. Score!

Since then, I’ve used it to create exhibition labels for books and to compile research guides for students, and to make lists of books I’m meaning to check out. There’s a tagging feature that could ease huge research projects. The real testament is that I was able to prod my disorganized boyfriend to use it in gathering sources for his thesis. He came out of the bedroom a few hours later, with “That thing is awesome. It would have saved me so much time in grad school!” and then commenced to call a friend and shill for it.

Zotero is still in beta, and there are features still to come that will definitely enhance its seamlessness. An MS word plugin came out recently, and (hopefully) soon there will be a web login to access your stuff away from the computer where it’s installed. Since it is open source, institutions can feasibly configure it to their own needs. (on my wishlist: recognize EAD finding aids!) CHNM has developed a companion program, Scribe, which is a “notetaking application developed with historians in mind”. Stay tuned.


11 Responses to Road test: Zotero

  1. kristy says:

    This looks like the best Firefox extension I’ve seen since I downloaded Greasemonkey in order to override the Google logo with the much-improved Achewood designed version. [Code available here.

  2. nikki says:

    I’m downloading this when I get home.

  3. Dorothea says:

    Erm, just to be clear, I’ve never been on the CHNM staff. I worked for the GMU Libraries.

    Not that I mind being associated with CHNM! I think they’re groovy. They just might mind being associated with *me*, is all.

  4. Leets says:

    While I am all for things that make the lives of frazzled students and librarians easier, I have a bit of a problem with these citation management databases. The overwhelming majority of the students at my (mediocre) university can’t even read a citation, much less put together a bibliography or a works cited page. I think they should be forced to at least learn the basic skill before we are spending big bucks on ways to make their lives easier. But maybe I am just crotchety because there was no RefWorks when I was in school.

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