Previous reviews are at Mack Pitches Up

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Managing Your Digital Resources with Zotero

Zotero is a tool well known in academic circles. Here I hope to expand its use to people like myself who could use it for personal research interests. It does require the use of the Firefox 3 browser.

Do you scour the Internet for information on a topic that interests you? How do you manage what you find? That's a problem I face as I explore the world crime fiction.

Some of the activities I use the Internet for are

  • compile bibliographies of books by genre using library catalogs and sources such as Amazon

  • make lists of books that I think I want to read

  • find articles on web sites or blogs that discuss an interesting aspect of crime fiction and want to be able to find those articles again

  • find documents, usually in PDF format, that scholars have written about crime fiction that I think I will refer to again

  • email from authors people with like interests

Two tasks I want to be able to do quickly. First, when I find something I want to be able to record details quickly. Second, I want to be able to find these resources later. How can this information be collected, organized, and retrieved? Browser bookmarks/favorites and social bookmarking sites such as delicious are useful but not as much help in organizing.

The folks at the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University have developed a remarkable FireFox add-on called Zotero that turns your browser into a research management tool. It solves the problem of how to collect and organize research in one place. While Zotero is well known to academics it is certainly useful to anyone who gather information on a subject.

Considering my list above, information I glean from the Internet could be scattered throughout multiple locations on my PC, possibly, loose on my work table, or handwritten on scraps of paper about to go through the wash.

With Zotero, you can collect and organize all of these items in one place. Tag them, add notes, attachments, relate the citation to another citation, take snapshots that can capture an email or entire PDF document, and more.

Zotero’s translators work with many sites and can sense the type of information available on the page and indicate that information with a symbol in the FireFox address bar. A file folder indicates that there is a list of items that can be added to your library. A book or page represents book and journal information respectively. A newspaper is a newspaper article. And I just discovered that Zotero can sense when a page is a blog though so far it has only appeared on Google blogger sites.

In addition to the address bar icons, you can save a link to create an item from the current page as well as and even take a snapshot of the current page.

Zotero’s tagging capabilities are interesting. From some database sources, Zotero will extract descriptors and turn them into tags. You can also highlight several citations and apply a tag to all of them at once. Consistent use of tags and saved searches can make finding references very easy.

Zotero is best experienced and I hope your curiosity is whetted by reading about some of its capabilities. If you do any kind of research, gather any amount of information on a topic, I recommend that you give it a try. I really like being able to have all related items located together with flexible organization.

Go to the Zotero site for an up-to-date list of its features and a video demonstrating its use. Also, here are two user produced slide shows about Zotero:
Zotero slide Show on Lauren's Library Blog
Zotero Your Personal Research Assistant