Why Use Zotero?

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Note: I’m biased. This is very much a personal view. On the other hand, I’ve been trying to manage references since my undergraduate dissertation more than 15 years ago, and I’ve been publishing bibliographies online for more than a decade. I’ve been through:

  • index cards (ug and MA dissertations)
  • a homebrewed MS Access database (for most of my PhD dissertation)
  • Endnote
  • BibDesk
  • CiteULike
  • LibraryThing
  • Connotea, Mendeley, and probably a few other things of that ilk
  • Semantic Mediawiki
  • wikindx
  • Aigaion
  • and quite a few other things used so briefly I’ve forgotten them

And for me Zotero has won the contest, hands down. A few of those tools can do specific things better than Zotero, and most of them are just as free (several are open source), but none of them is as versatile and powerful while being as easy to use and to customise.

  • easy to grab references while you’re browsing online catalogues, search engines and websites
  • easy to annotate references → a note taking program
  • easy to attach related PDFs and other files → file storage system
  • easy to organise and tag items and link them together, and searchable
  • easy to use word processing integration
  • range of export formats for publishing bibliographies or working with data in other tools
  • take it anywhere: cloud storage and syncing across machines (including portable devices)
  • work with other people: facilities for collaborative use
  • turn to a large community for help and support
  • growing range of plugins to extend uses further
  • API enables even more extensions of use
  • solid institutional foundations

Zotero is a database and tool for managing the entire research life-cycle - from collecting sources to analysis to publishing - not just a “reference manager”.

In 2009, when Zotero was in its infancy and I’d barely begun to use it (just 42 items in my 3000+ library were added before 2010), I blogged about the impossibility of online collaborative bibliographies. Ha! But they were almost impossible with the tools then available; between about 2007 and 2009, my frustrated quest for the perfect online bibliography tool was a rather common theme on my blog.

I wondered even in that 2009 post if Zotero could be the solution - and since then, with the introduction of facilities like file storage and syncing, public libraries and groups, it has completely transformed the landscape. The discussion we had then about the decision to turn the RHS British and Irish History bibliography into a subscription service might look very different now.

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This page was last modified on September 22, 2013, at 04:30 PM