Zotero.org: Reference Management for Busy Scholars

Zotero is a free reference management system that was designed for an audience of professional researchers and post graduate students. It serves the dual function of working as a personal repository, in which collections of research materials can be managed, and also provides opportunities for information sharing and interaction through a variety of group settings. Both personal and collaborative libraries can be designated as public or private to accommodate project needs.

Zotero has five central functions:

  1. Users can collect digital books, articles, PDFs, web pages, audiovisual materials, and the like, in either a personal or collaborative library space.
  2. Materials can be managed by creating research folders, tagging articles, and writing notes that serve as reminders and cross-referencing tools.
  3. Citations can be generated in a variety of bibliographic styles, and plugins designed for Microsoft Work and OpenOffice allow citations to be exported directly into documents.
  4. Libraries can be synced between numerous computers to ensure information accuracy.
  5. Bibliographies can be shared between colleagues or students in public or private group settings.

When I created a Zotero account, I found that the interface is similar in setup to iTunes, and this familiarity allowed me to feel comfortable navigating the site. I was also happy to find a number of tutorial videos that explained how to take advantage of the system tools outlined above. After I had set up my library, I collected several items in a variety of formats to find out if there were any noticeable differences in the acquisition process. In each case, the process was straightforward and simple. It was also interesting to note that the system automatically generates a full text index of each item stored in my library. As a result, keyword searches within my library retrieve results from any related item, even PDF files.

Another useful feature included in my user profile was the People tab, which allowed me to search Zotero for specific researchers or public research groups listed by discipline. I was also able to send messages to individual researchers, find out if they were members of other groups, and view listings of their research interests.

There were two main drawbacks I encountered while using Zotero. The first is that the Zotero pane covered the bottom quarter of my computer screen. As a result, I constantly had to minimize my library in order to read web content. The second drawback is that Zotero is a Firefox extension and cannot be used with any other web browser. This meant that I had to download Firefox onto my computer before I could use the program. On the Zotero blog, developers announced that they are working on an application called Zotero Everywhere, which will allow the program to run in any browser of choice (http://www.zotero.org/blog/). In the meantime, the Firefox restriction can create some inconvenience.

Below is our SMiLey rating for the site:

Overall Score2.6
Site Purpose
[Read about the SMiLey rating]