I got my library a trial of RefWorks this summer (with the way our distance learners do school work — often at home and work — it makes much more sense for us to make a Web-based citation manager available to them), but it didn’t really meet with an enthusiastic response by the students and faculty we consulted. And my colleagues found it confusing to use and weren’t really keen on supporting the product. Right now I don’t really know what students are using to organize their research, if anything. For doing APA and MLA citations, we usually recommend Citation Machine, but that’s far from an all-encompasing tool for organizing research. From observing students at the library, my guess is that they’re just printing the resources out, muddling through creating citations and that’s it.
Enter Zotero (thanks Lorcan for bringing it to our attention!). Originally called Firefox Scholar, Zotero is billed as a “next generation research tool.” Here are some of the features:
- captures citation information you want from a web page automatically, without typing or cutting and pasting on your part, and saves this information directly into the correct fields (e.g., author, title, etc.) of your Zotero library
- lets you store—beyond citations—PDFs, files, images, links, and whole web pages
- allows you to easily take notes on the research materials you capture
- makes it easy to organize your research materials in multiple ways, such as folders, saved searches (smart folders), and tags
- offers fast, as-you-type search through your materials so that you can quickly find that source that you only vaguely remember
- lets you export formatted citations to your paper, article, book, or website
- has an easy-to-use, modern interface that simplifies all of your research tasks, with “where has that been?” features such as autosaving your notes as you type
- runs right in your web browser and is a platform for new forms of digital research that can be extended with other web tools and services
- is free and open source
Check out that interface… look familiar? What’s really important is that it will look familiar to your students. RefWorks isn’t too difficult to learn in my opinion, but it’s definitely different from anything else I’ve used and required me to really learn it. This looks like it might be a lot more intuitive. The RefWorks rep actually gave me guff when I told him that my colleagues had trouble using RefWorks, but come on… their tutorial is incredibly long and there is no way to know how to do a lot of the stuff in RefWorks without watching it. Here’s a tip: students don’t want to spend 20-30 minutes watching a screencast tutorial before they can use a Web application. Their expectations are just a bit higher than that (and rightly so).
Sounds pretty perfect, eh? Its achilles heel is that it’s Firefox only. It’s funny, at my school, most students use Firefox, while most faculty and staff use IE or [gasp!] Netscape, so it’ll be the older folks who would have trouble adopting this at Norwich (then again, you couldn’t pry Endnote out of most of our faculty members’ hands). If it gets people to switch to Firefox, which doesn’t seem like that big a deal to do in most settings, it’s a good thing. 🙂
The way we do research has changed so much, but I just don’t think the research management tools have really kept pace. It’s nice to see that people are actually working to develop tools that are designed to be integrated into our online life rather than requiring us to totally change the way we do things. It sounds like Dan Cohen and his colleagues are really interested in making this a flexible tool that works well with other online tools and meets the needs of its user population.
This is one I really can’t wait to get my hands on!
For the most part, people use IE out of habit, not explicit preference. When I’ve urged my IE-using students to try Firefox, they often do, are happy with it, and recommend it to their peers.
Zotero is good enough that there’s yet another compelling reason to switch. Time for univesity libaries to stop recommending and throwing money at not-good-enough proprietary solutions and evangelizing (and maybe even helping to fund) alternatives like Zotero.
Oh, also, I think you’d be surprised how easily people will give up Endnote once a better, and free, alternative is available. As soon as Zotero is able to hook into Word (and hopefully OpenOffice) and format citations and bibliographies, any reason to use Endnote goes away. Zotero has a better data model and GUI than Endnote, is built for the web and open data standards, and is free and open source.
Hi, I have more of a question than a comment. Does this software pull blog posts into it? I’m trying to find a resource to store all my research 😉
Thanks for the information.
Hi Andrea. This isn’t something I can answer. You may want to check with Dan Cohen to get the specifics on the software.
Thanks for the info.
Zotero is designed to save webpages, so it should work for Andrea’s purposes. You can have just a link, or save a copy of the page (it looks like it saves the page without all of the CSS or images, so not an exact replica, but the content-info is there).
Two major drawbacks I see in Zotero are that it doesn’t have an easy back up capability and that it’s not clear for how long it will remain free. If you read the forum you’ll find that many people have lost their work due to crashes and other problems. I wouldn’t trust my research work to a software that doesn’t give me such a basic feature as an easy way of backing up and restoring my data.