Zotero has been suggested as a tool and resource in the orientation meeting for the MA in Digital Humanities, as well as being mentioned in passing in class and in workshops. But my initial, limited understanding of it was as a tool for creating reference lists and managing citations, and that seemed like something that would be useful at some point in a somewhat distant future, so I put it in the back of my mind.
When I saw last week that the Mina Rees Library was doing a Zotero introductory workshop during my lunch hour, I thought, why not? And I’m so glad I did. Jill Cirasella, associate librarian for scholarly communication and digital scholarship, led the workshop, and you could tell right from the start that Zotero is a tool she is passionate about using and helping others to use as well. She took a few moments to ask all of the participants what programs we were in and our research interests to tailor her introduction workshop for each of us.
For me, she said it was great to start using Zotero now, early in the master’s program, so that I could start building my own personal library for future referencing. Articles I add to my Zotero account now could be useful for research several years later, and beyond. Which, yes, of course. How did I not think of that? Future references lists don’t appear out of thin air; they are the result of prior and present research.
Zotero is a free, open access tool used to gather and organize research. Through Zotero, you can create a personalized library from which you can easily cite articles and generate reference lists in papers. Most of the main referencing styles (e.g., APA, Chicago, MLA) are stored as templates, and you can easily toggle between different styles if you are submitting articles for different purposes with different styling preferences.
Essentially Zotero exists in three parts that are all in communication with each other: a website with cloud storage, a desktop application with word processor plugin, and a search engine extension. Once you create your account online and download the appropriate applications and plugins for your setup, most of your work with Zotero will likely happen through your search engine extension and your desktop application and word processing plugin. Jill strongly suggested we set up the Zotero application to automatically sync to the website, where personal libraries are almost instantly backed up to cloud storage, both as a failsafe in case something happens and also so that you can work on your library from anywhere. Zotero saves the content you are interested in remembering, including all of the metadata, links, and associated files (e.g., PDFs). Zotero is free to use, but the amount of cloud data available for free is limited, so Jill suggested not including associated files in your automatic syncs as this could quickly use up all of your free storage.
The thing that has me most excited for Zotero is the ability to create group libraries. In these blog posts and in our class discussions, people have been bringing up new materials to check out. I think a class library in Zotero could be a great way for us to put all of those sources into one place for all of us to easily access. What does everyone else think about using this as a group tool for class?
For anyone interested, I highly recommend attending a future Zotero introduction workshop. The next one on the library workshop calendar is on September 23 from 2:00 to 3:00PM. The library has also written up a guide on how to use Zotero.