Quick Zotero review

I’ve been planning a post on Zotero for ages. Today I was using it to speed up part of a work project and remembered several things I wanted to say about it. So here are some thoughts about why I like it so much.

Zotero is a citation-management tool, like RefWorks or EndNote. It’s a Firefox extension that sits right in your browser (which means you can only use it if you’re running Firefox 2.0 or higher; yes, this is something of a disadvantage, but really, Firefox is so worth the effort of switching over). Once you’ve installed it, you can enter your bibliographic records by hand, but you can also have Zotero ingest them directly from online. If you’re looking at a catalog record or an article abstract and you see a little book or page icon in the address bar of your browser, it means that Zotero detected stuff to add, and you can add a bibliographic reference directly to your library. It works with most library OPACs, with Google Scholar, and with some of the major article databases like ProQuest and JSTOR. It even works with Amazon. Which is so much faster and easier than the citation-entry process I went through with ProCite back in my dissertating days, it’s like a revelation.

It also lets you add notes, either free-standing or attached to individual records in your collection. It lets you make records of any web page you visit, and take screenshots, and attach things like PDFs and text files. It lets you tag your items, though I’m not terribly keen on the way it automatically converts LC subject headings into tags (handy up to a point, but sometimes a nuisance). It lets you declare relationships between different items, and sort things into folders. And generating a bibliography is super-easy: all you have to do is select what you want, right-click, and tell it what format you want the citations in.

It doesn’t do everything: you can’t access your references from anywhere, and importing records en masse doesn’t always work. (It’ll grab all of the results of a catalog search, for instance, but it wouldn’t let me mass-import the ones I’d saved from a search.) And it’ll let you sort your references by author and title and date of entry, but (oddly) not by publication date, which would have helped me today. The other slight hiccup I’ve noticed is that it sometimes has a hard time interpreting book chapters (it sometimes thinks they’re whole books).

But it completely lacks the annoyances that plague RefWorks, and it makes the whole citation process so quick and intuitive that I wish it had appeared on the scene years ago. And it’s also free. Which is no small consideration, either!

2 Responses to “Quick Zotero review”

  1. Pawel says:

    I’m PhD student at Warsaw University (Poland) and I have Discovered Zotero for myself .
    Polish anthropologist do not use reference managers. They do not know about their existence or think that it is hard to learn how to use it (so it is no worth time to get to know about such software).
    Zotero is great, because it is intuitive and fast. So I think that even in my country it could be used.

  2. James says:

    Zotero can sort by publication date. Just click on the box in the upper right corner of the middle pain and add “year” as a column.