Zotero: a review

Zotero for about 3 months now.. and I think it’s time I shared some experiences…
First – a short historical perspective.

In 2003, I started using Endnote – a free download from the University library’s site, or purchase a CD for a small token amount.
It took a little while to figure out – and then I went to a couple of classes conducted by the Library – I was impressed with the functionality – but it was clunky and quite difficult to navigate. This was a, I believed at the time, powerful bibliographic tool – the connection to the library databases was brilliant…
In those days, earlier versions, it didn’t have fields for all the types of resources I needed – but I created my own fields for weblog posts, and other online articles I needed to cite. I also carefully backed up my Endnote records onto my PDA – a Sony Clie.
I started to have challenges with the Cite as Your Write function – it was supposed to connect with your Word document and records and correctly insert a reference in the style you wanted… hmmm.. it didn’t! It corrupted my Word documents, it used it’s own citing style (at random) and made a shambles of my bibliogrpahy. So – I stopped using Cite as your Write.
Then… my laptop had a mother board meltdown… but – as a diligent back-up person, I wasn’t too stressed (just midly)… I had my 1,000+ references backed up in my PDA. Phew!
Wrong! When I reloaded the software into my new computer – I told the system to take the references from the Sony Clie… did it? Nope – it gleefully advised me that the PC had overwritten the data held on my PDA with the updated, newer version on the laptop! aaaaaaah – now we’re talking tears & tantrums!
I did have a hard copy print out of my bibliography – but not all the notes accompanying each file.
Start again – from scratch…
More difficulties, more corrupted Word files, ongoing dramas….

Then in 2006/7 our Library got a license for Refworks, a web-based bibliographic database.
Initially – this was a huge leap forward from Endnote! The web-based application was particularly appealing – I could access my database from any computer – brilliant…! It had fields that now recognised weblog posts, and online journals… fab! The management facility into folders and categories was nice..
But – it is slow to load a single item… some fields required the page to refresh… on average each entry took about… 3 minutes… waaaaay too slow for me… and I’m working manually from a hard copy of my bibliography… slowly, very slowly… tedious too….
I’m not sure of the back-up security of this – where are the servers? Who is doing this regularly? So I export my files at least monthly to HTML & Word versions – but again – this doesn’t bring all my notes across…. 😦
And of course, there are the times where no internet access is readily available… and… I can’t access my data! grrrrr….

But then … in late 2007 I read the Innovate article (you need to sign-in – free – to access Innovate) on Zotero! Wow…. could this be the next gen bibliographic system….? Browser-based, plug in to Firefox, free, open-source… ! So – for the last couple of months I’ve been playing around… and – I have to say – it’s brilliant!
It took me a few minutes to acquaint myself with the features, load the plug in and start using it… It’s elegant, intuitive, and it picks up all sorts of valuable information straight from the webpage… cool!! The real tipping point was the integration between journals I was viewing with the Science Direct database.. I just click the icon and whammo! All the data, the PDF file, in fact, everything I needed was in my library… then I add a few tags (it suggests tags) and I’m done…. Now that’s elegant!
It’s still under development – but the citation style list is growing – it now has Harvard… There are easy back-up guidelines to copy the subfolder within the Firefox folder… you could use a portable version of Firefox on a USB key and install Zotero on that…
Now the only thing I haven’t done yet is export my files from RefWorks and import to Zotero. Having said that – I’ve read all the documentation and it doesn’t look like a nightmare… In fact, the entire user guide and documentation over at Zotero is well presented, easy to follow and more supportive than either of the other products mentioned!!!
I’d love to hear from other Zotero users… any stories – good, bad or ugly…
Right now – I think the Zotero team need congratulating for streamlining bibliographic management into my online world – thank-you!   

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