Monday, January 17, 2011

Mentor Monday: Zotero is the Way to Go

I recently found a new (to me, at least) way to keep track of my research. I'd been reading about Margaret Wise Brown for a biography I'm writing, when I stumbled across Zotero. According to the Zotero website, "Zotero [zoh-TAIR-oh] is a free, easy-to-use tool to help you collect, organize, cite, and share your research sources. It lives right where you do your work—in the web browser itself."

I've been using a wiki to collect and organize my research at PBworks for years, and I love it. I was intrigued by Zotero, however, and decided to give it a try with my Margaret Wise Brown research. One word describes my experience. OMG! I didn't think I could love another research tool as much as I loved my wiki, but I was wrong. (It's just like when you have that second baby and you're afraid you're not going to love it as much as that first baby and then when you have it you're all, "OMG! I love this baby, too. Maybe even more." That's what it's just like.)

Zotero is a Firefox add-on, so if it's not already your browser, you'll need to download it. (Firefox is great, by the way.) I'm not going to get into the how-to specifics of using Zotero. The folks at Zotero do a fine job explaining their own product.

The thing I like best about using Zotero is my ability to take notes within the window I'm viewing. Here's an example of how it worked for me. I wanted to quote the first few lines of "Little Red Riding Hood" from The Blue Fairy Book edited by Andrew Lang and published by Stitt Publishing Company in 1905. I found the book at Google Books, and dragged it into my Margaret Wise Brown Zotero library. Once it was logged into the library, I opened up a little notepad which I positioned directly next to the text I was reading at Google Books. Next, I clipped and copied the opening lines of "Little Red Riding Hood," pasted it into the note, and attached it to the citation in Zotero. I saw that the punctuation didn't clip and paste. Because the note was directly next to the source, it wasn't a problem to quickly type in the punctuation where it appeared in the original text. It was, in fact, easy like Sunday morning.

While doing my research, before I'd start reading a new source, I'd drag it into my library and open up a notepad. If I found something I thought might be useful, I'd pop it directly into the note, which would attach to the citation in my library. If I found I wasn't going to use the source, I'd simply delete it from the library before moving to the next one.

Zotero sits quietly at the bottom right of your computer screen. When open, it takes up as much or as little space across the bottom of your screen as you designate. If you want to take notes, you put the notepad exactly where you want it. You're the boss. It's ready when you are, and it totally obeys you.

There are piles of how-to videos out there, but I picked this one for two reasons. First, the guy's a total smarty pants, which lends credence to the Zotero thing. Second, I like his accent.

6 comments:

Mur said...

Brilliant as always, Andy. When I die, my kids will have a landfill's worth of book notes to dispose of. You, on the othe hand, have provided your heirs with easy-cleanup. ;)

Diane Mayr said...

I'll have to spend a little time with Zotero! I only recently learned about Evernote. So many tools, so little time!

Sally said...

I've been making pdf's of webpages and other stuff as I find it, then saving those in folders on the desktop. Which has the advantage, I suppose, of them being available if I'm not online, or if the website changes or goes away. But, it's cumbersome, and it doesn't work with GoogleBooks. So will have to explore this! Thanks, Andy.

Andy said...

I hadn't hear of Evernote. I checked it out quickly, and it looks to serve a slightly different function than Zotero. It looks very cool, though!

I think you all could end up loving Zotero. Sally, I found this on a message board about working offline with Zotero:

"Zotero only works within Firefox, but Firefox does work without an internet connection. Because of this, you can still use Zotero (within Firefox) to add/delete notes when you have no internet connection."

Does this mean Zotero is perfection???

ajlyon said...

Not only does Zotero work without internet access (I use it for no-internet archival and library work all the time), but the standalone version, now in testing (http://www.zotero.org/support/standalone) lets you work without even installing Firefox, saving sources from Safari or Chrome.

And when you save a webpage using Zotero, it takes a snapshot, in case the content later changes or disappears.

Andy said...

That settles it! Zotero is perfection. Thanks for the mini-tutorial, ajlyon!