Gretchen Hendrick

Zotero is a research tool that is frequently utilized by historians, other researchers, and students alike to keep track of the research they have done. It was created by the Center for history and New Media (CHNM) and released for use in 2006. It bills itself as “the next generation research tool that streamlines the research process. Zotero has been designed specifically with researchers in mind to assist in writing papers, managing sources, and organizing research materials” (Vanhecke, 2008, p. 275). According to the CHNM website, “Zotero is a free, easy-to-use, open source research tool that runs in the Firefox web browser and helps scholars gather and organize, annotate, and share the results of their research” (Roy Rosenzweig, 1996, p. 1). Any researcher knows that this ability to store sources without having to resource to a massive filing system is a wonderful thing. The features are highly useful for historians and other researchers alike, and the ease of use does not require the user to be highly tech savvy.
The program is able to organize the researchers’ information into a customizable library accessible from any computer that is compatible. They can compile, add tags, save entire documents to one place, and manage all of their sources in a scholarly manner. “Let us say for example, you are searching for information on the healthcare reform debate and you go to EBSCO’s Academic Search Premier and type healthcare and reform into the search boxes. EBSCO retrieves a list of articles while Zotero collects the bibliographic information for all of them and allows you to select the ones you want to add to your library” (Clark, 2009, p. 3).
I tested their method and it worked very well. I was able to select which documents I wanted to keep and which ones I did not want. This was very useful being that one of the sources was in Spanish and would not benefit my library. The citation information was readily available to the right under the Info tab in the Zotero program, and I was able to add notes and tags as well. I was also able to locate an article on Google Scholar and save its information. “For many research sites and databases, such as JSTOR, ProQuest, and Google Books, as well as most libraries’ online catalogues, icons for objects on the page, such as books, will appear at the top of the browser and can be added to one’s personal research collection with the click of the mouse” (Cohen, 2007, p. 2).
This collection can be accessed offline as well, and “with Zotero you are able to browse your collection by title, journal, author, etc.” (Vanhecke, 2008, p. 276). This kind of selective browsing is accompanied by bibliography formats in Chicago, APA, and MLA, not to mention the ability to use a wide range of languages. This tool is useable with a free subscription which is easily set up, and followed by an available tutorial video.
Two generations ago this tool was unheard of. Index cards were used, or files would be saved to a flash drive. If you wanted to remember a document on a website for a paper due in a few weeks then you had to write down the website name or put it in your “favorites”. This tool is very valuable to students and professional researchers alike. “The ability to cross reference sources, assign tags and other information to them, and quickly search a library of sources has the potential to uncover unseen connections and patterns” (educase.edu, 2008). If historians are able to use this tool at its full potential to find the undiscovered patterns and connections in history, one can only imagine the new information that can be found.
There are a few downsides to this tool though, one of which is the lack of peer to peer sharing. Also, for “accurate citations, Zotero relies on consistent, predictable formatting of bibliographic information on websites, and the application cannot import source information from plain-text documents” (educase.edu, 2008). This dependence on consistent and correct bibliographic data could be a major vulnerability. If the website has not used correct bibliographic information for some reason or other, then Zotero will have no way to know. This could result in a researcher submitting inaccurate work due to faulty citations.
Also, only users of Firefox are capable of downloading and using Zotero. I tried to download it using Google Chrome and was unable to do so. Many students use Internet Explorer as a browser though, and according to the website educase.edu, “the application does not run on Internet Explorer, and, according to the developers of Zotero, will never work with IE because of the proprietary nature of that browser” (educase.edu, 2008). This seriously limits the impact Zotero could have on the research community.
When I looked at the Zotero website to see if there were any upgrades on the way, there was mention of a beta version that has just recently launched which allows other Internet browsers to use a version of Zotero called Zotero Standalone. It is still in the beta phase and the website recommended that if you are in the midst of a project or uncomfortable with trying new software that you are better off downloading Firefox and Zotero 2.1 (the original and current format). The new Zotero is part of an initiative to get Zotero Everywhere, and it is called exactly that. The goal is to make this tool available to as many people as possible.
This tool may very well be an important tool of the future in regards to helping various researchers and students keep track of their sources. It is comfortable for most levels of researchers to use, and because of this “the application is well positioned to encourage and facilitate scholarship” (educase.edu, 2008). Teachers and students alike can use this tool to collaborate and research in a more productive manner.

Works Cited

Clark, B. a. (2009, December). Identify, Organize, and Retrieve Items Using Zotero. Teacher Librarian , pp. 54-58.
Cohen, D. J. (2007, May). Zotero: Social and Semantic Computing for Historical Scholarship. American Historical Association , pp. 1-3.
educase.edu. (2008). Retrieved October 13, 2011, from 7 Things You Should Know About Zotero: www.educase.edu/eli
Roy Rosenzweig. (1996). Center for History and New Media. Retrieved October 11, 2011, from Roy Rozenzweig Center for History and New Media: http://chnm.gmu.edu/zotero/
Vanhecke, T. E. (2008). Zotero. Journal of the Medical Library Association , 275-276.