As I’ve just started studying (online) again, my mind is tuning back into things it normally only focuses on when I’m in hard-core academic mode. This morning, for example, (well, actually, for the last two mornings) I’ve been reading through the introductory materials on both of my course websites, and I ended up going through a lot of information related to library resources and referencing tools. The most common bibliographic and bookmarking tools that we’re being recommended are RefWorks and Furl, respectively.
RefWorks is only available to us while we’re registered students. After that, unless we’re affiliated with an organization that pays for access OR unless we want to pay for an annual subscription ourselves, we loose all of our research collections at the end of the academic term. Basic translation: if you want to be able to access the information you collect and store using RefWorks over then next 6-8 months, this might not be your best choice.
Furl, on the other hand, is a social bookmarking service with many features, accessible from anywhere and free to all. Although they’re not direct substitutes, if I hadn’t already been hooked on Zotero when I first learned about Furl, I probably would have given Furl more of a chance.
Now we get to the reason for this post! I wanted to share a bibliographic management tool with you that I have found to be invaluable during my courses of study (and tangential resource endeavors). Zotero is a free, open source Firefox plugin that allows you to capture resources as you come across them and organise them into neat research collections. I find it thoroughly enjoyable and intuitive to use
Zotero allows me to make sense of the piles of information I collect each time I brave the plethora of resources available within just a few clicks of a mouse. To help bring my point home, imagine that if all the files and links I collected were stacks of random pieces of paper covering every square inch of my inevitably invisible imaginary desk, then Zotero would be like the magical fairy that instantly organises all the information into a beautifully systematic filing system that I structure and that is completely aligned with my thought processes. Essentially, it allows me to know where to find stuff when I need it – whether I’m on or off line.
It also lets me summarise reference collections almost instantly. Let me show you… I’ll share a report I generated from a collection of resources I built relating to online language learning. It generates the report in html format, so I just saved that page as a pdf file which is now available to you simply by clicking here.
Now that I’ve got you hooked ( 😉 ), let’s watch the video intro together (the video below opens in a new tab/window):
There’s even a WordPress plugin available that helps Zotero better recognise the information in your blog entries which makes for more seamless referencing of this type of information as well. From the screenshot below, you can see the little additional icon that is displayed in your address bar once this plugin is activated. When you’re viewing a WordPress blog, once you click on this icon, a window pops up (as seen below) asking you which of the entries available on the page you’re on you would like to add to your Zotero collections.
Lots of other screencast tutorials are available for those interested in exploring the tool further.