zotero and Shared Bibliographies

I have been testing zotero, an open-source reference and bibliography manager that can also support many other forms of information.  Although it comes as a standalone application, I am currently using the Firefox plug-in (see zotero Downloads).

Entering Information

Although zotero does not parse bibliographies in text form, it can often (but not always) import article meta-data from Google Scholar, citeseer or Amazon.  The plug-in displays an icon in the Firefox address bar if it detects meta-data that it can process.  Clicking on the icon either imports the information or displays a selection list if there is more than one article.  If possible, zotero will download and store a copy of an associated PDF.  Existing PDFs can also be attached (or linked if size is a concern) to the zotero entry. 

If you already have a library of PDFs, these can be added to zotero using drag-and-drop or via the New Item button.  Users can then request that zotero search for the title in Google Scholar, building the zotero entry and associating the file with it.  If zotero cannot find information about the article, it is possible to enter the information manually.  Snapshots of web pages, notes and tags can be easily associated with zotero entries.

Accessing Information

zotero provides full-text search capabilities.  In addition to using tags to categorize entries, It is also easy to build hierarchical collections of entries.

Although I have not tested this feature, zotero integrates with Word and LibreOffice/OpenOffice allowing citations to be added using drag-and-drop.  Multiple entries can be selected and imported as a bibliography.  A wide range of citation styles are supported.

Sharing Information

If you create an account at zotero, you can synchronize your local library with the zotero servers, allowing you to access your library from any browser.  A free account supports unlimited meta-data about articles and 100MB of attachments.  It is possible to purchase additional space for a reasonable annual fee.

It is also possible to create group libraries on the zotero account and populate them through drag-and-drop.  Other zotero users can be given access to the group which provides visibility to attachments.  Group owners can also give other members the ability to edit meta-data and files.  I have created a BID Community group and populated it with a few articles and other resources for testing.  The Group Library is visible to anyone, although only meta-data is displayed (no attachments).  Once you are added to the group, you can see the attachments through the web interface or synchronize the library locally using the Firefox plug-in or the standalone zotero application.

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nhoeller's picture

zotero Implementations

There are three ways to enter, search and retrieve information using zotero:

  • a Firefox plugin that provides a full zotero implementation within the Firefox browser
  • a standalone application available for Windows, Mac OS X and Linux
  • by registering and logging in to zotero.org (both the Firefox plugin and standalone application can synch with your zotero account)

One of the useful features of the Firefox plugin is the ability to save information directly from your browser.  Users of the standalone application can install connectors for Google Chrome and Safari providing similar capabilities.  In addition, the Firefox plugin has been designed to 'play nice' with the standalone application. 

I have not tried the standalone application since I seem to be able to do everything I need with the Firefox plugin.  The only issue I have run into is that the zotero database is stored within the Firefox profile directory which I do not back up regularly.  The zotero Preferences / Advanced tab allows you to find the current data directory and set a new one (after moving your zotero data).

With the Firefox plugin, zotero 'lives' in a resizable frame within the browser window.  You can close the window at any time and restore it using the zotero button in the lower right corner.  Note the 'folder' icon at the right of the address bar - clicking on it will bring up a list of the items within the browser window that zotero can process.  You can add these items to zotero by selecting the ones you are interested in.  If there is only one item, then the icon changes to a 'page' symbol.   

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nhoeller's picture

zotero Integration with Word Processing Applications

The base Firefox plugin (and I assume the standalone application) allows you to build a bibliography from individual zotero entries using drag-and-drop into your Word/LibreOffice/OpenOffice document.

There are additional plugins available for Word, LibreOffice, OpenOffice and NeoOffice.  If you are using the Firefox plugin, the function is provided through a Firefox extension that adds a toolbar to your word processing application.  The documentation indicates that zotero standalone users can enable the same functionality through the Preferences / Cite pane.

Word integration allows you to insert inline citations using the new toolbar.  Drag-and-drop is unfortunately not supported - a search box is opened.  As far as I can tell, you can search on keywords in the title, author, date and journal fields.  Citations are collected and either included as endnotes or footnotes through the Insert Bibliography button.  Multiple citation styles are supported (not all allow you to use footnotes).  The bibliography is dynamic, updating automatically as new citations are added.  You can also refresh the bibliography to pick up any changes made to the zotero database.  One irritant is that zotero has its own ideas about the formatting of the bibliography, regularly resetting any changes I make.  

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nhoeller's picture

zotero and Other Reference Libraries

It is possible to export and import information between zotero and other libraries

Another popular reference manager is Mendeley.  Fil provided the following instructions for synchronizing information from zotero to Mendeley.

  • Install the Mendeley desktop.
  • Register/create a Mendeley acct.
  • Make sure you're logged in to Mendeley (In Preferences > General)
  • In Preferences, there is a zotero/citeulike tab. Go to that tab.
  • Check the "zotero integration" box.
  • Browse to find your zotero database (zotero Preferences / Advanced tab, Show Data Directory button).
  • Click OK.
  • Thereafter, when you sync Mendeley, it should read stuff from your zotero db and include it in Mendeley.
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