Zotero proselytizing

I’ve been reading a lot of posts about Zotero lately, most recently this one at ACRLog, which brings up an issue I have not given voice to yet- I don’t talk about Zotero too much at work because we subscribe to, and are busy promoting- RefWorks. I feel sorta like a traitor. But in my own research, Zotero has been an absolute godsend. I truly believe students are better off using Zotero, because they can store, annotate, and, if they install on a portable version of Firefox as I have, take their database anywhere, even places without an internet connection. Not to mention, when they graduate, they can take all their research with them and not have to pay $100 a year.

When I first started at my job, I attended a training session given by a ReWorks representative, and was amazed and excited. It was only a few short months later I discovered Zotero. It’ true that some things – especially resources offered through the university library – are a little harder to get into Zotero, but then, everything outside the library is harder to get into RefWorks.

So that’s where I stand. I still feel like a traitor, and a little sheepish when someone from the library asks me “don’t you use RefWorks?” I meekly tell them I use this really cool free and open source product called Zotero instead.

This entry was posted in Library. Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to Zotero proselytizing

  1. Mark says:

    Hi Karin, I assume you meant portable as in no laptop (and thus even more portable). I have Zotero on my laptop and thus have my data wherever I am, too.

    I don’t feel like a traitor at all, though! In fact, I want to know why universities are paying good money to some corporation when they could be giving some portion of that to the CHNM and George Mason (a Zotero trust) and really providing an opportunity for development.

    Steven Bell really tried in a few places to defend RefWorks but that’s just …. Well, I’m not going to say what I think of that ruse because it isn’t polite. I did respond to some of the misinformation he was spreading, though, at once place. RefWorks may have some features at the moment that Zotero does not, but it will have them all soon. And RefWorks sucks on many levels. Yes, I do have an account and used it for a while. My school pays for it, too, and I wish they wouldn’t.

    I basically see this as an open source, support your own community, type thing. I hope I’m not a proselytizer, although I have commented on it a few times. It is not for everyone and I’m glad there are choices. But I really have a hard time squaring with the higher ed (library) community choosing to pay for something when they could have a their own tool that would cost them far less. I guess it ties into how neither higher ed itself nor academic libraries really constitute a community in any real sense of that word.

  2. karin says:

    It’s a hard situation. I imagine implementation of RefWorks was a monster undertaking. I’m sure there were many meetings discussing the pros and cons. And, if they stop using RefWorks, there will be more expense- removing the links, retraining the students, these things transfer to staff time = cost. I don’t even know if there’s a contract involved. The library could run the risk of looking wishy washy if we don’t explain ourselves properly.

    Once Zotero has the sharing feature up, I think libraries should be seriously looking at ditching RefWorks. The might want to downplay it before hand, and work on getting students and faculty members to use Zotero. At every step, we’ll need to explain that we chose RefWorks at a time when there was nothing else, and we are responding to new information and a better product.

    My main concern is that librarians will take a look at Zotero, think “but I put so much effort into RefWorks!!!” and ignore it. We need to pay attention to developments like Zotero, and be ready for change.

    Re: the term “proselytizing” – I have no qualms about using this word. I do hope to convert people to the Zotero way.

  3. Martha Hardy says:

    I have to admit that I newly motivated to try Zotero after reading your post. We are a RefWorks school, and I like RefWorks a lot, but, frankly Ref GrabIt just doesn’t do a good enough job of capturing sufficient bibliographic information about Web sources.

    Regarding the portable Firefox, do you happen to know if it is Mac compatible?

  4. megan says:

    Zotero is indeed a really cool tool. I’d love to use it with all my library’s resources along with regular old web-based things (which it ROCKS), but until Zotero can come up with a way for us to use it AND our proxy server at the same time, I’m afraid I have no choice but to encourage my students to use our commercial client-based and web-based product (not RefWorks.)

    So there are other reasons than “we love RefWorks” and “we paid for it” that hamper librarians’ abilities to support fabulous open-source projects like Zotero.

    Besides, my faculty would be exceedingly unhappy if we gave up support – both $$ and tech – for their particular (portable, client-based, powerful, with a steep learning-curve) tool.

  5. karin says:

    Martha- There is a portable version of Firefox for Mac, check here: http://www.macupdate.com/info.php/id/20395. However, the portable Mac Firefox won’t work on a PC and vice versa. I use portable firefox on a USB drive, which I use on all the PC based computers I use- computer labs at school, my computer at work, and my laptop. At home, I use Linux, and I have configured Zotero on my home computer to read from the Zotero folder on my USB drive drive. I hope that makes sense.

  6. karin says:

    Megan- I have to confess, I have no idea what it means to use Zotero and your proxy server. I’ve been able to capture citations from many of the databases at my school and at my work.

    I can understand faculty being unhappy if support went away on a product that they have been using for a long time. But at schools where such a system isn’t so entrenched (i.e. schools that just got RefWorks a year or two ago) this should be even more of a reason to move over to a free system ASAP.

    As with anything, it’s all about cost benefit analysis- you have to figure out how many people are using the tools, and what the cost is per person, and whether that’s worth the cost.

  7. Bruce says:

    What Karin says at the end.

    But there’s a bigger issue. The Zotero project has the potential to be a genuine user-led revolution in the best tradition of free software efforts like Mozilla. I’d like to see scores of users and institutions pitching in to really dramatically improve on all of the solid technical potential in the Zotero foundations, to evangelize it to students, and so forth.

    To promote and contribute (in whatever form) to Zotero is thus much more than consumers choosing among like products, but really about investing in that world of open possibility. Other projects can freely pick up the code and the standards that Zotero uses to deliver still other solutions. If Zotero were to implode tomorrow, anyone could pick up the pieces and run with it.

    By contrast, if you invest in a proprietary product like Endnote or RefWorks, that investment can never go farther than that vendor. You are basically paying for its internal development (which is guided by business concerns that do not always align with user interests), that gets crystallized into propriety code that can never be reused.

    Just as a simple example, I’m the author the XML citation style language Zotero uses. Our vision for that is an open language that can be used in any product (commercial or free) that wishes, and that we build up a distributed web of styles. Imagine, for example, a user being able to subscribe to a style just as they might an RSS feed. But all of that will be built on open technologies and standards. So the work we put into that will be more widely usable. Conversely, part of the reason this is all so much work at the beginning is that the styles in RefWorks and Endnote are closed.

  8. Pingback: darcusblog » Blog Archive » Resistance to Zotero?

  9. Pingback: nirak.net - Musings of an LIS Student » More thoughts on Zotero and proselytizing

  10. Hugo says:

    Beliave Zotero it’s really good..
    You can also work inside Word or open office and interact with it..

  11. jcrue says:

    what happens when your laptop crashes or is stolen and all you have is zotero?

    you’re screwed right?

  12. jcrue – As with any sensitive data, hopefully you have a backup. The new beta Zotero also has a sync feature that will sync your data to their servers so you can restore. I myself keep my Zotero database on a keydrive and back up frequently.

  13. anon says:

    The biggest bitch I have about refwork is how bad their technical support has become since they were bought by proquest. There are some really good people there but it seems that there are alot more bad people working there now. you hope that you get the one or two that understand your problem and can write a complete sentence but if you get one of the newer people, it’s not pretty.

    I like zotero but it’s not nearly as flexible and it provides so few output formats. I imagine it’s good for undergrads who need APA, Chicago or some other common style but it’s almost useless to professional work in the sciences.

  14. Actually, Zotero now has thousands of sources- the features have been coming fast and furious. :)


  15. Walter says:

    Woooo… Seems like Refworks has an anti-fan club… Yea, they are pretty bad and I understand that some universities are thinking of switching away from Refworks…

    It is true that investing in Zotero seems like a good idea, but there are 2 points to caution:

    1. Will such sponsoring be after all a source of revenue and profit for Zotero? As in, it is meant to be free for social cause from what you are saying, hence we have to be careful when we are sponsoring them money

    2. Will the company eventually be profit driven rather than socially driven?

    I believe that Zotero can seek for funds, but if that is so, there are also other free reference managers such as Wizfolio and Mendeley that should be sponsored as well.

    It is hard for Zotero to replace all of them, as each has its unique capabilities – Wizfolio is very good for science while Mendeley is useful for social networking.

    Hope all of these eventually be for a good cause for society through effective and efficient research rather than for business profits.