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Ideas about Zotero and Digitized Archives

Dan Cohen posted recently [1] about the soon to be available, open-source, firefox plugin, research support software named Zotero [2] . Looking at the quick start guide [3], I immediately spotted the icon to “add a new collection folder”. As the “archivist-in-training” that I am, my reaction now to the word “collection” is different than it would have been a year ago. Though I strongly suspect it will not be the case (at least not in the first released version) I immediately was daydreaming of browsing a digitized collection online – clicking the “add a new collection folder” icon – and ending up with a copy of the entire collection of records for examination and comparison later.

Of course this would be most useful for the historian digging through and analyzing archival records if Zotero was able to pull down metadata beyond that of a standard citation and retain any hierarchical information or relationships among the records.

Now on Dead Reckoning [4]‘s post on Zotero [5] RDFa is mentioned. I don’t know anything about RDFa [6] beyond what I have read in the last few hours, so it is not clear to me how complicated the metadata can be – perhaps it can support a full digital object XML record of some kind. So maybe the trick isn’t so much getting Zotero to do things it wasn’t designed to do – but rather the slow migration of sites to using the software packages and standards listed here [7].

I don’t want anyone to think that I am not excited about Zotero and all the neat things it is likely to do. I suspect I will rapidly become a frequent Zotero user verging on a zealot – but it is fun to daydream. I think it is most fun to daydream now, before I start using it and get lost in all the great stuff it CAN do. I definitely will post more after I get a chance to take it for a spin in early October.

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#1 Comment By William J. Turkel On September 9, 2006 @ 7:59 am

I’m pretty excited about Zotero, too, and I recently had a chance to write a [13] on my blog. Like you, I dream of being able to click a button and have an entire collection of digital sources downloaded to Zotero. Although that is not possible at the moment (as far as I know) I think that it should be possible to modify the software to have that kind of functionality. Three cheers for open source!

#2 Comment By Jeanne On September 9, 2006 @ 9:22 am

I read your review – and of course it makes me even more excited for the official release! The only other big question I had was if it stores your information locally on your computer or somewhere in a central database. I suspect (more now than before I read your review of the pre-release) that it is local. I would love to be able to get at my Zotero information from any computer (be it in a library or on my laptop or on my home desktop).

#3 Comment By Thomas On September 13, 2006 @ 11:22 am

My basic question about Zotero is whether or not it is ‘social’ in the 2.0 sense of the word. Will Zotero users be able to share resources, view other people usage or is it designed strictly for personal web accumulation. Jeanne, I realize you may not be able to answer this question, but William Turkel’s Digital History Hacks blog doesn’t seem to allow comments. Social software aside, it will be very interesting to see to what extent the library world adopts Zotero. Who will be Zotero’s core users; students, professional academics, librarians, other enthusiastic netizens such as genealogists? As of early September 2006 it all seems so mysterious.

#4 Comment By Jeanne On September 13, 2006 @ 11:35 am


I suspect that the initial users would be the professional academics and graduate students who spend their time organizing vast research projects. That said – I can imagine that it will catch on quickly with anyone who does research online and is frustrated with the limits to bookmarking pages or saving them offline as a method of keeping track of what they have found.

I also do not think that the intention is for social or collaborative sharing of research (though I love the idea). I do wonder how hard it will be to configure Zotero in a library setting to look at USB thumb drives as the right place to find/write data – at least that would keep you from being tied to a single Zotero repository on a single computer.

#5 Comment By Josh Greenberg On September 13, 2006 @ 10:34 pm

As one of the “Zotero guys”, I’ll hold off on an elaborate explanation for the moment, but let me just drop a cryptic hint that server-side apps that would extend Zotero into a social, collaborative space are *very much* in our minds. More on that soon, hopefully (once we ship the actual extension)…

#6 Comment By rob shelton On September 15, 2006 @ 12:24 pm

I’ve been testing zotero and have to say it is fabulous. Although I have not had a chance to check out all of the features, I like what I see so far. It performs well at creating bibliographies from online sources, despite one or two small hitches. I hope to see if it can easily tag notes from sources and then produce a print out of all notes with the same tags (i.e., search my collections for notes tagged “slavery” & “New Orleans” & “steamboats” and print out all notes that have those tags, along with citations. Also, I am curious about where the records are stored? In firefox profiles? How portable are they? And will there be scalability issues–limits to the amount of material I can note? So far though, I am completely impressed with its ease of use and functionality. Great job!

#7 Comment By Bruce On September 17, 2006 @ 10:53 am

Data is stored in a local SQLite database. Firefox 2.0 provides out-of-box support for the embedded SQL database, so they are using that. So it’s all open standards and software, and you can imagine that this + RDF + a network will enable some interesting possibilities in terms of social networking, data synchronization, etc.

Users? Students, scholars, researchers.

#8 Comment By William J. Turkel On September 24, 2006 @ 11:20 am

To add to the comments above, Zotero will support collaborative work with server-side apps. See Dan Cohen’s [14] of 19 Sep (and my [15], unknowingly posted at the same time).

#9 Pingback By Dan Cohen’s Digital Humanities Blog » Blog Archive » Zotero News, Big and Small On August 17, 2007 @ 11:27 am

[…] about Zotero, see posts on the blogs of Bill Turkel, Bruce D’Arcus (1, 2), Adrian Cooke, Jeanne Kramer-Smyth, and Mark Phillipson.) We’re planning on rolling all of the bug fixes and a few of the […]