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Citation management and Archiving – Zotero

On a number of occasions during my recently completed degree, lecturers noted good adherence to citation conventions in my work.  This I found a little embarrassing, as it was really all down to the tools I used for citation management.  I've bumped into various proprietary citation managers over the years, and many of them seemed to me too much a mechanism to lock you in to the use of the tool rather than making use easier and more flexible.  Readers of this site will understand that community archiving is very much about making sure that the data under management can always be liberated from the storage silos in which the are kept well into the future, so digital archiving resists the idea of locking one into the use of particular software, especially through the uses of restricted file formats or other restrictions.  This is where Free and Open Source software becomes a natural fit with archiving, as there is no benefit to Free Software producers to try to lock the user in with restrictions.

So to find a citation management tool under a Free Software licence was wonderful, and Zotero  integrated really well with the other software crucial to my degree, Firefox as a browser and LibreOffice for word processing and office productivity.  With Zotero, I could search for the book I wished to cite, finding that many book sellers online provide the underlying citation information on their web sites, such that it was a single click to add the details of the book straight into the Zotero database.  An add-in for LibeOffice Writer (I understand one exists for MS Word too) then allowed me to click to add that citation in the format required by my University, and subsequently to set out, again automatically, the table of references.  It's also possible to create database entries directly from web pages, important when so much information is web-based these days, and also to create ad hoc entries.

But Zotero then starts becoming something more.  It is possible to include pdf files or add other attachments as part of the database, for example, at which point Zotero starts becoming a sort of personal archive in itself.  It is also possible to export the citation library in various formats, and to generate reports of the contents.  So a Zotero library may ultimately be uploaded into another archive elsewhere, where it's goodness can live on. An example report of all the references I used in my degree can be found here.  Amazing to think that it runs to 184 pages.

Coming back to the value of Free Software in this role, during my degree, the University changed the citation tool it made available to students and staff.  The migration from the old to the new was clearly a painful one, though that pain bypassed me while I happily continued to use Zotero, but my experience of Free Software suggests that if another Free tool superseded Zotero, there is every likelihood of migration tools being provided, as the formats under which the data is held are not restricted.  In other words, your data remains safe.