Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Technology and the Research Process Part 2: Gathering Sources

As I stated in my last post, my first use of technology in the research process is in gathering sources.  I usually do this by looking up articles I've found in other articles, on list serves, or in academic databases.  To capture these sources, I use Zotero, an open source Firefox extension.  Now, when I go to a site where Zotero recognizes sources, I see a tiny symbol in the address bar.  For example, if I click on a book on Amazon or Google books, I see the little book in the picture below:

Clicking on that book saves the source to my Zotero library.  If I am on a page where Zotero recognizes more than one source (such as a journal website or database) I see a folder instead, as in the following picture:

When I click on the folder, I see a checklist of sources (in this case articles) and can choose which ones I want to save, as in the following picture:

To me, this pretty much feels like magic.  Even better, Zotero saves my university's proxy server, and automatically directs me through it when I am off campus.  So if I see a link to a journal article on a website and click on it, Zotero will redirect me to that journal via my library access to it.  This allows me to download the PDF right away if I want it, rather than going back to my library website to log into the journal, find the article again, and download it.  

Once I capture my sources in Zotero, I export them to Bookends, another Bibliography software for the Mac.  I feel sort of silly using two bibliography softwares that should theoretically do the same thing.  However, Zotero is much better at capturing sources than Bookends.  In Bookends, I cannot get my proxy server to work and it doesn't recognize sources in LLBA search results, which is the database I use most frequently.

When my source is in Bookends, I attach the PDF (if I have it), and add it to any necessary collections of sources (like the article I'm putting it in).  In Bookends, I can see my list of sources, the PDF, my groups of sources, and my notes as cards all at once, as in the sample below (it looks better in real life).

  In Zotero, I can have all of these, but I can't see them at the same time.  Also, I prefer a standalone application, because sometimes having the extension at the bottom of my Firefox screen is really annoying (like if I want to do something else on the internet at the same time).  There is a Zotero standalone application in alpha, but it looks similar to the extension.  Finally, Bookends integrates with SlipBox and Mellel, which I will discuss in following posts.

There are many other things that Zotero and Bookends can do.  I will discuss the actual bibliography generation later, but there are many other features as well.  I don't use them, but they are likely useful for other people with different research processes.  There are also many other bibliography software programs, including Mendeley, Sente, Papers, and of course EndNote.  They all do pretty much the same thing in slightly different ways, so I think the choice comes down to personal preference, specific things one might need, and cost.


  1. Hello,
    I've just installed Bookends and tried to import data from Zotero. Without success! How do you manage this? I guessed it was trough "TEI" then "Generate xml" since Bookends recognizes .xml files. But the fields I obtain are desperately void! Thanks.

  2. I export from Zotero as RIS (export library), then import as RIS in bookends (import references).

  3. It works indeed! Thanks. Although the accentuated characters (richness of French language) don't get through.