Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Keeping it all together: Zotero

Zotero is helpful. Zotero is INCREDIBLY helpful. You should really consider downloading it if you don't have it already.

A bunch of books, journals, and websites
As I suggest resources (and I hope you all will start commenting with other resources too) you'll need some way to keep them organized. If you are anything like me you have books that you can't find, may have loaned or, or possibly never owned but have looked them over enough times in the bookstore that you think you do. Multiply that disorganization by 10 if you start having to track webpages and pdf files. Not only do you not have one place to store it all, but then you have to decide on a naming convention and then stick to it (very hard to do when you download a lot of stuff and don't want to organize it right away). This is where Zotero comes in.

Zotero connects to your Firefox web browser and it allows you to "capture" useful webpages, pdfs, Word docs, txt files, and just about anything else. All of these files and sites are then indexed to allow you to search throughout your entire digital library. You can also use it to keep track of your physical library.

It gets better. You can also use it to organize and track your physical library. When you view a book at amazon or maybe google books and small "Book" icon will show up in your address bar allowing you to capture the book data and put it in your library. Always double-check it because some sites allow you to capture data better than others. The best site for capturing data is the Library of Congress, sadly it is also the worst site for browsing through books. I'm pretty sure they made it as difficult as possible to cut down on transfer costs.

The best part is that you can get plugins for either Microsoft Word or for OpenOffice so that you can use it as your footnoting and bibliography management. This is like Endnote or Note Bene, yet free.

Library on the left, Bibliographic info for item on right
Once you have entered the bibliographic info for each item you can attach a file (pdf or otherwise) and then when you perform a search you'll be able to not only search titles, authors, and associated tags, but also inside each of those files (note: when a pdf is OCR'd, it's searchable, when it is merely page scans, it's not).

Earlier this morning I was looking for references to "water" so I typed "water" into my search bar and not only did I have every book and journal article that had water in the title, but also every searchable file that had water somewhere inside. I found out that John Piper's book Finally Alive has an extended section dealing with water in the Gospel of John -- exactly what I was writing about. This is why Zotero can be so useful.

It does take time entering all of the data, but from what I have found so far, even partially entering your library is worth the time. You can finally have access to everything you have without missing a book or article. This is my favorite download of the year.

More on Zotero later.

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