Zotero: a wizard’s companion

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been using Zotero, a free browser add-on for Firefox that allows you to manage bibliographic citations online. I’d tried it months ago on my old, decrepit computer but found it to be slow and clunky, but wow, what a difference it has made to my research. It’s sleek, integrates perfectly with tools like Google Scholar, and allows you to export in virtually any bibliographic format. It seems to allow you to index just about any sort of source, including PDFs and web sites, with ease. Of course, if something is poorly referenced at the source, that won’t help you, but it has clarified a lot of things for me. I have been known to describe myself to students as a ‘wizard’ of bibliographic search, both online and otherwise, and Zotero has already made things much, much faster for me.

It’s striking how fast online research is changing – just ten months ago, when I had my Methods students do bibliographic research on Paleolithic mathematical and calendrical notations, I was wary of Google Scholar’s breadth and advised against using it exclusively, and I didn’t really have any notion of how to advise students to collect references online efficiently. With Zotero, their work would have been much, much faster and easier. So, because I know some of those people are reading this: sorry, guys!

Now if I could only find a way to take the giant Word document of references on numerical notation that I’ve been compiling since 1998, and import it into Zotero (or anything else), that would be pretty handy. But even a wizard has his limits.



  1. Rick: Thanks, that looks interesting! I’m not sure how much effort it will take to get it to understand my file correctly (or how much correction I will need to do after the fact), but even something that gets it close to a Bibtex format would be a real time-saver.

  2. For a while there, it was covering mostly recent material, and a lot of journals got omitted. Now it indexes the entirety of JSTOR, so it is significantly more broad in its coverage than before, and you don’t need to do separate searches in JSTOR. You will still find that specialized journals in many fields don’t get good coverage especially prior to the past 10 years. But most of the stuff that Google Scholar doesn’t index, isn’t indexed anywhere at all online. You can try the specialized subject indices (like Anthropological Literature) to supplement Google Scholar, but I don’t find they add much.

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