My undergrad was spent in a lab, so most of my academic efforts were usually exported in the form of lab reports. Citations were never required (or useful) for those types of papers. When I began my MLIS in January 2008, I realized that I would need some help with my papers, particularly when it came to citation management. During my first week of school, I took a tour of the university library and was told about RefWorks, to which the university had a site-wide license. I don’t know how I would have got through my first term without it.
It is only now, after two terms of school, that I have been made aware of an open source alternative: Zotero. It’s available as a Firefox plugin and has taken a very different approach to citation management. While the current version has some disadvantages in comparison with RefWorks (notably: your data is stored on your local machine, and therefore inaccessible from other computers), they should be addressed by the time I head back to school in January.
What follows is a brief list which I drew up of the pros and cons of Zotero when comparing it to my previous experience with RefWorks. Something tells me that by the time I head back to school in January 2009, Zotero will replace RefWorks as my citation manager.
Good stuff about Zotero:
- Your citations are stored locally in an open source client and accessible without a fee. In contrast, when I leave the University of Western Ontario in April 2009, my access to RefWorks will cease and my citation data stored in their service will be have to be exported and downloaded if I wish to keep it.
- It’s nice to be able to store a copy of the document alongside the citation data.
- The client is free and has a wide support for various websites and catalogues.
- Being a successful open source project, it seems to have a rapid rate of feature development and improvement.
- It was built from the ground-up to be able to grab just about any document online (this functionality in RefWorks seems to have been added much more recently).
- With Zotero, the same citation can be present in multiple “Folders”. In RefWorks, I believe a citation can only exist in one “Folder” at a time, so duplicates need to be uploaded/created if the same work is to be cited in more than one of your papers (if I recall correctly).
- Zotero can append “sticky notes” and tags to documents/citations, which I don’t remember seeing in RefWorks.
- Zotero fully supports citation data from Endnote.
- The user’s citation data is tied to one computer. I know they were promoting “portable Firefox” on a USB key but that’s a really awkward solution. However, Zotero’s new Sync service, which is more RefWorks-like (data is stored remotely and is accessible from anywhere), will address this in their next version. We didn’t get a clear answer as to how much the Sync service would cost, so that’s something that needs to be determined.
- It only works in Firefox. As a Linux-using open source guy, this limitation doesn’t affect me. However, I understand that IE (or even Chrome) users won’t share my point of view.
- Lacks the ability to create RSS feeds like RefWorks. I’m not sure if this is a planned feature of Zotero’s Sync service (if so, it hasn’t been mentioned).
Where both look good:
- Plugins for Word and Open Office look great for both RefWorks and Zotero. This is an impressive feature in both of the products, and I’m pleased that each of them support Open Office.
Briefly, it seems to me that Zotero is still catching up a little but it’s doing so at a very fast rate. Once release 1.5 and the Sync service hits, I’ll see no reason to keep my citation data locked away on RefWorks’ servers.