As the trusty Cam23 juggernaut trundled up to Thing 18, Zotero, this week, I was sorely tempted not to get off and to carry on to Thing 19 instead – a bit like avoiding Bridgwater services (right) on the M5 and carrying on to Exeter.
My main reason for feeling anti-Zotero is that it was seized upon by a business school PhD student last year as the answer to life, the universe and everything. Now this would have been fine had it not been for the fact that he was holding forth (extensively) in an Endnote teaching session we were giving. His speech and his later extra-classroom evangelism led to zero Endnote take-up, kyboshing the careful efforts we had made to arrange full Endnote access for any PhD who wanted it. And after all that, the student in question didn’t even have the decency to pass his first year, so many PhDs were left rudderless as it were. Or so I thought…
However, now I’ve had a good look around for myself and am being more rational about it, I can see the advantages it has over Endnote and that our PhDs were probably very pleased to have been pointed in its direction. Its less clunky, more intuitive and, most importantly, more seamlessly integrated with the web than Endnote.
I especially like the ease of just clicking the folder icon in the URL bar and selecting which results you want to add to your ‘library’. (Above: a selection of results I opted to add from EBSCO’s Business Source Complete).
However, my experience wasn’t entirely trouble-free. Several databases I tried to import from resulted in a ‘cannot save item’ message and there were many databases, here at the business school, that were unfortunately incompatible. Having said that, it would be unfair to discount Zotero on this basis as Endnote connection/database link shenanigans are legendary in their complexity. I guess where Endnote still has the edge is in its robustness, Zotero is merely a Firefox plug-in after all. I know if I was writing a PhD thesis that I’d be mighty scared about the safety of a bibliography saved within a Firefox profile and would want the peace of mind that an Endnote database saved to a hard drive would give me. Fine for an essay then, or maybe a Master’s dissertation, but I’m still dubious about its use by PhDs.
My other problem with Zotero it is that it’s a bit too easy to use (!) therefore feeding the questionable idea that the research process should be easy and achievable in a few clicks. While I can see that there’s no point in deliberately making things complicated there is a feel of ‘the march of low culture’ about it that I can’t quite put my finger on. Perhaps its just that “it used to be much harder in my day” thing. When I hear complaints from students about Endnote (and indeed any database) I can’t help but think back to the shonky tools at my disposal when I was studying and think therefore that they are whining unnecessarily. So ‘dinosaurish me’ sees Zotero as dumbing down, and ‘forward-thinking enthusiastic me’ embraces it as wonderfully web-integrated and functional.
One final word, Zoh-TAIR-oh? Really? Are you sure? You’ll be wanting Pimms and cucumber sandwiches with that then?