CPD23 Thing 14: Zotero, Mendeley and CiteULike

Like the author of the exercise for Thing 14, I too typed out all the references for my MA Dissertation manually with my referencing style guide open beside me. I don’t necessarily regret this because I did learn a lot about how bibliographic referencing works, but it was certainly a very painstaking and long-winded process and it would possibly have saved me a lot of time if I had known about reference management tools like Zotero or Mendeley.

I’ve decided to focus on Zotero for my Thing 14 blog post as I wanted to give myself the time to explore it properly. I’d heard a lot of positive reviews about this tool so I was keen to see whether it would be the answer to all my referencing woes when I begin my librarianship Masters degree in a few weeks time!

My first impression is that Zotero is quite a complex application that will take me some time to learn and understand. I didn’t find it particularly intuitive to begin with, but after following some tutorials I managed to add several ‘snapshots’ of web pages to my Zotero library, as well as some PDF files and some citation information from books that I found in our University library catalogue. I like the fact that you can enter the ISBN of a book into Zotero and it will immediately import the bibliographic details for that book. I also like the fact that a little book icon appears in the browser location bar when I am searching the library catalogue, which enables me to download all the citation information for the item(s) that I am viewing.

I decided to register an account with Zotero in order to be able to access my Zotero library via different computers, and having done so I was pleased to find that all the items I had added to my library at work were available for me to view on my laptop when I got home.

However, although Zotero does appear to be a useful tool for storing online articles and citation information, the real test of its usefulness for me is its ability to export correctly formatted bibliographies and citations to a Word document. I have been experimenting with this, but so far I have to say that I’m not very impressed with the results. After exporting my references into a bibliography using the referencing style that I am most familiar with, it seems to me that Zotero is not producing strictly correct references. I am quite disappointed by this because it means that I will still have to check each reference manually using my style guide to ensure that it is correct, which ultimately does not save me any time.

It’s quite possible that I just need to spend more time learning Zotero in order to get it to work properly for me, but after this initial trial I have to admit that I’m not feeling much incentive to do so at the moment! I attended a couple of courses on Endnote during my graduate traineeship and so far it appears that Endnote produces much more accurate references than Zotero, so I may decide to invest more time into learning the Endnote software instead. However, I also plan to have a go with Mendeley at some point in the future to see if this works better than Zotero. It will be a real shame if I can’t find some referencing management software that works accurately enough, because I do think that it’s a really good idea, in theory. However, for the time being I don’t think that I’ll be throwing away my referencing style guide just yet…

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4 Responses to CPD23 Thing 14: Zotero, Mendeley and CiteULike

  1. adam.smith says:

    If you specify which style doesn’t work correctly and in what way that can likely be fixed – although in many cases the problem is the data you input in Zotero – you do have to check that. You’ll find over time that some sources of data are better than others (e.g. worldcat isn’t as good as most other library catalogues, amazon is even worse, google scholar is not as good most for-pay journal databases etc.).
    Mendeley won’t be better in that respect, they use the same citation styles as Zotero.

  2. idhunter22 says:

    It sounds like you’ve found exactly the same as me with Zotero. I’ve always sung its praises to my librarianship MA colleagues, as it’s excellent for keeping a systematic record of all the books and journal articles that I’ve read and expect to cite in my work, as well as acting as a quick link back to each one (as long as I remember to save the URL). Yet when completing my dissertation last month I still ended up spending several hours tweaking my bibliography to meet the typographical specifications of the Harvard system that the Sheffield Information School uses. I wondered if it’s possible to make one’s own style but couldn’t work out a way of doing so. I’d love to know how you get on with Endnote and Mendeley as I’d definitely consider changing if it saves a lot of time in the future.

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