Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Goodbye research log -- hello Zotero

After reading this and other articles on the uses of Zotero, I downloaded it and I'm now trying it out.

Goodbye research log -- hello Zotero — The Golden Egg Genealogist:
Zotero, a robust and free bibliographic and note-taking software package, gives me everything I ever needed from a research log and so much more. Here’s what I love about Zotero as my new notebook:

  • It can serve as the storage location for all my notes, with links to all my PDF scans (because photocopies and file boxes are yesterday’s trauma).
  • It allows me to organize this information in multiple ways simultaneously — by ancestor, by status of completion, by library, by whatever, without duplicating anything.
  • It guides me in creating a bibliographic source, and I only do it once.
  • It allows me to search across a large database in an instant.
  • It provides access to everything, anywhere I have the Internet.
  • It backs itself up.

And for those who want to see their research in date order, it keeps track of the day I created the reference and the day I last modified it. And if it really matters to me to know the exact date I extracted a piece of information, and the above two dates don’t satisfy me, I can type it in the note. (Though I have never needed to know that.)

Zotero seems to do quite a lot of things. It does one thing that Evernote used to do, but no longer does -- it syncs data on two computers (or more) though a remote server at[1] You can download a free copy from and try it out yourself.

Its main use, however, seems to be managing bibliographies, which is a more specialised task than note-taking programs like Evernote or OneNote. I actually found askSam more useful, even though it doesn't sync, because it allows both structured and unstructured data in the same file.  To sync I just use a flash drive and a batch file to copy data from one computer to the other. For more on those programs see Genealogy notes and news: Using Evernote, OneNote and askSam for genealogy.

I've barely scratched the surface of Zotero, but if you are doing any kind of research that requires a bibliography and bibliographical citations, have a look at it. It's free, so you lose nothing if it doesn't work for you.

One of the things that impressed me about Zotero is the ease with which you can populate your bibliography. For one thing, you can type in the ISBN of a book, and it will find the rest of the information. It will also grab bibliographical information from sites like, though it doesn't seem to work too well with GoodReads -- it gets some of the information, but not all, and records it as a web page rather than as a book.
Notes and references
[1] Evernote may still sync for all I know, but it doesn't seem to work anymore for my desktop computer, which runs Windows XP, which, as all sorts of messages keep telling me, "is no longer supported". Now I know computer businesses need to make mopney and need to pay their staff and planned obsolescence is a tried and tested way of getting repeat business. But I'm a pensioner, and I can't afford to buy a new computer every couple of years, and a new operating system to go with it. So I just have to make do with what I have and hope that it lasts for the rest of my life. That's one reason that I don't use -- not only can't I afford the subscription, but my browser is no longer supported, and if I want to update it I'm told my operating system is no longer supported.