Bibliographic Management

WR3 | Workshops

Bibliographic Management

Most of us take a very shortsighted approach to our work. We take notes. We do the readings. We complete the assignments. We turn in our work and receive our grade. But then we just move on. All the work product from our labors and the materials we used for learning are abandoned; ultimately, they cross the event horizon into the black hole of a computer hard drive, never to emerge again. But that essay you wrote last term, the notes you took on a scholarly article, the readings you dutifully annotated in your history class, may be very useful to you in some future project that you can’t even imagine now. Summarily tossing all of your work into the black hole forces you to start over again and again.

Successful scholars and students save all their work and preserve a record of all their reading; they return to prior work and research all the time—reshaping, repurposing, reusing, and extending prior efforts. They understand that knowledge is cumulative: it accretes and deepens over time, often by building on what came before. Most of us are really terrible at this. It’s an unfortunate aspect of human nature to focus on the immediate task at hand and fail to plan for the future. But it is important to take a less shortsighted approach to your education and think about what you are doing here on a much longer timeline. It is impossible to know what your future self will need or be interested in, so it is best to save all you can.

Using Zotero

There are many possible ways to archive your work and resources. A notebook and a filing cabinet would work fine, for example. But there are more powerful choices. One amazing project you should try out is a bibliographic manager called Zotero—a free and powerful piece of software that can help you with many aspects of your research work. Zotero not only helps you preserve an organized record of your work and reading, it is also powerful tool to help you perform research and complete some of the more annoying and time-consuming aspects of research writing. This video is a short demonstration of some of the key features of Zotero.


I am pretty sensitive about people asking me to install things on my computer. So I won’t require that you do so. You choose your own tools. However, if Zotero seems like something that would be useful to you, install it on your machine and take it for a spin. Zotero is free, open-source, has a huge buy-in from many library systems, is easy to use, and will make your life easier. But your choice.