Zotero — Reference Manager & Social Bibliography

The Building of a Bibliography for Simon Fraser University’s Digital Aldine Collection


by Reese Irwin


In searching for a bibliography of Aldus Manutius on Google, one would discover something much like this brief, annotated bibliography from Oxford Bibliographies:

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This format, as an example, is static, cannot be modified or built upon except by the website administrator, and the best a user or reader can do is to “[e]-mail [the] Citation” through a link. Bibliographies, in large part, have not been brought into the twenty-first century: into the realm of sharing, modifying, and commenting that has become popularized by social media. As people grow used to this type of communication, various services have become increasingly not only digital, but social. Yet the academic bibliography remains a self-contained object, often constructed as a PDF or static webpage, as above. These forms are contrary to the social landscape, arguably because they are academic works. But why should academic work be restricted to itself, unable to be changed once created? Why not become an ongoing, social collaboration of those who are passionate about a subject in question?

One of the solutions to make academic bibliographies and research more collaborative, social, and dynamic is the reference manager Zotero. Zotero is two things: a personal reference manager, and collaborative constructor of bibliographies which can be modified, continuously, by more than one person through the “shared library” feature. At its most basic function as reference manager, Zotero compiles metadata from websites in order to create bibliographic records, which can be annotated, categorized, and/or exported into a traditional bibliography for the user.

Objective & Methodology:

This report describes the building of the bibliography for Simon Fraser University’s digitization of the Wosk-Macdonald Aldine Collection, using Zotero as both a reference manager for the bibliography, as well as a shared library to be embedded into the final website for the project. The larger objective was to create a bibliography with a “life” beyond its original iteration: through the use of Zotero’s shared library feature, the bibliography would have the ability to be expanded, revised, annotated, and read publicly, as well as exported for users’ personal needs.

To construct this bibliography, links were compiled in Zotero to create a bibliography within the reference manager that was broad enough to represent the scope of Aldus’ work, but that was restricted to digital sources, given the nature of the project. Both scholarly and public sources were included, in order to appeal to the academic community, as well as the general reader curious about Aldus’ life and works.

As they were compiled, missing metadata for the sources was filled in manually, including annotating the sources through the “abstract” metadata field. Next, the compiled links were organized through the use of tags, among them these four categories: scholarly, public, works of Aldus, and library collection.

Lastly, the Zotero library was set up as a moderated, shared library in order to promote collaboration among those interested in the topic of Aldus Manutius, his works, and the digital preservation of those works.

Findings & Execution:

Adding Sources

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In order to compile sources, links were added to the shared “Aldus SFU” library in Zotero, using Zotero’s web translator capability to capture metadata and import this data to the library. According to Zotero support, “[o]ne of Zotero’s most convenient features is its ability to find bibliographic information on the web pages you visit” (n.p.). Zotero “will display icons in the address bar indicating it has detected a format it recognizes” (n.p.), effectively building in a “save” icon beside the Zotero access icon in Firefox (Zotero’s default browser in which to run, but “there are plugins for Google Chrome and Safari”), which the user clicks in order to extract the metadata from a link and translate these into a bibliographic source (Ovadia, n.p.).

Screenshot 2015-11-20 16.33.07.pngFrom time to time, however, Zotero’s web translator is unable to find all of the metadata, and may only be able to extract the webpage title and URL. In these cases, it becomes necessary to manually search for the metadata on the page, and add these into the relevant fields. Users can also change the type of source (“Item Type”) from a dropdown menu (see inset). Zotero provides different fields depending on the source type; for example, if one selects “Journal Article,” Zotero will provide the fields “publication,” “volume,” and “issue.”

Most sources in the Aldine bibliography, as they are public sources found mostly as webpages and blog posts, were incomplete in their metadata when first captured, and these fields had to be entered manually. I was required to search the source for an author, date of publication, and in some cases, change the Item Type, as described above.

This “cleaning up” and addition of as much metadata as could be manually found was done to ensure a tidy bibliography that is not only easy for multiple users to navigate and read within Zotero, but that can also be extracted to form complete citations. Without the manual addition of metadata inside of Zotero, when sources are exported as citations or a bibliography, there are gaps within citations and it is much harder to fill in these gaps than it is to add information to Zotero’s labelled data fields prior to exporting.

Revising Sources

During the compilation of sources as described above, some sources were naturally chosen over others. The team working on this project decided to include only digital sources in the bibliography, in the spirit of the digital nature of the Aldus @ SFU project. Simon Fraser University Library’s Special Collections department scanned works from the Aldine press, digitizing and effectively bringing them into the twenty-first century; we wanted the bibliography to reflect this newness and compatibility with technology.

Furthermore, in the spirit of open access, the team decided to include both publicly available and scholarly sources. Through this inclusion, the project can be used by scholars for research, and read by the public interested in Aldus Manutius. To differentiate, tags have been used so readers know which sources are accessible to everyone, and which are scholarly.

Screenshot 2015-11-22 19.17.15.pngSome sources were also excluded from the bibliography. The decision of what to keep and what to discard was based on how relevant the source was to the project, and how easy it was for the source to be read. Of note are two examples, a newspaper article from The New York Times, and a Google Books preview.

I originally added the New York Times article, “Robin Sloan, Author and More, and His ’24-Hour Bookstore,’” because of the popular culture reference to Aldus Manutius; however, after reviewing other links in the bibliography and considering that I had included no other popular culture references, omitted the Times article. I realized that it was more of an interest piece (Robin Sloan likens Aldus’ innovation of the octavo pocketbook to an iPhone), not so much a bibliographic reference.

I also omitted two Google Book previews, for the following reasons: Zotero grabbed the metadata as a “Book” (see inset), omitting a URL; and the book previews were messy, hard to follow, and did not allow the reader to view every page (see below).

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Although it was just explained in the previous section that users can change an Item Type in Zotero manually, and add metadata (which would include the URL), in the case of the Google Books previews the manual addition and reworking of the source information created an untidy entry into the bibliography, and one that would be more useful as a print source than a digital source (see interface below).

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Screenshot 2015-11-22 21.26.53.pngUltimately, the book previews were omitted because they were incomplete and hard to link to, and would have served a better purpose as a bibliographic reference through their print iterations, not their digital “preview” versions; thus, as print references were not included in this bibliography, they were omitted.

To contrast with this, other digitized books were included in the bibliography, as their layouts were clean, their links were simple, and the interfaces in which they are set are more representative of a digital source than the Google Books interface (see Archive.org and HathiTrust interfaces inset).

Furthermore, the entire book is included in these digitized versions, and the interfaces reflect the same type of book preservation as that of the SFU digital Aldine collection.

Annotating Sources

Zotero has a “notes” function for users to write additional information about a source, which I originally employed to annotate the bibliography;

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however, the notes field works more like a “sticky note” on an entry rather than a description of that entry, meant for individual use when doing research. These notes are, “[b]y default, when you copy items between your personal library and a group library, or between different group libraries, … copied along,” but they can be made private and not copied to group libraries by unchecking the “child notes” option (Zotero Preferences, n.p.). Therefore, a user’s notes can be made public or private, depending on preference; the notes section of Zotero is intended for personal or collaborative side items, and not academic annotation.

A better home for describing the sources was in the “abstract” field; some sources even provided this as Zotero captured it along with the other metadata (see inset). By becoming more familiar with Zotero’s interface, I realized that the abstract field would be the best place to briefly describe each source: it’s easy to see when looking through each source’s bibliographic information, and is a better identifier than a note attached to the source. It was simply a continuation of filling in the metadata fields.

Categorizing Sources

Initially, sources were sorted through the use of subfolders, or “collections” within the shared library; however, this proved cumbersome. Each source added to the library had to be dragged into the appropriate subfolder, and there is no way to indicate that a source is in a subfolder without looking at each collection and verifying its contents (see below; “collections” are on the top left).

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The solution was to tag each item with a set of keywords, or tags (see bottom left of above photo), which users can select or deselect at will. As an example, if a user is looking for scholarly sources about the Aldine Press, she can select both of these tags and the relevant items will display (see below; the tags are highlighted in blue on the bottom left).

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This system of categorization is more efficient, and is customizable to each user or reader of the library. One can either view the entire bibliography as a list, or select relevant tags and narrow results; there are no closed off subfolder collections. Tags are especially useful when dealing with a shared library, as they are far easier for more than one person to manage.

As tags are added and used throughout the library, Zotero will automatically recommend them as users type into the tag fields. This “auto-filling” makes it easy for multiple users to categorize sources, as opposed to a more individual discretion when working with dragging sources into collections. In addition, when Zotero imports metadata, some tags are also imported, helping users to further sort library items.

Tags are also far easier to moderate than subfolders; as illustrated above, they are easier to view, can simply be removed if they are not relevant, or added to an item if required.

Sharing & Moderating the “Social, Living” Bibliography

Perhaps one of the most innovative parts of Zotero is its support of groups, which can have shared libraries. According to their groups page, “Zotero groups provide a powerful way to share collections with a class, work closely with colleagues on a project, keep track of conversations in your field more broadly, and keep tabs on what people at your institution or in your department are working on” (Zotero Groups, n.p.). Of course, this type of collaboration also means that users can create ongoing bibliographies, which are constantly being updated, revised, read, and moderated. This was the vision for the Aldus @ SFU bibliography, and Zotero’s groups function offers the capability.

Because of the openly accessible nature of the project, the goal was to keep the shared library as public as possible, while still maintaining an academic standard. Zotero’s group settings helped tailor the group and the shared library in order to be faithful to open access, but also to be able to moderate the users building upon the library. There are three types of group options in Zotero: private groups, “a means of collaboration among group members without creating any public face for the group online,” in which “[o]nly group members and users invited to join the group are able to see the group’s page;” public groups with closed membership, “useful for creating a controlled group environment with a public presence,” in which “ [a]nyone can view the group page, but the only way to join the group is by invitation or by requesting an invitation;” and public groups with open membership, “useful for the broadest discussion and collaboration,” in which “[t]he group page is public, and anyone who wants to can join instantly” (Zotero Groups, n.p.). For the Aldus @ SFU group, the public group with closed membership was the best option, as we wanted exactly what Zotero describes: “a controlled group environment with a public presence” (see group settings page ).

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Within this type of group, there are options through which to set up the shared library. The owner and moderator of the group must invite or approve all new members to the group, and only members can edit or add to the library. Of course, there must be moderation within this use, but controlling who can join is an efficient way to prevent unwanted changes to the bibliography.

As well, within a public, closed membership, the owner and “administrators can choose to show or hide the library from non-members,” or the library can be made available for public reading (Zotero Groups, n.p.). The shared library for the Aldus @ SFU bibliography is therefore public to read and view, with members being the only ones to edit or add sources.

Even within moderations of members, as well, there must be moderation of sources being edited or added. The owner of the group will be responsible for the overall curation of sources, in order to ensure a standard is being kept, and that the metadata entry fields for each source are being completed to the best of each user’s ability. For example, the addition of a Google Book preview by a member would be edited out, for reasons explained above. The continued monitoring of the bibliography encourages its use and upkeep, and also helps present the best version of itself at all times, easy for the public to read and for members to engage with.

Exporting Sources

Zotero thus has the capability to remain an expanding and constantly changing bibliography that better aligns with the online social experience of the twenty-first century.

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This capability does not mean, though, that Zotero cannot form a traditional bibliography. Zotero has many options to form bibliographies, with several citation styles to choose to export this information through. As Murimboh and Hollingdale report in their review of Zotero, “[t]housands of citation styles are available from the Style Repository. New styles can be requested through the Zotero forums — [a] request was added to the Style Repository in less than a day” (n.p.). In keeping with collaboration and social experience, Zotero developers respond to users’ and integrate citation styles based on need.

After finding a given citation style, and inputting (either manually, or by Zotero’s web translator, as described above) as much metadata as possible, Zotero will export any chosen sources into a traditional bibliography. This exportation can be compiled as

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a rich text file, HTML file, copied to the clipboard, or printed (see inset). One also has the option to change the language of the bibliography, with access to a multitude of these as well.

After exporting citations, Zotero produces a bibliography using the chosen citation style that previously, one would have to construct themselves (see inset).

Simply by exporting information, Zotero is able to efficiently build a bibliography; however, as stated above, how accurate this bibliography is compiled depends on a user’s ability to either manually fill in metadata fields, or Zotero’s ability to capture metadata from a source when importing it to the library. If all of the metadata is available, having Zotero construct a traditional bibliography is much easier and faster than writing one manually.

Another feature of Zotero is its ability to export citations directly into word processors through the use of plugins. As Zotero Support explains, “[t]hese plugins, available for Microsoft Word and LibreOffice/OpenOffice/NeoOffice, create dynamic bibliographies: insert a new in-text citation in your manuscript, and the bibliography will be automatically updated to include the cited item. Correct the title of an item in your Zotero library and with a click of a button the change will be incorporated in your texts” (n.p.). Below is a screenshot from a Zotero screencast video, an excellent resource for learning how to work with this plugin:

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Working with Zotero to build the Aldus @ SFU bibliography has been a much easier experience than would have been had without its help. As proven through this report, Zotero is easy to use, and makes it easy on the user to cite sources and form traditional bibliographies. Beyond these personal uses, Zotero is also a valuable collaborative tool that has the capability to support not only group research, but what the Aldus @ SFU bibliography really is: an experiment in social research and open access, and a shared, flexible bibliography that will continue to grow online as more works about Aldus are created or made available. Much in the same innovative spirit of Aldus Manutius, Zotero offers the public and its users a reference manager that is much more than a tool to streamline personal research: it is a changeable, expanding resource system to aid not only one scholar, but groups of passionate individuals.

Sources & Bibliography:

All images are author’s own unless cited otherwise.

Barker, N. (1992). Aldus Manutius and the Development of Greek Script & Type in the Fifteenth Century. Fordham Univ Press. Retrieved from https://books.google.ca/books?id=EM5bhSizB5cC.

CHNMedia. (2009). Zotero Word Plugin. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aMkccKZ0Hio.

Kallendorf, C. (2010). Aldo Manuzio (Aldus Manutius). Retrieved from http://www.oxfordbibliographies.com/display/id/obo-9780195399301-0031.

Murimboh, J. D., & Hollingdale, C. R. (2011). Zotero: A Reference Manager for Everyone. Journal of Chemical Education, 89, 173-174. dx.doi.org/10.1021/ed1010618.

Ovadia, S. (2013). “Capturing and Managing Scholarly Information.” In The Librarian’s Guide to Academic Research in the Cloud. Chandos Publishing. Retrieved from http://proquest.safaribooksonline.com/book/library-and-information-science/9781843347156/chapter-3-capturing-and-managing-scholarly-information/st0035_b9781843347156500037_htm.

Schuessler, J. (2012, October 3). Robin Sloan, Author and More, and His ’24-Hour Bookstore’. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/04/books/robin-sloan-author-and-more-and-his-24-hour-bookstore.html

Zotero | Groups. (2015). Retrieved November 17, 2015, from https://www.zotero.org/support/groups

Zotero | Groups > Aldus SFU. (2015). Retrieved November 20, 2015, from https://www.zotero.org/groups/aldus_sfu

Zotero | Home. (2015). Retrieved November 15, 2015, from https://www.zotero.org/

Zotero | Preferences: General. (2015). Retrieved November 22, 2015, from https://www.zotero.org/support/preferences/general

Zotero | Support. (2015). Retrieved November 17, 2015, from https://www.zotero.org/support/

Zotero | Word Processor Plugins. (2015). Retrieved November 22, 2015, from https://www.zotero.org/support/word_processor_integration