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February 4, 2011

Collaboration in Zotero

February 4, 2011 | By | 2 Comments

I recently gave two workshops on Zotero to give an overview of its features, evangelize for its use, and to suggest models for collaboration that take advantage of group libraries. One workshop was conducted as a departmental lunch-and-learn for historians, and the other for librarians interested in Zotero’s sharing capabilities. Each group was excited by the examples of collaboration I provided and provided their own stimulating ideas on how they might use Zotero. Here are some examples from my own collaborate work that I showcased:

Fostering a Field

My first example was the group library I have assembled for the Football Scholars Forum, an academic monthly book club that invites authors via Skype to discuss their work. In the Zotero library, we have a folder that contains all of the sessions we have conducted so far, with attachments to each citation that include review essays, news stories, and the audio recording of the monthly meeting itself. As part of the group’s role in facilitating collaborative research, we are also using the group library as a medium to exchange digital sources, reading lists, and the citations we have all amassed individually. We also plan to share course syllabi to compare the ways we bring a football perspective into humanities courses. In this capacity, Zotero’s collaborative function is helping us bring together researchers of soccer and society and to document our monthly discussions.

Reading Smarter

I am also using Zotero to conduct a guided reading with a pair of grad students and an Anthropology professor. Here, the group library is acting as a tool to aid our weekly readings by providing us a place to share reviews, compare notes, and generate a collaborative annotated bibliography. We are plugged into the group library throughout the week, sharing our resources as we come across them and collaborating real time in GoogleDocs on notes to prepare for our discussion. The resources we have shared have been an invaluable aid in getting through the readings in a directed and efficient manner.

Pedagogy and BiblioBout

At the librarian’s presentation, someone brought up Zotero’s pedagogical potential in showcasing and distributing sources. By having a group library with the citations contained in the syllabus and attached pdf’s of the assigned readings, students can annotate, modify, and tag sources, truly work with them, rather than simply downloading from them from ANGEL or Blackboard. Teaching with Zotero also can mean making citations fun, or gamifying the experience of collecting sources. To aid in building media literacy, University of Michigan professor Karen Markey has developed a web game called BiblioBouts, where students compete to build the most credible media sources in their Zotero libraries.

Zotero and Collaborative Scholarship

Citation management software is not new; many professors I talked to will be sticking with the collections they already have in EndNote or Evernote. However, what made everyone excited about Zotero were its sharing capabilities. Zotero combines social networking, group libraries, and remote access with a robust citation management system. The more of us who begin to use it, the more powerful Zotero becomes as a scholarly tool. Early grad students will find using Zotero especially advantageous, since much of the work that goes into generating reading lists, comps lists, and bibliographies needs to be done anyway. Additionally, we can especially benefit from comparing and contrasting our libraries with fellow grads.

The scholarly community using Zotero will continue to grow, but even a small group of users in a department or institution can effect a change in the way we work through our sources together. Here are a number of ideas on why you should begin using Zotero with your closest colleagues and encourage others to join in:

  • Convenience: Attaching files to citations makes life easier. Need to grab an article you know that your colleague is working with and don’t want to hassle with going through the library’s login and possible paywalls for journals? Just open up the group library and grab it from the saved citation. While you are there, you can grab the notes your colleague has attached and view what themes they have tagged the work with.
  • Think Together: The dynamic process of organizing a group library with others gets everybody’s intellectual juices going and stimulates discussion over the logic of certain hierarchies or groupings of material. This sort of engagement also allows one to think critically from multiple perspectives and also familiarizes you with fellow scholars’ points of view and ultimate goals in certain projects.
  • Work Transparency: While there are some good reasons to keep a work-in-progress under wraps, there are enormous benefits to allowing your fellows to see how your library is evolving. A colleague may notice you have created a new folder on Andean market women and suggest a number of folders from their own library for you to browse. When you are back at your desk, just pull up their folders and grab the citations you think may look interesting.

These are just a few ideas to get started, and I hope to see comments and suggestions that suggest other ways to share and why. For Zotero to make a difference in your work, you must invest others in the process of collaborating with you with this exciting tool.


  1. As a scholar working in several languages, you may want to keep an eye on the multilingual branch of Zotero (, which lets you maintain parallel item data in multiple translations and transliterations, so you don’t need to rework them for each publication. As far as I know, there’s nothing else like it in the world of research software.

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