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Zotero is an open source bibliography management system - think EndNote embedded in your browser - that seems to be coming along very nicely even if there are concernsthat it is not very open to external contributions. Oh, and the browser has to be Firefox.

It’s important for the ICE-RS project that we have a good referencing application, and Zotero now looks pretty certain to be it.

I have been sort-of using Zotero for a while now to collect references, but its word processor integration only recently appeared and I only got around to looking at it today.

Here’s a few notes on how Zotero works with Microsoft Word 2004 on the Mac.

  1. I downloaded the disk image, opened the template, and went File / Save as... - Word helpfully offered to save in a templates directory so that worked fine it’s just not what you’re meant to do. I should have put it in the startup folder for Word as described in the instructions.

  2. There’s a little toolbar with only three buttons. One inserts a citation, one inserts a bibliography and the other sets a single preference. That’s abut the right number of buttons.

  3. Citations get inserted like this: Sefton 2006() - think there must be a little formatting bug there.

  4. My explorations didn’t last long because it started complaining that it could not talk to Firefox, even after I restarted both Word and Firefox. I think it has problems if you try to include citations with incomplete data, or delete things from the database and leave them in the document.

As far as I can tell almost all the work is done by Zotero. The Word macro uses AppleScript to make web (SOAP) calls to Firefox / Zotero behind the scenes. This looks very promising for ICE integration; should be easy to call Zotero with a list of citations and ask it to make a bibliography.

But, while I’m prepared to accept the limitations of new software, such as a small number citation styles for the Word plugin, there’s one thing I really don’t like. Zotero uses Word fields to store citation information. Those fields do not work when you open the document in OpenOffice.org. That’s a complete show-stopper for us. Of course we could just make a new version of the macro that uses a more interoperable citation format, but I’ve attempted to start a discussion on the Zotero forums:

My initial experiments indicate that citations embedded in Word using Fields are lost when the .doc file is opened in OOo. So, can we look at using a mechanism for carrying citation information that will be preserved. One approach would be to use bookmarks rather than fields. I have also considered looking for hyperlinks, matching those against URLs in Zotero and inserting appropriate citations.

What’s the current thinking on this issue within the Zotero team?

Zotero can recognize some kinds of metadata embedded in web pages and automatically import it. At the moment in doesn’t recognize USQ’s Eprints, even though it has Dublin Core metadata in the head element. It looks like adding support of our ePrints would be easy enough. There’s an incomplete how-to on the site explaining how. We’ll definitely look into teaching Zotero about ePrints and the other repositories we deal with in RUBRIC.


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