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Zotero reference database


Screen grab of Zotero in Firefox with some annotations

I work with return to learn students, itself almost an underground activity these days, and one of the universal messages we as a teaching team have to reinforce is the idea of attribution and referencing. For better or worse, the Harvard referencing scheme has become widely accepted in the world of Access courses.

Below is an extract from a bibliography compiled using Zotero, an open source bibliographic plug in for the Firefox Web browser, with references for some of my favourite books downloaded from COPAC.


Clarke, L. & Winch, C., 2007. Vocational education international approaches, developments and systems, London: Routledge.

Claxton, G., 1998. Hare brain, tortoise mind, London: Fourth Estate.

Csikszentmihalyi, M., 1991. Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience 1st ed., Chicago: Harper Perennial.

Curzon, L., 2004. Teaching in Further Education. An outline of Principles and Practice 6th ed., London: Continuum.

Hattie, J., 2008. Visible learning a synthesis of meta-analyses relating to achievement, London, New York: Routledge.

Winbourne, P., 1994. Learning about Mathematical Modelling: A Case Study using Model Builder. In H. Mellar et al., eds. Learning with Artificial Worlds: Computer Based Modelling in the Curriculum. London: Falmer.


Some step by step instructions...

Firefox add on dialog for Zotero

When you restart Firefox, you will notice a small Zotero button on the bottom right of the Firefox status bar. When you click on this, you will see the three column layout. The middle column is where you can add references. Cick on the green button to add a resource...

Zotero pane three column layout

Zotero organises references into a Library. Within the Library, you can set up one or more collections. References for a given piece of writing can be dragged into a collection in temporal order.

To add (say) a book, you

Author fields: you need to cite the editors of a collection of chapters to differentiate the chapter author from the editor of the volume

Example of chapter from an edited book

Zotero can pull bibliographic information from a range of formats automatically. If the 'filing cabinet' icon appears at the right of a Web address in Firefox, click on the icon to enter the data.

Zotero file cabinet icon in address bar

In the UK, we have the COPAC database of books held in UK University libraries. Students in FE Colleges can gain access to obscure references by using their local libraries' inter-library loan facilities. In Birmingham for Birmingham residents, an inter-library loan request costs £2.50. You collect the book from the Central Reference Library and can usually have the book for a two week period. Turn around on requests is typically 3 weeks so forward planning is needed.

The COPAC database can detect the presence of the Zotero plug in and will export data in the approprate format by clicking on a button in the COPAC results. Don't use the file cabinet icon, as author and place fields will acquire extra colons if you do...

Exporting a bibliography is simply a case of selecting references in the central colum, right clicking and choosing the format. You want to select Harvard Reference Format 1 (author, Date).

Export Harvard style bibliography

This page is just scratching the surface of Zotero. I especially appreciate the synchronisation feature available if you register an online account.

I'm creating a full tutorial for students in a bit...


Keith Burnett, Last update: Sun Aug 28 2011