First of all, I want to say how much easier Feedly has made my life! I love being subscribed to all of my classmates’ blogs and having them in one place–I actually remember to comment on other blogs because I can see when they are updated. If there are people who haven’t updated their Feedlys yet, I highly suggest doing so!
Considering the Larger Ramifications of Zotero
Now, the main reason I have a second post about digital tools–Zotero. Zotero is such an easy and useful tool for tracking sources, organizing them, and creating bibliographies (as well as any other uses in which people may employ it). Many of my classmates have echoed my own thoughts in their own blog posts about Zotero: Why didn’t I know about this tool earlier?, Zotero would have been/will be a lifesaver for my thesis, etc. As is my habit, I started seriously considering this question. It would make any history paper much easier to write and create a bibliography for. With the changes that the department has made to HIST 299 (now 297 and 298), particularly its new emphasis on digital aspects of history, Zotero would be a wonderful tool to give to up-and-coming history majors. It would make the somewhat daunting task of learning Turabian/Chicago Style citation much less stressful. So, back to the big question–why didn’t my colleagues and I know about Zotero earlier?
My first thought, and probably the one that rings most true for our department, is that most of the faculty are also in the dark when it comes to knowing about Zotero. (Or perhaps they know about it, but prefer creating bibliographies the “old fashioned” way, or simply do not want to bother with learning how to use a digital tool when they can make do without it.) I do not mean to imply that it is the faculty’s responsibility to introduce us to digital tools like Zotero, because we could certainly find Zotero on our own. I mean only to suggest that it is an extremely relevant tool to our major, especially a digitally literate major, and that the average student will typically be introduced to academically useful tools by his/her academic mentors.
My second thought operates on the hypothetical assumption that faculty members do know about Zotero: perhaps we haven’t been introduced to it because even though it is useful and time-saving, in a way it diminishes the learning process embodied by creating bibliographies. Introducing Zotero as early as 297/298/299 would undercut the way in which students learn Turabian/Chicago Style formatting in general. But, does learning how to format really matter? Creating a bibliography is not quite the same as writing the actual paper or doing a proof in math. For the paper and the proof, the process is what matters most, and more often than not, if the process is sound and correct, the final product will be good. On the other hand, for bibliographies I would argue that the process is not nearly as important as the final product. As long as the final bibliography correctly cites all sources, does it matter if you used Zotero or made it yourself? Is this case one in which the ends justify the means?
I think perhaps the larger problem here is not learning how to format the bibliography, but instead is learning what information is actually crucial for properly citing sources. Even more generally, I think that “manually” learning better instills the importance of proper citation, to give people credit where it is due and to avoid plagiarism. A tool like Zotero that creates a bibliography with a few clicks of the mouse, almost trivializes citation by so significantly decreasing the time actually spent on it. (Not to mention the fact that, as Peter pointed out, Zotero is not infalliable–mistakes can be made, and only someone familiar with proper formatting would be able to recognize and fix the mistakes.) I am probably (definitely) thinking way too much about Zotero and its use/non-use, but honestly I think issues such as the ones that I have briefly discussed will become important points of reflection and discussion as history becomes evermore immersed in the digital world and as our culture continues to demand “easy” way to do things, with instant gratification.
What is the take-away from my internal debate about Zotero? I still believe that it is an excellent tool for keeping track of and organizing sources and for creating bibliographies, and I am still beyond excited that I now know about it. However, I think that ideally Zotero would be introduced to students after they already have a thorough understanding of Turabian/Chicago Style and of the importance of correctly citing sources.