Looking at Zotero

We were fortunate that TRLN sponsored two sessions of Zotero training – one at NCSU and one at Duke – with Trevor Owens,   Zotero’s “community lead” and super trainer.

Our full day of training began with a look at the four major functions of Zotero:  collecting, organizing, citing and collaborating.  Trevor encouraged us to think of Zotero as more than a citation management system — it is a tool for organizing research resources and managing scholarly workflow.  Many of Zotero’s strengths flow from that conceptual base.  For example, Zotero is flexible and accommodating to a wide range of research materials, there’s free storage space for PDFs and other files, and collaboration doesn’t depend on whether a researcher’s home institution has a subscription to a particular product (like EndNote).

Emily asked Trevor to summarize the strengths of Zotero, and he pointed to ease of use, emphasis on sharing and collaboration, the active Zotero community that comes from being an open source product, and the fact that it’s free.  And weaknesses?  Because Zotero works with “messy data,” users might need to do more clean-up than with products like EndNote; and the I-Tunes like interface and functionality might be difficult to get used to for long-time users of other systems.

I asked Trevor to describe the current landscape of library citation management support, since he is in touch with the library community through his training and support work.  He said that major research libraries tend to support EndNote, RefWorks and Zotero, but that budget cuts mean that campuses who have site licenses for EndNote are discontinuing them.  Here at Duke, we’re thinking seriously of how to support Zotero in some of the ways we now support EndNote and RefWorks.  First up is a “train the trainer” session this summer, so we can informally explore Zotero and share what we learned before we forget!

A Survey of Instructional Video Tutorials

In preparation for updating and expanding Duke’s library tutorials, we decided to first get a sense of the current landscape of instructional video tutorials. As part of this project, Alice Whiteside and I completed an environmental scan of peer institution tutorials. Of the twelve institutions that we surveyed, five did not have any tutorials. Our conclusions are drawn from tutorials created by UNC, UVA, Yale, Stanford, NCSU, Cornell, and Emory.

There was a fair amount of consistency in terms of content, especially related to “how-to” tutorials. Many libraries had tutorials on how to search the catalog. Another popular topic was how to access materials that are not readily available: ILL, requesting off-site materials, and how to use a proxy server. There were several tutorials on how to search article databases, either generally or a specific one such as Google Scholar. A few libraries had tutorials related to RefWorks. Some libraries, such as NCSU, tend to focus on more topic-oriented issues. The most common type of topic-oriented tutorial was explaining either the difference between popular and scholarly resources or what defines a scholarly resource.

There were some consistent issues related to presentation, particularly regarding the location of tutorials within library websites. Many universities with multiple libraries have a main library homepage in addition to homepages for individual libraries on campus, and we found that tutorials were sometimes linked from the latter without being directly accessible through the former. Some libraries presented links to videos, while others embedded the video directly. Video tutorials that were simply linked were not always clearly identified as such. We think that it is most effective if videos can be embedded rather than simply linked, as students will be more likely to click on them. If this is not possible, then they should be clearly marked as video tutorials, so that users understand what is available and what to expect if they click on the link.

In all, we felt that Cornell offered very strong tutorials that provide an excellent example of effective delivery. Promoted under the title of “Research Minutes,” these tutorials are brief, creative and consistent. NCSU has created some unique and informative topic-oriented tutorials such as Peer Review in Five Minutes and Wikipedia: Beneath the Surface.

Libraries wishing to develop or expand tutorial offerings may want to consult The Animated Tutorial Sharing Project (ANTS), which is a shared repository of library tutorials created using screencast software. Since many libraries may wish to create tutorials on similar topics, it is worth checking to see if something meeting your needs may already be available here before reinventing the wheel.

For more information on developing video tutorials, we recommend the following links:

Learning to Teach Through Video (Kim Leeder)

Guidelines for Animated Online Tutorials Used in Database Instruction (ANTS)

New Ways to Share Notes

As part of our work with Instruction & Outreach this semester, Julie Adamo and I have been researching a range of emerging technologies and reporting our findings at weekly department meetings. I recently tackled online collaborative annotation tools, which allow users to highlight content on a webpage, add comments, and share their annotations. Going into this, I understood the dictionary meaning of these words strung together, but I was not familiar with any of these tools. And I had no idea there were so many! I investigated a handful of them: Google Sidewiki, MyStickies, Webnotes, DotSpots, and Diigo. I found that each had a slightly different focus, and, of course, different strengths. DotSpots is geared towards commenting on news, creating a public forum that adds different perspectives to stories. MyStickies is a tool for personal annotations, for organizing information on the web for yourself, rather than sharing notes and content. Diigo emerged as the favorite for collaborative work.


Using Diigo (an acronym for “Digest of Internet Information, Groups and Other stuff”), you can make your annotations private, public, or shared with a group. You can highlight content on a page, add “sticky notes,” archive pages (take a snapshot of the page, instead of bookmarking it), and organize pages with tags or in lists. Having an appreciation for controlled vocabularies, I like the “group tag dictionary” feature, which allows a group administrator to define a set of recommended tags.

Thinking about the use of collaborative annotation tools in a library setting, I was mainly envisioning these as a good thing to know about, a handy card to have in our back pocket to suggest to students and faculty when the right type of project or conundrum presented itself. Online collaborative annotation tools can be useful for a wide range of projects, and they can also be useful for sharing information with colleagues. We are now using Diigo to gather and share materials related to our upcoming Spring Instruction Retreat which will focus on digital literacies.

If you’d like to read more about collaborative annotation tools, I recommend this article from Educause (Oct. 2009) as a starting point.

Do you use any web annotation tools? Is there one you really like? Tell us about it!

Internships 101: Research for the “real world”

Duke’s librarians teach hundreds of library instruction sessions every year to support courses with topics ranging from Modern Chinese Cinema to Sport in the 19th Century United StatesSubject librarians work closely with faculty members to ensure that students have the resources they need to produce well documented research papers and dynamic multimedia projects.

But we certainly know that not every Duke undergraduate is going to spend his life in academia, passing his days mining bibliographies and exploring arcane archives. While it is critical that undergraduates learn how to find relevant scholarly literature and then frame a research question that will continue the scholarly discussion in order to be successful in a their coursework at Duke, these skills are not the only ones they will need when starting a job in an engineering firm, on Wall Street or on Capitol Hill.

Duke Student Government students realized this, too, and came up with a way to help students translate the research skills they gain in library instruction sessions and by drafting countless research papers and projects into the ones required for “the real world.”

And, thus, Internships 101 was born.  Now in its second year, Internships 101 sessions offer students who have secured summer internships the chance to meet with librarians in their field to learn strategies for doing research not in the classroom, but on the job.  This year, sessions will be held for students who plan to work in politics, finance and engineering.  Participating students can expect to learn suggestions for writing memos chock full of persuasive data, tips for using financial modeling software, and strategies for searching for patents and standards.

Interested in learning more or registering for a session?  Check out the Internships 101 event page.  Have an idea for another Internships 101 session?  Leave a comment.

Want $1000?

Want $1000?

Then enter your research paper or project into competition for the Libraries’ Durden Prize or Middlesworth Award.

Undergraduates who make exceptional use of library collections (yep, articles that you get online through the Libraries website count!) are eligible for the Durden Prize.

Undergraduates OR graduate students who incorporate materials from the Rare Books, Manuscript and Special Collections Library into their research are invited to submit papers for consideration for the Middlesworth Award.

All winners will be recognized at a reception at Parents and Family Weekend 2010 and will receive $1000.

Submissions for both awards are due to the library by 5:00 p.m. on Saturday, May 15.

Note: Both awards require a faculty member’s signature, and the Durden Prize requires a short essay on your research process, so you may not want to wait till May 15 to decide to apply!