Don’t talk to me about citations, what I love about Zotero is that I can write a translator that will extract useful structured data (and perhaps images or snapshots) from any old collection database and add it to my own research library. Match that EndNote! It’s Zotero’s capacity as a research manager that really excites me.
A few years ago I wrote a Zotero translator for the National Archives of Australia’s RecordSearch database. It’s been through several versions and can now do some pretty neat stuff. For example, using it and the Zotero add-on for Omeka, I was quickly able to create this mini-exhibition of some of my favourite letters in the Archives. With the arrival of the web API I can imagine even more exciting possibilities — NAA files have unique barcodes, so… barcodes, smart phones, metadata, digital images, Zotero, join the dots!
More generally, writing the translator really set me on a different path because it got me thinking about new ways of extracting, sharing and re-using collection data. With the web API and translators for archives and museums databases, for example, Zotero could become a platform for ‘routine’ crowdsourcing. Enriched metadata created and shared by researchers as part of their own projects could be harvested back into descriptive systems. Users of archives could create their own parallel finding aids alongside the institutional systems.
But there are some problems. The rigidity of the item types system is frustrating, and there really needs to be some way of creating semantic relations both between Zotero items and between an item and some external entity (it’s been talked about for a while).
I’d like a discussion about the future of Zotero that didn’t get too hung up on citations. A discussion that explores Zotero’s capacity to share, not just references, but research, that sketches some of the apps we might build and the collaborations we might create.