How to Promote Zotero at Your Institution and Why

Browsing the net around the use of reports in ZOTERO, the super-easy and powerful Open Source reference management software, I came across this slide show which I am happy to share here:

Many thanks to our friend to have put this up, it is really encouraging. What in fact struck me about this slideshow (distributed on Slideshare, an easy way to make sure ‘your ideas can be found and shared by a wide audience’) is the marketing-like mind set. From page 9 onwards, in particular, there is a clear outline of the 10 golden reasons to convince the decision-makers at your own institution to adopt ZOTERO. This is very important and made me think of two sets of related problems:

  1. Despite ZOTERO being such an amazing software, easy to use, customizable, very powerful and in continuous evolution (being its source code open), and by far superior to mainstream copyrighted software (such as the popular EndNote, produced by the multinational Thomson Reuters), there is no way to use it within your campus or library unless you are able to convince a few people in charge. That is, despite the fact that the very users of research and reference software strongly recommend ZOTERO as an extraordinary (and in my opinion essential) tool for academic and research work, there are still strong resistances not just around its adoption, but also around the experimentation of pilot schemes. We need then to ask why this is the case? In my experience at Goldsmiths, University of London, I found that mostly ignorance (without malice, but in the literal sense of the terms as ‘not knowing’) was the main obstacle. And also a sense of unwillingness to move out of a comfort zone…I have often been reminded that not many users are willing to try new software, basically the number of EndNote users being far superior to ZOTERO users would be the trigger. A quantitative assessment, then. As such it needs more investigation. Most of my first year students have never heard of EndNote or indeed of any reference software when they enrol to University. They had no reason to. They find EndNotes already installed in every machine on the campus. They have been asked to enrol in free training given by members of staff. Free training which will pay an invaluable dividend to multinationals of knowledge once students leave college and have to pay for their software licenses. Most of them, though, are already very familiar with iTunes (whose interface has been partially replicated by ZOTERO developers) and with social networking (sharing stuff, social profiling, groups, etc, which are very important additions to the latest ZOTERO version). This triggers my second point:
  2. with Free and Open Source Software (FLOSS), as ZOTERO is, users become also representatives and promoters of a product, which in turn increases a sense of shared ownership on the software. It is often thought that Open Source stuff is a hacker-based solution to the normal functioning of the world (for ‘normal’ read: Microsoft planet, iMac all-inclusive galaxy, etc), This is obviously a false assumption for many reasons. Not everyone is a programmer of course, but there are other areas in which we can help the development of free-from-profit software. One of these is the marketing and promotion, the quasi evangelic proselytism for potential users (and on this the first part of the above slideshow is inspiring, as it tries to detect a few ideal types of users).

So, how to move strategically within academia? If we think of it as an institution with local hierarchy and inertia, then we need a tactical movement of people, resources and ideas…the third part of the slideshow (from page 20) is good at that. So, any ideas? How can we promote ZOTERO? How can we convince technocrats, bureaucrats, administrators, and finance officers that the software is reliable, it costs nothing (in the age of recession that should work!), and is user friendly? What are the resistances to its implementation?

As I wrote somewhere before, there is a silent revolution in the use of Open Source software that cannot be arrested. Lets hope that this will be quicker and smoother. If you want to discuss any of these points or simply want some free help to organise a workshop, a training session, or a brainstorm on ZOTERO at your academic institution, please get in touch: p.cardullo@gold.ac.uk

Also a good starting point is here. And a list of institutions who have adopted or recommend ZOTERO is here. Why is there a cluster in the western world when ZOTERO is free and should therefore be more useful for less rich country? Another of the mystery that I am keen on finding out.

Good luck!

About Paolo Cardullo

I am @kiddingthecity # I am That Kind of Doctor #
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