Archive for the 'Community Spotlight' Category

Community Spotlight: Avram Lyon

His Zotero username “ajlyon” will sound familiar to anyone who has visited our support forums seeking assistance. Zotero interviews Avram Lyon and learns what’s in store for the creator of Zandy, the first Android app for Zotero.

Name and OccupationAvram Lyon

Avram Lyon, Ph.D. student in Slavic Languages and Literatures, UCLA.

How long have you been using Zotero?

I’ve been using Zotero since my first week of grad school, in the fall of 2008. I happened upon it myself when I was looking for something less ridiculous than formatting an annotated bibliography by hand for my graduate proseminar.

What got you interested in developing for Zotero?

I got into the habit of keeping an eye on the support forums, and one day I ran into some problems people were having with one of the site translators—I don’t remember which one it was. I had some idea that the translators were standalone pieces of JavaScript code—so I looked into it, and found out that the fix was just a little one-line change. That was in late 2009 or early 2010. I quickly realized that the vast majority of the translator issues were of that sort, and I started fixing them as they came up. Over time, I learned more about how the translation system works, and started writing new translators from scratch, and eventually contributing to other parts of the project.

What development activities have you done so far for Zotero?

My main work has always been with site translators—- they’re really what makes Zotero so strikingly efficient a research environment, so I’ve done everything from troubleshooting to maintenance to authoring of new translators.

This has been a very interesting area in the last several months—Simon [Kornblith] has managed to make it possible for the existing 300-odd translators to run without Firefox or even Zotero standalone, by making them run inside the Chrome and Safari extensions and save to the Zotero server directly.

The other great improvement has been the introduction of a radically new and much simpler shorthand for writing translators, Erik Hetzner’s translator framework. This is now built in to the translator authoring tool Scaffold, and it makes it easy for casual coders to add support for their favorite sites. I’ve worked a lot on making the framework and Scaffold useful for the average power user—and we’re seeing a lot of new translator contributions these days.

I worked with Frank [Bennett] on testing out the multilingual version of Zotero, which was profiled on this blog several months ago, and I’m still using it for my everyday research. I’m trying hard to make sure that this branch doesn’t fall by the wayside, since I believe it’s an extremely promising development that is vital for the work of almost all humanities scholars, and almost the entire non-Anglophone world.

Anything cool planned for the future?

Since much of my work this year has been in archives and in libraries without electronic catalogs, I’m trying to find ways to make research more efficient and effective in such environments—so I’m actively looking for ways to integrate image capture and management with Zotero’s research organization. I still haven’t found a good workflow for archival and library photography, but the recent developments in libraries that provide access to local Zotero data (Gnotero’s pygnotero library) and the Zotero server API (pyzotero) make me hopeful that I’ll manage to stitch something together in the near future.

I’d like to end by saying that this has been an incredibly exciting time to work with the Zotero project. The work going on at Zotero central, spearheaded by Dan, Simon and Faolan, continues to churn out reliable and increasingly useful software, but more interesting is the growing network of people who are building on this reliable and time-tested core to build new tools. The potential of the server API is only beginning to be realized—and I look forward to working with new projects and new people.

Community Spotlight: Frank Bennett

If you’ve ever used Zotero to create a citation, you’ve benefited from the talents of the indefatigable Frank Bennett, law professor at Nagoya University in Japan. Below is our spotlight interview with Frank, lead developer of the citation engine that powers Zotero’s citation and bibliography functionality.

Name and Occupation:Frank Bennett
Frank Bennett, Associate Professor, Faculty of Law, Nagoya University.

How long have you been using Zotero?
Since December of 2008, so about two and a half years.

What got you interested in developing for Zotero?
Zotero was among the tools I reviewed during a trawl for software to recommend to postgraduate candidates, and it was immediately clear that this was one to run with. The system is a nearly perfect fit for our needs.

Many of our students hail from countries in East and Central Asia, so open source design and community development were big attractions: there is not much point in training students on proprietary tools to which they may lose access after graduation. The architecture is also a good fit: Internet access from some countries in this region can be rather problematic, and that makes it particularly important to have a self-contained local image of the library on the user’s own PC.

Zotero lacked a number of features needed for legal writing, and Asian language support (Chinese, Japanese, Korean) was not yet there. I have a tendency to tinker on things anyway, but those particular feature sets have been my main excuse for meddling in the project.

What kind of development have you done so far for Zotero?
The main things I’ve done are the CSL processor that Zotero 2.1 uses to format references (citeproc-js), and the multilingual branch of Zotero (MLZ), which several of us hope to see in production one day down the road. Both projects have been great experiences.

Zotero development benefits from an amazing range of expertise among its contributors, and the core team’s insistence on standards-based solutions has a very positive ripple effect across the community. In addition to input from CSL designers Bruce D’Arcus and Rintze Zelle, citeproc-js has been kept in line by numerous commenters, ranging from members of the core team, through Zotero contributors and users, to developers working in entirely separate CSL-related projects. The feedback really has been invaluable.

Early adoption of MLZ by Avram Lyon and Stephan de Spiegeleire’s team at The Hague Center for Strategic Studies moved the development goalposts much faster than would otherwise have been the case. There is plenty left to be done for multilingual, but it is largely thanks to Avram and others that the path forward is clearly in our sights.

Anything cool planned for the future?
I’m looking at producing a legal research and writing guide for Zotero, aimed at law students, to provide consistent guidelines for handling a variety of legal sources. With coordinated development of the main legal styles, it should tie in nicely with some important legal metadata initiatives underway within the free access to law communities of Europe and North America. It’s nice to see things falling into place, and I’m pretty confident that we will be able to offer improved legal referencing support in Zotero in the reasonably near future.

Community Spotlight: Sebastian Karcher

His nickname “adamsmith” may ring a bell to Zotero community developers, political scientists, or anyone who has had citation style questions on the forums. Zotero interviews Sebastian Karcher and in doing so learns his motivation for authoring citation styles, translators, and why he chose the name of a famous Capitalist as the pseudonym for his open source work.

Name and Occupation:sebastian karcher
Sebastian Karcher
Ph.D. Candidate in Political Science, Northwestern University

How long have you been using Zotero?
Since late 2007 – I switched to Linux then and was looking for a new reference management system. I had used Biblioscape before, but I’ve never looked back.

What got you interested in developing for Zotero?
I really wasn’t initially – I’m not much of a programmer, to be honest. I first just wanted to learn to make simple changes to Zotero citation styles. I then got more involved in style development – which is really pretty basic and doesn’t require much coding experience. What kept me interested was, first, the possibility of learning new things – on the way I picked up on some shell scripting, using version control systems (like SVN and git), regular expressions, XPath, now some JavaScript. I would have never gotten myself to learn any of this without a specific purpose.

The other thing that motivates me is more political. I think it’s important to do our best to keep our tools and data free and open. To me Zotero is part of such an effort.

What development activities have you done so far for Zotero?
A lot of my work has been in style development – I’ve probably had some hand in about half of the ~370 independent styles in the Zotero style repository. We’re also thankfully getting more and more styles submitted by users; when a user posts a style for sharing I’ll usually be the one to briefly review it and then commit it to the csl repository. I also try to come by the forum a couple of times a day to see if there are any user questions I can answer.

More recently, I’ve been starting to work a little on Zotero translators, which has become much easier since Erik Hetzner wrote a framework that essentially reduces the task of writing a translator to identifying the relevant XPath.

Anything else you’d like to add? Cool things planned for the future?
As a political scientist I wanted to get translators for all important US magazines – a couple of them – like The New Yorker and Washington Monthly are already in the 2.1.8 version of Zotero, a couple of new ones – New Republic, Daily Beast, Foreign Policy, Slate – are in the queue – so that’s mostly done. I’m also interested in getting translators for more of the databases in Latin America, a region I do a lot of my work on.

On another note: People on the Forum often wonder about my username “adamsmith”; Why would the “Father of Capitalism” – Adam Smith – contribute to an open source project? The reason I’m so fond of Adam Smith is that he is so profoundly misunderstood. Smith actually believed that people were motivated not just by self interest, but also by “fellow feeling” – here’s one of my favorite quotes: “How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature, which interest him in the fortune of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it except the pleasure of seeing it.” There is even an entire blog dedicated to debunking misconceptions about Smith, of which there are many.

Community Spotlight: Jason Puckett

If you follow Zotero on Twitter, Jason Puckett’s name may already be familiar to you. Below is our inaugural Spotlight interview with Jason, Zotero evangelist and author of a new book on Zotero published this month.

Name and Occupation: jason puckett
Jason Puckett, Communication Librarian, Georgia State University.

How long have you been using Zotero?
For about five years now. I used to teach and use Endnote, but tried out Zotero while in library school and quickly became a convert.

How do you teach and promote Zotero?
Basically, I’m the point of first contact for anyone at GSU who needs help learning Zotero. I teach regular in-person workshops during the academic year. I usually include at least a brief Zotero segment in most of my regular course-based information literacy classes. I’ve taught online workshops using Elluminate and other presentation software, for GSU and as a guest speaker for other institutions. I’ve also taught a four-week online continuing education course for librarians for Simmons Graduate School of Library and Information Science, using Moodle.

What are some projects you’ve done using Zotero?
I’m the author of the new book Zotero: A Guide for Librarians, Researchers and Educators from ACRL Publications. It goes into the basic and advanced functionality of Zotero, and even has some information on including feeds in third party apps. Additionally, at GSU Library we recently used a Zotero group to allow several people to work together compiling a bibliography of faculty publications. I’m using it collaboratively to pool sources with an article co-author. And naturally, I’ve used it for every article, bibliography and publication list I’ve created in the last few years.

Anything planned for the future?
Nothing definite, aside from the paper I’m researching right now. I’m excited to see what happens as the new API allows Zotero to connect with other applications. I’m already trying out the Zotpress plugin on my WordPress site, and it’s working great so far. I’m thinking about a possible digital exhibit I’d like to put together this summer, partly inspired by the New Orleans Research Collaborative site, and I’d certainly use Zotero to build the bibliographies for that.