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.