Sharing references with your students

Kathy Franz (Duke Chemistry) expects her students to gather resources from the chemistry literature, and share them in her course. She has tried some social bookmarking tools, but some have difficulty finding bibliographic data from her chemistry journals. She is now trying Zotero. Zotero is an extension on Firefox that helps you collect, manage and cite your research sources from your web browser. The latest version allows you to sync and back up Zotero libraries, and create public or private groups to share references.

Jonathan Mattingly
(Duke Math) enthusiastically uses Zotero to collect bibliographic data, and format citations for his publications. He uses the group feature to share papers with his students, and to add to their reading lists as he finds references. He’s also experimenting with sharing a Zotero library with the Math department, to benefit students.


  • Participants in a group can get an RSS feed to be notified when new documents are added to the library.
  • For PDFs already stored on your computer, Zotero searches the internet for trusted bibliographic information, so you do not have type or copy-paste bibliographic information.zotero
  • Zotero learns how to resolve URLs to restricted sources.
  • Zotero can output references in many different styles.
  • Zotero can save searches across your saved references, so a saved search becomes like a continuously updating folder.
  • Zotero is open-source, so it is continuously improving and anyone can add new features.

Want more?

For keeping track of citations and managing your references, there are other options

CiteULike is also popular among researchers for managing and discovering scholarly references, and can provide sharing either publically or with devined groups. Unlike Zotero, CiteULike will work with any browser.

If you already have a computer full of PDFs, you might want to try Mendeley, It is both academic desktop software for managing & sharing research papers, and a website where you can back up and manage your research papers online, discover research trends, and connect to other researchers. Library Hacks explains the difference between Mendeley and Zotero.

Connotea is another online reference management system for researchers, put out by the Nature publishing group.

Duke has licensed EndNote and RefWorks, two commercial bilbliographic tools. Compare them with Zotero.

Because each tool handles references differently, evaluate them for your specific needs. Try each of them as you search for scholarly references in your field, to see how they handle your journals articles, and meet your needs for sharing.