Zotero in the Reading Room

*This is the second entry in a series of posts exploring the potential use of Zotero for special collections research.  To view all post in the series, see Zotero & Special Collections. For a very brief introduction to importing files into Zotero, see Zotero Basics Video Tour.

Zotero is an excellent resource for organizing and storing files while conducting research in a special collections library.  With a laptop, wi-fi, and camera, one can quickly build a sophisticated, searchable database from the comfort of a reading room chair.  This post will highlight one such approach by reviewing the beginning stages of a research project on Princeton’s collection of American constitutions.

Please note, clicking the screen captures will expand the images.

In December of 1977, H.P. Kraus, one of the most influential rare book dealers of the 20th century, donated a significant collection of American constitutions to Princeton University.  Catalogue 146, A Collection of American Constitutions: States, Territories, South America (H.P. Kraus, n.d.), provides a checklist for the collection and serves as the logical starting point for a research project on American constitutions at Princeton.

The first step of this project is to create a collection folder in Zotero (titled Constitutions) and then import the library catalog record for A Collection of American Constitutions.  For multiple reasons, such as capturing accurate call numbers and persistent URLs, I recommend that Princeton users import catalog records from SearchIt@PUL as opposed to the library Main Catalog.

I also have a PDF copy of A Collection of American Constitutions on my desktop.  Zotero allows files to be attached to individual citation records, which Zotero calls “child” attachments, so I upload a child attachment to the catalog record so that I always have quick access to the PDF file.

By clicking on the PDF icon in my Zotero account, I can open the catalog and begin researching titles to request to the reading room.

In this example, we will focus on number 117, Constitutions of the Sate of Wisconsin (Madison, W.T., Beriah Brown, Printer, 1846).

The next step is to locate the library catalog record for the 1846 Constitutions of the Sate of Wisconsin and import the record into the Constitutions collection folder.

I attach a child note to the Wisconsin constitution record noting the reference that led me to the work (Kraus 117).  When using reference bibliographies or dealer catalogs in a research project, I always attach a reference note to the corresponding bibliographic record.  In this case, if I copy the 1846 Constitutions of the Sate of Wisconsin record to a separate folder (a research project on Wisconsin imprints, for example), the reference citation will travel with the record, even if the cited bibliography or dealer catalogue does not.  With the citation to the catalogue attached to the individual bibliographic record, I can do a quick keyword search of my entire Zotero database to locate the cited work, in this case the actual PDF catalogue.  (Note: I should have cited “Kraus, American Constitutions, 117″ as I have more than one H.P. Kraus catalogue in my Zotero account, but I only noticed this oversight after taking the screen captures for the post.)

While viewing the 1846 Constitutions of the Sate of Wisconsin in the reading room, I notice an ownership inscription on the verso of the last leaf that is not mentioned in the Kraus catalogue.  Zotero allows for the attachment of image files, so I photograph the inscription and upload a JPEG as a child attachment. Clicking on the attached JPEG in Zotero will open the image in the browser.

Clicking on the browser image will expand the file to a 100% view, which is often helpful for deciphering hand writing (though not needed in this case due to the size of the inscription).

I am uncertain about the first initial (I suspect the letter “R”), but I clearly see G. Carpenter(s) as the name, and the inscription also notes Albion, so I conduct a Google Book search for “G. Carpenter” Albion Wisconsin. The first search result is the History of Dane County, Wisconsin (Chicago: Western Historical Company, 1880) which looks promising.

Clicking on the link, the book appears relevant as it mentions a Russell G. Carpenter who settled in Albion in 1843 (four years before the date of the inscription).

Zotero allows for capturing of web pages, so I add a screen capture as a child attachment to the Wisconsin constitution record.  That way, even if Google were to remove the ebook from Google Books, I will have a permanent record of the Town of Albion entry in my Zotero account.

The entry in the History of Dane County, Wisconsin confirms my suspicion that the first initial is an “R.”  With the full name, I can now conduct a web search for “Russell G. Carpenter” Albion Wisconsin. Again, the first result looks promising.

Clicking on the link provides genealogical notes for Russell Gardner Carpenter, so I create another screen capture as a child attachment.

The note cites a Sabbath Recorder obituary where we learn that Russell G. Carpenter passed away on October 8, 1893, at the age of 78, and among other things, that “during the latter years of his life Brother Carpenter was not in observance of the Sabbath.”

Having satisfied my curiosity, for the time being, on the R. G. Carpenter inscription (I’ll search more authoritative sources later), I decide to search the title of the constitution in Google.  The first search result is a link to an early manuscript version of the constitution housed in the Wisconsin Historical Society.

I want to take a look at this later as well, so I create another child attachment with a link to the Wisconsin Historical Society page.

I now have seven child attachments associated with the bibliographic record for the 1846 Constitutions of the Sate of Wisconsin.  Importing all of this data into Zotero took a matter of minutes, and other than retrieving the JPEG files, I didn’t even need to leave my browser to capture the data in Zotero and upload the data to my server.

Time to move on to a second title, Kraus 116, the Constitution of the State of Washington  (Seattle, s.n., 1889).

There are 121 items listed in A Collection of American Constitutions.  Below is a snapshot view of my Constitution folder with 7 individual bibliographic records and multiple notes and attachments.

Clearly organizing and storing all of my research data for the project in one location will save me a significant amount of time and spare me the needless frustration of having to retrace my steps in order to locate my files and notes.  As the data is stored on a Princeton server, Web Space (see: Using Zotero at Prince­ton ), and since the access point is my Firefox browser (Zotero also has a standalone version compatible with Chrome and Safari), my database is accessible from my laptop and office and home PCs.  All of the bibliographic citations (clicking on the citations will open the SearchIt@PUL catalog record so I can request the item to the reading room), reference bibliographies, dealer catalogues, research notes, online files, images, and eventually my Word document, once I begin writing, are all conveniently organized and stored in one location that is immediately synchronized and easily accessible across multiple machines.


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