Managing My Research: Finally going “all in” with Zotero, WebDAV, and ZotPad

I frequently get asked by colleagues, friends, and family what apps (web, desktop, and mobile) I use to organize my work and life. So, I’m going to make a concerted effort here to blog a series on my personal and professional information management workflow. I say “worlkflow” instead of “system”, because no single tool meets my needs. It’s also an evolving workflow, because my toolbox and my process changes as new/better apps come out, or as new features and functioanlity are made available in current apps. And (sadly), it’s still a bit of a manul workflow, because these apps don’t always sync together in an automated process.

My first post deals with where and how I archive my “professional” or “intellectual” research — the stuff I read, study, and save for more than just casual reading or interest. Stuff I might actually write or teach on, or even pursue in more depth were I to ever go after a Ph.D. or another Masters.

For the past several years, I have bounced between Zotero and Mendeley for archiving and organizing my professional and intellectual research — both tools meet different needs. When Mendeley’s iPad app came out, I started syncing my Zotero library to Mendeley so that I could access my research on my iPad, since Zotero did not yet have a mobile app.  But, I was never very thrilled with how Mendeley syncs my Zotero library — it simply throws everything into a single Zotero folder instead of importing and retaining my individual Zotero collections; and it’s not a two-way sync, Mendeley syncrhonizes an ongoing import from Zotero but it doesn’t sync your Mendeley-captured citations and files and sync those back to Zotero.

Last week — despite being a Mendeley Campus Ambassador (a title I never lived up to since my library pushes EndNote, and before that Refworks) — I took the plunge and went “all in” with Zotero. I migrated my Mendeley-only library into my Zotero library, and deleted my Mendeley account even though Mendeley offers more free file storage than does Zotero. My information management workflow is already spread across too many different services and apps, so I wanted to elimante any apps not critical to my preferred workflow. And for me, that meant leaving Mendeley — not for any fault of Mendeley (it’s an exceptional product). The issue has to do with my research disciplines, which are primarily library science and the humanities. Mendeley’s web importer still does not work with the journals and websites where I do most of my research. I found myself having to manually enter the citation metadata at least 90% of the time. The Zotero (who’s strength is the humanities) web translators DO work with a good 80-90% of the online sources I use for most of my research.

My WebDAV Zotero library. Isn’t it pretty?
WebDAV login
I do have my WebDAV Zotero library password protected.

So, I was basically faced with choosing Mendeley for more free storage versus Zotero for better research integration. My decision became much easier once I learned that I could sync my Zotero library with WebDAV instead of just with Zotero’s own online storage. This means that Zotero’s smaller free storage allocation is a non-issue for me now. By taking advantage of WebDAV through my web hosting plan, I can store my entire Zotero library on separate server. In the event I change providers, I can move my Zotero library (I’d never go with web hosting that does not include WebDAV). My Zotero database syncs up with my cloud-hosted Zotero library, but all of the actual files are stored and served up via my WebDAV.

WebDav Set Up
You should receive this “success” message when configuring Zotero to sync with your WebDAV settings.
WebDAV Error
I initially received this error when trying to sync Zotero with my WebDAV, because of a WordPress .htaccess issue with my web server host. It’s a common issue, easily remedied by modifying your .htaccess file. Check with your web host if you experience it, to find out what modifications you need to make to .htaccess.

The WebDAV sync has been working great for a good week now. It’s fast and convenient. And the integration with ZotPad seems good (yes, I splurged on the $9.99 app).

ZotPad itself seems pretty decent. Its recent support for WebDAV means that I can actually carry my entire research library in my pocket. I can access my Zotero librayr and files well, and it syncs up with my cloud-based Zotero library as soon as I’m connected to a wireless network (for my wifi-only iPad), or to my data network (for my iPhone). I am able to access both my personal Zotero libraries as well as shared Group libraries.  But, I can’t add to my Zotero library from ZotPad (it is read-only).

ZotPad WebDAV
ZotPad WebDAV gets configured in your iPad or iPhone “Settings”.
ZotPad PDFs
PDFs open up nicely in ZotPad via WebDAV.
Zotero Group
Even files contributed to Zotero Groups sync up nicely!

One week into this system, I am pleased with going “all in” with Zotero. We’ll see how this scenario holds up for this entire semester.

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3 thoughts on “Managing My Research: Finally going “all in” with Zotero, WebDAV, and ZotPad”

  1. Pingback: Five Underrated Features in Zotero | The Digital Scholar

    1. Hi Jefferson,

      That was set up on my own server. I quit using Zotero a couple years ago, so can’t recall the exact setup and configuration I ran at the time. The Zotero user forums are a good place to go for Zotero and WebDAV questions.

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