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Digital Tools Review


March 28, 2015 by lspencer12

I reviewed several digital tools which I hoped would help me with organizing my research. I am not technologically inclined so I struggle with using most programs which are designed to make things easier. I am still kind of old school, I like to look, feel things, and scribble stuff when I read documents. I just like paper, I feel although technology make life more convenient what happens when it fails or you find yourself somewhere without access to technology? What then?

The first digital tools which I attempted to use were ones which were listed in Dirt Dictionary website. I was most interested in tools which would aid me in organizing data so I put in the search parameters of windows, free and open source. I viewed the CALIBRE program, I though that this program might aid me in organizing my research. It is a program which helps in the organizing and managing eBooks. I played around with it for about a week. Unfortunately, at this present time, this is a program which is not useful for me.

As far as I can determine, there is nothing wrong with the program. The issue is with me. I prefer to read books as opposed to eBooks. I am a touchy feely person who enjoy turning pages, high-lighting passages, and leaving comments in the margins of books. Although, many people like the convenience of this technology. However, the manner in which my life unfolds today does not make eBooks the most convenient way of assessing information.

I then moved on to the next program which looked interesting which was Bibus. I was hopeful for this program because I had used EastBib in the past and through that this would be something similar. This turned out to be part of Wikipedia, I not sure why but I was not overly thrilled to be using Wiki type programs. So, this is site that I had to register for to gain access but I did not find an easy accessible way of registering so I moved on.

I really did not give this program a chance. For someone like me who is not particularly tech savvy, I like to about to create an account and go to using whatever program. I am all for KISS (keep it Simple Son). I did not feel that this program was as simple as it could have been. I tried working with it at least twice but eventually gave up and moved on.

Next I went for the low hanging fruit so to speak Zotero. Although, we attend a familiarization class, I still struggled with and continue to struggle with the program. I need some more in depth instruction in my opinion. The first obstacle I encountered was the fact that the program does not work in Chrome. After switching browsers, I started loading information into the library. I sure that there is an easier way of getting importing information but I have not figured that out. So I do things the long and slow way which for now is okay.

I do like Zotero, I actually feel that it lives up to my expectations in regards to organizing and managing information for my research. Once I get more tutorial and master this program I do believe it will prove very useful and will be a program which I continue to use.

I also download a new program which recently hit the market. This is an app called Meerkat, it is free which is very appealing. It allows users to shoot and stream video in real-time via Twitter. I think that this could be a value resource for some but not necessarily for the bulk of what I do. Even once in a while I do have projects which I conduct oral interviews. This would be good for recording that particular type of history. Although, it is not of value in my immediate research it could be of value to those that study very recent histories or are journalist.

The last program that I tried is Gimp, this is a program that I found out about from a colleague at work. After observing her use the program, I thought that it would be useful to me in regard to person research. I cannot imagine using that program for my academic research. The project which I am currently working on the program is useless because I do not have original copies of the photographs which I am using. Perhaps there is a way to use the program with a downloaded digital images which I have but I am not aware of how to do that at this time.

So inclusion, of the programs which I tried, I like three of them. Zotero, Meerkat, and Gimp of these three programs I only find one which is useful to me while I am conducting my current research. Though the going has been rough Zotero does help me organize my research. Once I populate all the required fields information is easy to find. Even the act of populating the fields is very simple.


  1. kdaly3 says:

    Hey Leslie, I myself am the type of person who struggles with digital tools mostly because I also like to have physical copies of notes and books and the like; so I’m really curious to know about people’s research methods after using digital tools. I definitely agree that certain tools are often convoluted in nature and that can turn certain people off. Physical research can already be difficult, sometimes adding a digital means to do it can be even more difficult. Do you have any opinions on what would make these tools more useful and easier to navigate?

    Also, what did you like about Gimp?

  2. rjordan10 says:

    I also struggled with Zotero, and I guess I still kind of do. I don’t know if you watched it, but there it an introductory video (I can’t remember how long it is, but I don’t think it is any longer than ten minutes) that pretty much just breaks down how to use it to cite sources with it. I watched that after the Zotero tutorial class we had a while ago, and found it to be really helpful. If it wasn’t for that tutorial class and that video, I probably would have given up on Zotero; luckily, they made it seem a little bit easier. But if you haven’t watched the tutorial video they have on the site, I would definitely recommend it. It’s really easy to understand and super helpful.

  3. acoleman34 says:

    Leslie, there are a few of us in the class that prefer some “Old School” methods. For the most part I agree in that I love the feel of note taking and paper in general. I like my books, records, and I also write hand written letters to loved ones for birthdays and/or other holidays. I think the combination of nostalgia and comfort play a big role in that–plus I feel like, in the case of the letters, it’s more genuine than an email or even a card. I’m way off topic though. Although some of these programs can be difficult to use or learn, some, like Zotero, I found easy if you play around with it enough. I agree with Kate that sometime researching in an archive can be difficult and time-consuming enough but when you add digital components it can either compound that difficulty or alleviate it.

  4. jeldredge1 says:

    I definitely think I fall into the ‘Old School’ category too when it comes to things like this. I’m kind of set in my ways when it comes to how I record and organize data and sources. I struggled with Zotero too, and also feel like I need more instruction in it to utilize it fully. I do tend to download course materials as eBooks whenever I can, mostly for the cheaper cost and convenience of carrying them on all on a tablet since I commute quite a ways. So I might look into CALIBRE, but I don’t have too many eBooks at this time. Meerkat sounds intriguing, but I must confess that I don’t use Twitter, and I’m loathe to get involved with another potential digital/electronic time suck. Which is why I’ve also never gotten involved in Pinterest.

  5. nbrown24 says:

    It was interesting to read your take on some of these digital tools, most of which I had never even heard of. It seems that each of these tools has their place within a specific context – much like Meekrat, which would be extremely useful to anyone who needs instant access to video. I also agree with you that there is something about holding a book that I just can’t let go of. Maybe it is that sense of nostalgia that was mentioned by Austin, but eBooks are still a part of the recent technological evolution that I have yet to embrace. Or perhaps it’s just my inherit fear in the power of our future computer overlords…

  6. jjackson39 says:

    It’s definitely frustrating sometimes for us as historians to balance the needs of working with tangible, hard copies of documents, books, pictures and other ephemera, with the need to catalog and share this information with an audience digitally. Many of the programs we deal with work well in certain applications and not others or have steep learning curves to feel comfortable with them. Another issue is the potential that a program we use can easily fall out of favor or be replaced, making are knowledge useless almost overnight. Programs like Zotero seem to have stood the test of time however and if nothing else I hope that you can use it at least to save sources, even if you don’t generate the bibliographies directly from there. With all the research we have done this semester, my better understanding of this program has certainly saved me from frantic searches for a source that I may not have recorded the location of once I found it.

  7. Adina Langer says:


    I think that you illuminate a commonality among all of us historians. If we didn’t like old things and old ways of doing things, we probably wouldn’t be historians. However, John-Joseph and others have raised some interesting points in the comments. We often need to use digital tools to best communicate with audiences, even if we don’t care to use them ourselves. There is a lot to be said for stable technologies in a historian’s toolkit. The real question will be how long it takes new technologies to stabilize. We’ve been using paper for over 1000 years!

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