Running low on Zotero storage? Sync your files through a cloud storage service

I’ve recently returned to using Zotero for collecting, organizing, and citing references after not having used the software for a couple of years. While I was a bit rusty, it only took a couple of days for me to get up and running at my previous level of Zotero expertise (which really wasn’t that high to begin with). But despite feeling comfortable with the program, it wasn’t long before I found myself running out of storage space.

Zotero’s sync feature allows you to keep your citation data up to date across as many devices as you’d like. And while this is a great feature, I’ve found that it isn’t of much use without also being able to access my PDFs on all these devices as well.

The good news is that Zotero allows you to attach PDFs to items (i.e. citations) in your library. The bad news is that it only gives you 300 MB of free storage (with an option to pay for more). While PDF files generally aren’t that big, 300 MB can get eaten up pretty quickly if you have a lot of documents.

In the past I generally didn’t store my PDFs within Zotero, but I quickly fell in love with this feature upon my recent return to the software. And since I’ve yet to be willing to pay for cloud storage, I was afraid I’d have to resign myself to storing PDF files in one of the many free cloud storage services I use, rather than having them attached to my Zotero data. But, I thought, wouldn’t it be great if there was a way to both store my PDFs via a third party cloud storage service, and have these PDFs linked up to Zotero? Well it turns out there is!

In order to accomplish this feat, you’ll use something called WebDAV (Web Distributed Authoring and Versioning). While I still don’t completely understand what this is, for our purposes a WebDAV service is the third party cloud storage service that you can use to store your Zotero PDFs and other attached files. Zotero provides a list of services that offer free plans and that are known to work with Zotero (I use Box).

Once you’ve decided on a WebDAV service, setting up Zotero to work with it is fairly simple. First open your preferences by clicking the icon that looks like a gear.


In the File Syncing section of the preferences menu, select WebDAV in the dropdown menu next to “Sync attachment files in My Library using.”


Next, enter the URL for the WebDAV service that you’ve decided to use, along with your user name and password associated with that service.


If you’ve chosen one of the services on Zotero’s list, you can find the URL there. Note that the menu pictured above already includes the “https”, “://” and “/zoter/”, so make sure you don’t enter this into the field as well. After entering your information, click on “Verify Server” underneath the password field. If everything has worked correctly, you should get a message that says file sync has been setup!

You can continue attaching PDFs and other files to items in your Zotero library as before. The only difference is that now these files will be stored through your WebDAV rather than through Zotero’s own storage system.

For more information you can consult Zotero’s syncing documentation. If you would like more general information about Zotero, you can consult the Library’s Zotero Libguide or attend a Savvy Researcher Workshop. And as always, send us an email if you have any questions.

Have your own tip for getting the most out of Zotero? Let us know in the comments below!

Note that WebDAV only works with personal, not group, libraries.

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GIS Spotlight: What3words

What3words is an addressing system that works as an alternative to using latitude and longitude. The system consists of a grid of three meter by three meter squares laid over the globe with a three word code randomly assigned to each square. Their system is based on the idea that three words are much easier to remember, as well as record and relay, than multi-digit latitude and longitude coordinates.

This new addressing system is extremely useful for countries where there are inconsistent or nonexistent addresses or street names.  The Mongol Post has adopted what3words as their addressing system because of the considerable nomadic population in Mongolia and the lack of road names over much of the country.

Even in countries with functional postal systems what3words can be used to identify places that have no address. For instance, the Alma Mater of The University of Illinois has no street address, but in what3words its address is stores.basin.frame.

14251424459_4b27cbbd25_bI think that what3words is a really interesting idea, and since I love maps I find it enjoyable just looking around their website. It’s fun to find a what3words that’s very apt for its location (despite the random distribution of words), or… one that’s not.  For example, worlds.largest.ocean is located just outside of Marshfield, Wisconsin.


There are some limitations, however. What3words only gives information about the surface of the Earth. It does not give any reference to where things are vertically. Addressing in urban areas would not be able to rely solely on what3words for this reason; an apartment number or floor would have to be added. What3words has said that it’s possible they could incorporate a height dimension in the future.

What3words can be used with ArcGIS, a mapping software that the Scholarly Commons has available on all PCs in our lab. Since the Scholarly Commons is located on the third floor of the library, I can’t direct you here solely through what3words. I can however, specify the best library entrance for getting here.

Enter at and go up the stairs.

Come visit us!

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Scholarly Smackdown: Scalar vs. Omeka

Scholarly Smackdown is the Scholarly Commons’ new review series comparing popular online research tools and resources. This week we’ll be taking a look at Scalar and Omeka, resources for presenting research digitally.

No scholars were harmed in the making of this column.


Scalar is a content management system for creating digital books of media scholarship from The Alliance for Networking Visual Culture, based out of University of Southern California. It features a WYSISWYG editor that allows you to edit different types of pages within a digital book. You choose how and in what way these pages connect. It’s free and you can create as many Scalar books as you want. It makes it easy to incorporate content from partner archives such as the Internet Archive and Critical Commons. The biggest selling point to Scalar, especially for media scholars, is that it lets you present media without having to host the media yourself, which is especially relevant for those analyzing media that is still under copyright. However, please do not let all of this potential power go to your head, and instead check out our copyright resources and feel free to contact the Copyright Librarian, Sara Benson with questions you may have.
In my opinion, Scalar is not as easy or intuitive to use as the people who created it seem to think it is, though USC provides some instructions for Scalar 2. The latest update has been buggy, and while ANVC/Scalar GitHub is very helpful, Scalar is clearly still a work in progress. If you do have any experience with web development, there is very limited customization, and I was not able to find specific instructions for CSS styling for Scalar 2. Finally, you cannot import  your own files larger than 2 MB, which can be frustrating if you want to use your own very high quality scans of items.

Omeka is a content management system designed for creating online exhibits from the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University and Corporation for Digital Scholarship, the people behind  Zotero and THAT Camp.
Omeka basic features a WYSIWYG Editor and 500MB of file storage. The biggest advantage of Omeka is that it makes it very easy to add a lot of metadata about items that you want to display in an exhibit and create and arrange collections of these items. It also features lots of plugins (such as a CSS editor and a PDF embedded documents viewer), and the website provides very clear and thorough instructions. However, you can create only one Omeka site per account on the free version. If you contact the Scholarly Commons we can set up an Omeka site for you through the library institutional account, and you can learn more information and request an Omeka site here. 
One major difference between Omeka and Scalar is that with more storage, comes more responsibility; specifically, making sure that you have the permission to use items so that your research does not get taken down. Once again — please check out our copyright resources. Other notable drawbacks include the fact that customization is limited and is not great at creating things that aren’t online exhibits or exhibit-like sites.

Omeka and Scalar are two options of many for creating digital humanities projects. For specific questions and to learn more about Scalar and Omeka and other digital humanities resources at Scholarly Commons email us, and don’t forget to join us for a Savvy Research workshop about Scalar October 17 from 1-2 pm.

Let us know in the comments about your Scalar and Omeka experiences! Which do you prefer and why?

Further Reading:
Omeka Libguide:
Scalar Libguide:


“Alliance for Networking Visual Culture » Overview.” Accessed October 12, 2016.
Marcotte, Alison and Alex Villanueva. “Red Cross Work on Mutilés, At Paris (1918).” SourceLab Prototype Series 1, no. 1 (2015).
“Image of Research” Accessed October 12, 2016.
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Introducing Sara Benson, Copyright Librarian & Assistant Professor, Scholarly Communications and Publishing Unit


Today we’re welcoming Sara Benson as a Scholarly Commons affiliate. While Sara has been at the University of Illinois for over ten years, she joined the library staff this August as our Copyright Librarian & Assistant Professor in the Scholarly Communications and Publishing Unit. Keep reading to get to know Sara.

What is your background education and work experience?

I am a lawyer with ten years of experience teaching at the law school level at the University of Illinois College of Law. Prior to joining the College of Law, I worked both in a large international law firm and a small boutique non-profit law firm.

What led you to this field?

When people turn forty, they examine their life and their career goals. The same was true for me. I decided to add to my existing legal knowledge by joining the MLIS program at the iSchool part-time.Through the iSchool, I learned that I could combine my passion for the law with my new love of librarianship by working as a Copyright Librarian—and here I am!

What is your research agenda?
Right now I am working on a large-scale project to study the effectiveness of fair use training on librarians. I believe that fair use can and should be taught to librarians and, despite the fact that it is a complicated area of the law, I think librarians can digest and apply the information in their everyday jobs. Thus, I am currently working on a study to test the outcome of a fair use training session for librarians.
Do you have any favorite work-related duties?
Yes. I already love helping to provide guidance to researchers, students, and scholars about copyright related information. I helped secure the right to film an Indian film at the Tagore Festival and the patron I assisted invited me to take part in the festivities. So, already I am receiving such positive results and feedback, which makes my job a pure joy.
What are some of your favorite underutilized resources that you would recommend to researchers?
I think fair use is not utilized enough in research and teaching as a whole to justify transformative aspects of our jobs as professors and scholars. I think we (as a University) should take advantage of the fair use defense to the full extent of the law.
If you could recommend only one book to beginning researchers in your field, what would you recommend?

I would recommend Kevin L. Smith’s book titled: “Owning and Using Scholarship: An IP Handbook for Teachers and Researchers.” I just read it over the summer prior to beginning my position and it is invaluable.

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How Photoshop Can Help Your Digital Project

Adobe Photoshop CC is a pervasive software that only grows in power and popularity. While learning Photoshop can be daunting, the benefits of learning Photoshop are far-reaching, and not always what you expect. If you are a scholar looking to share your research online, here are a few reasons why learning the basics of Photoshop will set you up for success.

  1. Leaning Photoshop saves time and money. If you’re in academia, your budget is probably pretty tight. Knowing basic Photoshop skills will not only save you time and stress when it comes to graphics, but will also insure that you won’t have to go to an outside source to create graphics for your project.
  2. Helps you attract people. According to various studies, adding a color visual to a piece of content increases people’s willingness to read by 80%. A simple Photoshopped image to go along with your Tweets about your project can really increase your user traffic.
  3. Website mockups. Photoshop has hundreds of tools and plug-ins that you can use to plan and shape your website. Drawing out what exactly you want before creating your website will help you understand what it is that you want, and how to create it.
  4. Great community. If you have a question about Photoshop, someone out there has probably already answered it! Because Photoshop is so pervasive, there is a large network of people you can get in touch with if you need help with an aspect of your project.  Look at Adobe’s Photoshop Forum and its subforums for an example of the Photoshop community.
I created this graphic in ten minutes. Imagine what you can do with your research!

I created this graphic in ten minutes. Imagine what you can do with your research!

Learning Photoshop can be a powerful tool in your arsenal, as well as a great line on your resume. Here at the Scholarly Commons, we have Photoshop on every PC and Mac, as well as resources to help you start on your Photoshop journey. Stop on by and get editing today!

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Playing With Python: Learning Coding Through Online Games

GALAGA” by Kevin Simpson, hosted on

For those of us who want to learn to code, but don’t necessarily have the time or patience to sit down with a thick book on Python, there are a few ways out there to trick yourself into learning some coding language while still having a fun time. Online games that help players learn coding through game play have been popping up on the Internet and can be helpful tools for those who want to start coding, but aren’t sure where. This article is a overview of a few fun games that you can play to increase your coding skills.

Empire of Code

Made for beginners, Empire of Code allows the player to use either Python or JavaScript to build, protect, and rule a space kingdom. Game play is largely focused on timing, where certain elements are created more quickly and efficiently when certain algorithms are used. The game is still in beta, and can run slowly at times. Further, coding isn’t necessary to game play, and there are lulls where you can’t do much. But of the games on the list, it’s the most aesthetically pleasing choice, and has a lot in common with popular apps.


Screeps is a way for beginning JavaScript learners to flex their muscles. This “MMO sandbox strategy game” lets players control “units” in real time by writing JavaScript. Unlike some of these other games, Screeps is for people with at least a basic working knowledge of JavaScript. In the game, you create your room, gather resources, as well as interact with other players. As you go on, the scope of things you can do within the Screeps universe expands, as well as your knowledge of JavaScript.

Code Combat

Code Combat is a game created for younger students to learn computer science, so it may come off as a little cheesy to older players. But if you’re looking for a painless way to learn some code, Code Combat may be for you! Each level is a different adventure, where you can choose a character and coding language to solve various puzzles and mazes. It’s a well-designed game in or outside of the classroom, and a helpful tool for true beginners.


Code in Game is a little less user-friendly than some of the other games on this list, but is also the most versatile. There are a number of mini-games that you can play which range in difficulty. You can also play any of these games in twenty-five different coding languages, making the game as a whole incredibly useful to someone who wants to learn a language that’s a little more niche, or who wants a wide range of coding options. However, the game does throw you in very quickly, and with very little instruction. At least a little prior knowledge of coding will be helpful if you want to tackle CodeinGame.

Do you have a particular coding game that you play? Let us know in the comments!

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Book Review: The Design of Everyday Things

Designer, psychologist, and respected industry expert Don Norman wants to change your life and the way you see the world and his classic book The Design of Everyday Things might just do that. This book is available for reading in the Scholarly Commons and online through the University Library Catalog.

“People are flexible, versatile, and creative. Machines are rigid, precise, and relatively fixed in their operations. There is a mismatch between the two, one that can lead to enhanced capability if used properly” –  (Norman, 2013)

An update on his 1988 book, The Psychology of Everyday Things, this book continues on the themes of designing for human imperfection and imprecision with new examples. Norman makes a clear, concise, if a little repetitive at times, argument for how we can make the world a better place through better design through a combination of psychology research, jokes, anecdotes, and serious industry examples, peppered with Norman’s rules to live by from his years of design experience, such as his rule of consulting: “I never solve the problem I am asked to solve. Why such a counter-intuitive rule? Because, invariably, the problem I am asked to solve is not the real, fundamental, root problem. It is usually a symptom.” (Norman, 2013)

Undergraduate Library

This book is the reason why doors that don’t work the way we expect them to are now called “Norman doors.”  This blog post was made in loving memory of campus’s favorite “Norman doors,” the former UGL Doors, 1969-2016.

He combines psychology and technology in design principles emphasized throughout the book such as:

  • Don’t force people to rely on their memory, which is limited and easily distracted, to be able to use a machine or system
  • Try to make what the technology does make sense to people so they can figure out what it can be used for from the way it is built and what they would know about other technologies
  • Give people ways to figure out if they are using the machine for what they think they are using the machine for
  • Instead of punishing people for making errors we should find ways to figure out why such an error was possible and how to prevent the same errors from being made again

Some questions this book raises include:

  • What factors contribute to creating positive user experience and how can a designer improve products to make them work better for people?
  • To what extent are problems attributed to human error really examples of bad design?
  • How do we better design the tools that shape our lives so that they can be used by a wider variety of people despite differences in ability and culture?
  • How do we counteract a culture that rewards dangerous behavior and punishes people who make mistakes when trying to develop safer technologies? Why don’t more industries have a semi-anonymous self-reporting system for errors like the airline industry and NASA to find problems that pilots are having and improve designs and systems?
  • How do we best combine best practices for human-centered design, a circular process of observation, idea generation, prototyping, and testing, with the realities of the difficulties of product development, including Don Norman’s Law of Product Development: “The day a product development process starts, it is behind schedule and above budget” (Norman, 2013) as well as managing interdisciplinary teams, which prefer a more linear process?
  • And more!

Feeling inspired yet? Want to innovate the way things are done in your field or at least think about new ways of looking at problems? Here at Scholarly Commons we have books, and workshops, as well as consultations with the experts you need to find the tools you need to clarify and answer your research questions!

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Utilizing EverNote to Keep Your Research Organized

Sick of juggling Word documents and notebooks? Trying to find a way to keep your research organized? EverNote may be the tool you need!

EverNote is a popular program that can be accessed from the web, but also downloaded as software on your computer, or as an app on your mobile device or tablet. It is, at its core, built for note-taking and storing information. The free plan allows up to 60 MB of uploads per month (which is typically more than enough for most people), or you can buy their “Plus” package for $34.99/year, or “Premium” for $69.99/year, which give increased storage options, as well as special features.

Academically, EverNote is a great tool if you’re taking lots of notes on various sources. You can store groups of notes in “notebooks,” tag notes with key ideas, as well as upload photos or documents from elsewhere. EverNote syncs up between devices, which can be helpful if you don’t want to lug your laptop from place to place and want to use your tablet to take notes instead.

Now, I’ll walk you through the EverNote interface, and explain how I used EverNote to organize research I did on nineteenth-century cookbooks and food at the Massachusetts Historical Society last summer.

When you log into EverNote, you’ll be taken to a page that includes all of the Notes you’ve taken.

Here's my homepage.

Here’s my homepage.

Now, if you’re working on multiple projects, dealing with all of these at once can be kind of complicated. Thankfully, you have two ways to dwindle down what you’re looking for. The first is to go to your Notebooks. When you’re doing research in EverNote, it’s helpful to organize like-notes into a Notebook, so that they’re grouped together. So for my research project, I grouped my notes into a Notebook called “Boston.”

Tutorial 2 Edit

From there, I have a list of each individual Note that I took while at the MHS. You can sort the way the list appears – I just happen to have them sorted by the Date Updated. From there you can scroll around and find what you’re looking for. But if you want to narrow down your results even more, you can use the search tool to look for keywords, either in a specific notebook or in all of your notes, or you can look for tags that you add to your notes. When you press the Tags button, a list of all the tags you’ve used for your Notes pops up. In this case, I want to look at everything I tagged with “Desserts.”

Tutorial 3 Edit

Tags are only useful if you implement them in the first place, so remember to tag your research as you go along!

A list of the Notes I took that I tagged with "Desserts."

A list of the Notes I took that I tagged with “Desserts.”

As you can see, that narrowed my results down to six results, as opposed to the forty-seven notes I had in my Boston Notebook.

Now, academic notetaking is just one way to use EverNote. EverNote prides itself on having many uses – from being a place of collaboration for offices, to keeping your various to-do lists in one place. It’s up to the user to decide how they would like to use EverNote.

Now, it’s not a perfect program. If a user wants to use some of the fancier aspects of the program, some of the controls are confusing and difficult to figure out at first. Further, I have had issues in the past with the app running slow on my tablet, or crashing in the middle of a note-taking session. (Of course, the notes save automatically and frequently, but it’s frustrating when you’re ten minutes from an archive closing and you’re trying to boot your app up again.) My biggest issue with Evernote, however, is the image-taking system.

At its core, the image-taking system is not a bad idea. However, by trying to make certain images text-searchable, it can ruin the integrity of the image itself. For example, I tried to capture an image of some of the handwritten notes in the Massachusetts Historical Society’s copy of The Young Housekeeper’s Friend, and the Evernote system bleached the pages out, and made the marginalia difficult to read.

Mary Hooker Cornelius, The Young Housekeeper's Friend: or, a Guide to Domestic Economy and Comfort, 1850. Collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society.

Mary Hooker Cornelius, The Young Housekeeper’s Friend: or, a Guide to Domestic Economy and Comfort, 1850. Collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society.

All-in-all, EverNote can be a useful tool for a researcher on-the-go who is trying to stay organized while syncing along various platforms, as well as serving as an organizational tool for every day life!

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Event: Critical Digital Humanities@Illinois: Digital Writing & Rhetoric Brown Bag Lunch

The Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities Logo.

  • Who: Visiting Assistant Professor at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign John Gallagher will lead a discussion, hosted by the Scholarly Commons and the Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities.
  • What: A brown bag workshop titled: “Who Owns the News? Question-Posing and Public Discussions in 450,000 New York Times Comments.”
  • Where: IPRH Seminar Room, Levis Faculty Center, Fourth Floor (919 West Illinois Street, Urbana, IL)
  • When: September 28, 2016 at 12:00 PM
  • Why: To foster discussion on an oftentimes divisive topic: online comments. Love them or hate them, they are an important part of fostering discussion on the Internet. Join Professor Gallagher — who researches online writing and participatory audiences — for a lively workshop on the discourse that happens online.
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Bowker discusses “The Data Citizen: New Ways of Being in the World”

On Tuesday, September 20th, Geoffrey C. Bowker, professor at the Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences at the University of California, Irvine, delivered the second lecture in the Design Dialogues Speakers Series at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications. Bowker’s talk, titled, “The Data Citizen: New Ways of Being in the World,” discussed the ways in which Big Data is affecting not only our lives, but is reshaping what it means to be human.

Image Credit: KamiPhuc CC BY 2.0

Image Credit: KamiPhuc CC BY 2.0

Bowker discussed many examples of ways in which Big Data impacts modern life. These included:

Despite expressing some concerns about the ways in which Big Data are used, Bowker appeared by and large optimistic about the possibilities that Big Data and design education can bring into reality. Moreover, Bowker suggested that humanists and social scientists, as well as members of the STEM fields have much to offer as we improve our understanding and use of data and design.

To learn more about design at Illinois, visit the webpage for the planned Illinois Design Center, a central component of a campus wide multidisciplinary initiative. The page includes details about the center, information about related events, and opportunities to provide your own feedback.

You can also browse the reference collection in the Scholarly Commons, which includes books on design, Big Data, and many other topics.

-post co-authored with Jasmine Kirby

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