Using Reference Managers

“Using Reference Managers” was the third of Swem Library and Academic Technology’s three-part brown bag series Thinking About Next Semester: Simple Tools You Can Use to Enhance Your Classes. This brown bag featured an overview of three different reference manager tools – RefWorks, Zotero, and Mendeley.  In this post I’ll cover what each presenter talked about in the session and identify highlights you might find helpful from the Adobe Connect recording of the session. If you’re interested, you might also want to read my posts on the other two brown bags, the first about using images in the classroom and the second on working with video in the classroom.

The three presentations:

  • Librarian Paul Showalter showed us RefWorks.
  • Librarian Kathleen DeLaurenti introduced us to Zotero.
  • Academic Technologist April Lawrence showed us Mendeley.

Below I’ve compiled a brief description of highlights for each person’s presentation with time stamps from the recording of the session in case you’re interested in learning more.



RefWorks is Swem’s in-house reference manager – you can use it to collect references into a personal database of sources. It’s connected to Swem’s catalogue so that you can easily export items that you find using a search in the catalogue, along with other databases and search tools accessible via Swem.  As well as collecting references and organizing them into folders, you can use RefWorks to create bibliographies in most any citation format and take notes on your references.

In this segment of the video, Paul talks about:

  • What a citation manager is (0:04:50)
  • How to add an item from Swem’s catalogue to your RefWorks account (0:06:00)
  • Organizing your references by creating folders (0:08:20)
  • How to add an article from a Summon search (0:10:50) and a database like JStor (0:12:05)
  • Editing your references; adding notes to your references; and, if you have it, attaching the full text of your reference to its RefWorks entry (0:13:30)
  • How to make a bibliography from your references (0:17:30)

Don’t hesitate to contact Paul if you have questions about RefWorks.  Swem Library also has an online guide to RefWorks with information on getting started.



Zotero is a web browser plug-in that you can use to manage your references. It can recognize and capture references from a large number of websites, including Swem’s catalogue,, and various academic databases.  Zotero is free, and under active development by people at George Mason.

In this segment of the video, Kathleen shows:

  • An overview of what Zotero is (0:21:30)
  • How to sync your data across computers and the Zotero website (0:23:45)
  • How to add a reference (0:25:30) and add tags to your reference (0:26:50)
  • How to add a reference on a webpage not recognized by Zotero (0:28:35)
  • Zotero’s ability to index full-text PDFs of your references (0:30:20)
  • How to make a bibliography and do in-text citations in a Word document (0:32:55)

Be sure to contact Kathleen with questions about Zotero.  Zotero also has a vast support section to help you get started, or learn new ways to use it.



Mendeley is a free reference manager and PDF organizer. Like Zotero, it has a both a web and desktop application, and you can sync your collection of references across devices.  It has a less steep learning curve than Zotero, offers ways of doing collaborative writing and reading via its annotation and note-taking features, and it also has a social networking component.

In this segment of the video, April demonstrates:

  • An overview of Mendeley via its web version (0:45:24)
  • Searching open-source papers in PDF format (0:48:40)
  • Mendeley’s desktop application and its features (50:00)
  • How to do document collaborative writing and research (0:51:30)
  • Searching the full-text of your references (0:52:30)
  • Exporting references into a bibliography (0:53:30)

Contact April with any questions about Mendeley.  It also has a nice collection of support info.

About Kim Mann

Kim Mann is the editor and a writer for the Academic Technology Blog. She earned her BA in English from the University of Minnesota in 2003 and her MA in American Studies from William & Mary in 2009, and her PhD in American Studies at the College in 2014. Her research is on technology, the interface, and the body in mid-twentieth century science fiction.