Zotero + Ebsco: a match made in purgatory?

I love Zotero, and I use it for all kinds of projects:  collecting background research for patrons’ research questions, sharing citations with staff for ongoing projects in the library, collaborating with folks at other institutions.  Right now I’m using it to collect cites for an article I’m working on with a colleague at Colorado State University.

Sadly, Zotero is kind of flailing, because I’m trying to export records from an Ebsco database and…it’s not working.  Not by clicking the browser bar icon in the search results (list or individual item), not by going to the database’s “Export to bibliographic manager” options and choosing “Direct export” and hitting “Save,” not by saving as BibTeX or generic or XML or MARC21 or any other format, and saving as .txt or .html and then importing directly to Zotero.  Not anyway, not anyhow.  Every single time I try it, I get:

(I’ve already gone through all the suggested fixes for translator issues–it’s not any of them.)

Looking into the Zotero help forums, I see repeated questions from users about how to get Ebsco databases to talk to Zotero, going back two years.  The problems get resolved, then new problems crop up.  Some days it works, some days it doesn’t.  (That’s been my experience too–some days I can export directly and easily from an Ebsco database, some days I can’t.  No idea why.)

Ebsco is kind of a major database vendor, no?  And Zotero is pretty widely used, yes?  Shouldn’t this be a no-brainer?  Especially considering that the database I’m using is Library, Information Science & Technology Abstracts.  Isn’t it kind of ironic that I (an information professional) have spent forty minutes struggling to get this to work?

I’ll be posting to the forums, and continuing to try–if I get this figured out, I’ll post more here.

ETA:  After all that, an update to Zotero fixed the problem.  Sigh. Keeping this post up as a lesson to myself.


7 thoughts on “Zotero + Ebsco: a match made in purgatory?

  1. David Baker says:

    Glad you got it fixed!

    Personally I feel like Zotero has never quite been able to deliver the goods. It exists in a strange Uncanny Valley: it almost does what you want it to do, which somehow makes it exponentially more horrifying when it fails. I’m back to writing my citations by hand.

    • Karen says:

      No, no, I love it! I really do! I love its elegance and simplicity…when it works. And I love that it has the (confusing, sometimes all snarled-up) Groups feature. And I love that it’s free! For Firefox! Yay open source! I just find that it’s like the free classic car your uncle gives you–great in theory, popular with friends, but a lot of personal headaches when you go to start it up after a while away, and you realize there are squirrels nesting in the engine block.

    • Karen says:

      PS, I sometimes feel like I live in Uncanny Valley.

  2. adamsmith says:

    In all fairness, the problem here is more Ebsco than Zotero – if they feel like they have to change their site structure on a regular basis, that’s just going to happen. The Zotero people are usually pretty quick with fixes for important databases, but it’s a small team.
    Other databases like JSTOR or Firstsearch have been working flawlessly for years.

    Ideally of course, Ebsco would just update their translators themselves – they have much more manpower and they do supply data specifically for other citation software. And there is one group of people that is in a uniquely good position to pressure them to do that: Librarians.
    You are the ones managing the descriptions to databases, so if anyone has negotiating power it’s you.

    • Karen says:

      This is a good point–and begs the question, why doesn’t Ebsco pay better attention to their interoperability with tools their users want and need? Your comment makes me want to forward this post to someone in Ebsco Town, as an example of exactly how things break down when they don’t do this. I’m just not sure who to send it to.

  3. Trevor says:

    Just wanted to add a note about a rather reliable fall-back for a few of the databases, like EBSCO, that keep changing their sites and structure. Most of these sites have an “Export to Citation Manager” button, or checkbox. With most databases, those export buttons will directly add items to Zotero.

    • Karen says:

      Thanks for this, Trevor–I did try that option, but it didn’t work. NOTHING worked, except updating Zotero. Don’t ask me why; I’m just hoping it was a glitch that won’t happen again the next time Ebsco changes pace.

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