Neat, Free Tools for Info Professionals – and Others

As part of a small project I’m working on for the Council on Library and Information Resources, I’ve been evaluating online tools produced by “Digital Humanities Centers.” These are academic centers focused on bringing computing into humanities research.* The tools they’ve developed have a variety of primarily humanities research functions: 3d animation technology for virtually recreating archaeological sites, course software, text analysis software, online note-taking and annotation software aimed at academics, etc.

But a few, especially those developed by the creative folks at George Mason University’s Center for History and New Media, are broadly construed and would be useful to anyone working on community web projects, teaching online research skills, or beginning web archiving projects.

For community web work, GMU has a number of useful tools. Web Scrapbook is, as they say, a “clipping file for the internet.” You can share your clipping file or keep it private. Groups working together on any sort of research or interest project could use this tool to gather and annotate web sources of interest. Survey Builder and Poll Builder are both easy-to-use, what-you-see-is-what-you-get editors for creating survey and polls and adding them to websites.

For those teaching research skills or information access, I highly recommend GMU’s Zotero bibliographic software: It’s a free, open-source program that runs inside the Firefox browser. As you browse library catalogs, journal databases, Google Scholar, and even, Zotero can grab citation information at your command and save it to your computer. You can easily keep track of your references, and even better, make in-text citations, footnotes, and bibliographies using Microsoft Word. I was an EndNote user in the past, and have also taught students to use RefWorks, and I think Zotero is an excellent – and free – replacement for either of these programs.

Another useful tool for teachers and students: GMU’s Syllabus Finder. Syllabus Finder will do a tailored Google search for syllabi on whatever keywords you type into the search interface. This is a great way to figure out if/where classes are taught on a subject you’re interested in, or what reading materials others are using in their courses on X, Y or Z.

Perhaps most exciting for me, but still in private Beta so unavailable – yet – is GMU’s Omeka platform for publishing collections online. This promises to be a widely accessible tool for building digital archives and exhibits. This could be a great way for community organizations and small archives with digital collections to display them online, or to draw attention to their non-digital materials by creating an online exhibit.

Kudos to the Center for History and New Media for such creative, free digital information tools.


* Because of the nature of the current CLIR project, my scope is limited, and I’m only familiar with tools from about 30 U.S.-based centers.



Filed under tips and tools

5 responses to “Neat, Free Tools for Info Professionals – and Others

  1. Ian Johnson

    “These are academic centers all over the U.S. …”

    What about the rest of the world?

  2. greyson

    Good question, Ian. Katie, I know the CLIR has a somewhat international board. Is the project you’re working on just a US-focused project, or is this peek into US digital humanities centres just a portion of the scope of the project?

    Neat tools. I didn’t know Zotero was from GMU.

  3. Katie

    Indeed, this specific project is limited to U.S-based centers. I’m afraid that I can’t speak to why CLIR is examining only U.S.-based digital humanities centers (DHCs) at the moment. My guess is that it was a decision made at a higher level to narrow the scope of work or perhaps for funding reasons, but I’ll certainly ask.

    And to correct the text of my post – I certainly didn’t mean to imply that there aren’t digital humanities centers outside of the U.S.; only that my limited experience is with U.S-based sites, and therefore, tools.

  4. Hi Katie — Just a quick comment to update your readers that Omeka is now out of private beta and available to the public at



    Tom Scheinfeldt
    Executive Producer, Omeka
    Managing Director, Center for History & New Media

  5. Dennis Mcbean

    Hi Katie,

    Indeed having used Endnote and Refworks myself, I agree that Zotero is a great improvement in terms of functionality.

    Recently I’ve tried a new bibliographic manager called WizFolio Web. it’s interface is much like Zotero, but it’s not quite as cramped so it’s easier on the eye.

    One thing I like is that it’s fully web-based so I could log-in to try my collections from almost anywhere.

    it has some tools that are I thought was pretty cool too, like a function that imports whatever is copied on the clipboard into its folders.

    If you ask me, I think Zotero’s met its match.

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