There are several ways to maintain bibliographic citations you accumulate as you work through your various research projects and papers. The key ones on the market these days are RefWorks, EndNote and Zotero.
RefWorks and EndNote are products by commercial for-profit companies (ProQuest and Thomson Reuters respectively). Zotero launched back in 2006 ‘for academics by academics’ based at George Mason University with start-up money from the Mellon Foundation as a non-profit alternative. Functionally they are all quite similar as the comparison chart done by the librarians at Yale shows. For me, hands down I would go with Zotero.
It allows you to download citations of books and journal articles from Library’s catalogues and databases like JSTOR. It also allows you to capture (i.e. store on your C: drive) web pages and make them available off-line. It has post-it functions which allow you to annotate these web pages and other materials it stores. Lastly and perhaps most importantly, it allows you to search through the full-text of PDFs it captures. When you amass hundreds of PDFs in the course of a major research project, I can think of no better search functionality then this one!
The kicker for me is that Zotero (and the data you store in it) remains with you (as long as you have a subscription). Now most academic libraries have subscriptions to RefWorks and EndNote so that students and faculty researchers have access for free (as the library is paying the annual fees). However, if you leave academia (maybe finish your degree and do something else) or are an independent researcher or go to a different institution which doesn’t have a subscription, what happens to all of the metadata/files you’ve saved? Most institutional digital licenses prevent alumni and other user groups from access to databases after graduation although this will probably change in the coming years.
Since the time of the great Library at Alexandria (200-300 BC) libraries acquired/preserved books (and later journals). In the present dynamic digital landscape we now find ourselves in libraries like that historical one in Alexandria continue to buy physical objects (i.e. books, etc) and increasingly buy access to digital objects (i.e. journal articles) rather than the objects themselves. We find that we are no longer owner of the digital objects, merely facilitators to that external content. So when these database providers (like those which own RefWorks and EndNote) don’t allow perpetual access to that data should your circumstances change (e.g. you graduate) it makes more cogent the notion to use software like Zotero which will remain with you (and your computer). That is why I push Zotero.
Don’t take my word for it. You can see how easy it is to use. The only caveat (there is always one!) is that you have to use the Firefox Mozilla browser if you have a Windows PC or Safari in Mac. It doesn’t work in IE or Chrome. A short 4 minute video can be found here: http://www.zotero.org/support/quick_start_guide Slides from one of my presentation also walks you through the mechanics.