Bibliography in Zotero and BibLaTeX

Continuing through the tools I’m using for writing, for bibliography management I’m using Zotero. The basic reason for Zotero is that I can import records from Oxford’s library system easily. The UI is a bit rubbish, mainly because it’s a cross-platform app rather than a real Mac app, but it’s OK.

These days, Sente is defunct, as is Papers until it gets reintegrated into ReadCube, leaving BookEnds as the only other real contender. I find that BookEnds doesn’t quite work for biblical studies, with its rather complex formats, not so much for the secondary literature (though e.g. treatment of commentary volumes and similar is lacking), but because it can’t do the specialised handling of primary texts that the SBL Style Handbook requires. BookEnds is also less good at importing records from the library website.

This is where it all gets a bit complicated, and I’ve set up a few addons. The only tool I’ve found that really implements all the detailed SBL requirements is BibLaTeX-SBL (and hence doing document processing in LaTeX). This means getting the bibliographic data out of Zotero and into a BibLaTeX file.

For this, I use the Better BibTeX addon for Zotero, which sorts out most of the details of the process, and means that I get an automatic export of the .biblatex file whenever my database changes. (I also have a CSL JSON export with identical citekeys for faster native pandoc-citeproc processing.) Better BibTeX also has cool features for overriding or adding fields, which I particularly use for the extra details needed in SBL style, such as tagging commentary volumes correctly.

I also use the Zutilo addon, because it has a very useful macro to create a book part correctly (e.g. a book chapter in an edited volume).

Finally, I use the ZotFile addon to put all my PDF files in a separate folder, all renamed to a sensible naming format (author, date, title). This folder is in my iCloud Drive, so that I can read and markup the PDF files from my other devices, and index the folder in DevonThink Pro. Eventually I’ll add some scripting to auto-extract the annotations to a DevonThink Markdown document, probably using the Highlights app now that it’s back in active development.

Getting all this setup has been painful, but I’ve ended up with quite a nice workflow. I can also move relatively easily to another system if necessary, because the work I’ve done to separate the PDF files from Zotero’s own storage and the setup of the automated exports means that I have a complete copy of the whole bibliographic database in two open formats. My PDF review process is also completely independent of the particular apps I’m using.