Books and references

In Philosophia, virtually all data are stored in texts. Not in data sets, images, graphs, video or audio, although audio books and vlogs on philosophy have started to appear on the internet. All primary source material is in books and articles. For any philosophical thought, concept or terminology that is not your own, you must cite the primary source. Citations include information about the author, title, date of publication, and publisher, but may also include unique identifiers, such as the International Standard Book Number (ISBN) or the Digital object identifier (DOI). There are several citation systems, each with its own style. I use the APA system which is often used in Humanities – the academic field to which Philosophy belongs. To give you an example of citation / bibliographical entry from my paper on Autopoetic Enactivism: Cuffari, E. C., Di Paolo, E., & De Jaegher, H. (2015). From participatory sense-making to language: There and back again. Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences, 14(4), 1089–1125.

If you took a look at the link to my paper in the previous paragraph, or indeed any other philosophical paper, you will see that there are a large number of citations in there. Those are only the ones that make it to the actual paper. Many more are collected during preparation. Quite an administration, and one that will keep expanding with every paper I write. So I thought I had better think up a proper system to deal with this workflow. Particularly since my memory is not what is was when I first studied. Sometimes I can recall the shape of an argument without being able to remember the actual words 🙂


Since I do not fancy typing up citations manually, I wanted a digital system which integrates with my word processor (MS Word, part of Office365). I tried out a number citations managers or reference managers as they are sometimes called: Mendeley, EndNote and Zotero. Mendeley and EndNote are paid services which do not allow you to use your own storage system (you must use theirs). Zotero is free and integrates beautifully with Microsoft OneDrive, which is my Cloud storage solution, packaged as part of Office365 home to which I have a subscription. Instructions for synching outside Zotero, i.e. with dropbox or Onedrive or some such, can be found here.

Zotero integrates with several word processors, not just MS Word. The integrations works by allowing you to insert specific references from Zotero inside the text,and then collects it all at the end of the document into a automatic bibliography. There are a few other plugins which are very useful. The most important one is Zotfile which can automatically rename, organize, and extract annotations. There are many more plugins. I use Zotero Storage Scanner, Google Scholar Citations for Zotero and Zotero DOI Manager.

Zotero offers integrated browser support, which means that if you find an article online and have the Zotero app running on your PC, your browser will extract all relevant information from the article and put it, together with the article, into your Zotero system.  It may also be a good idea to add Unpaywall to your browser. This extension will automatically search for open access PDFs on every journal web page you visit. If it finds an open access PDF, Zotero will usually grab it when you click the button.

Nice and tidy

I use Zotero as my digital library for articles, so my references and articles are in the same place. Since I store use OneDrive to sync the Zotero Library, I have access to it from both my desktop and my laptop. And Husband’s PC upstairs in Airco land. I sort the articles I plan to read and use into collections. Very useful feature, since articles can belong to several collections. So whilst I work on my own paper, I create a collection for it, which keeps things nice and tidy.


For books I use Calibre. This is a digital library system, which contains not only my academic books, but also my books on cookery (hundreds!), IT, security, graphics, photography and arts & crafts. These collections are also synced with OneDrive, which means that I can easily share books with Husband. I love Calibre. It is a pity Calibre does not work for audio books (because audio books consist of chapters). There is a deDRM plugin for Calibre which will take off any DRM, allowing you to share a protected book you bought across your devices. For the integration with Zotero, there is another plugin, the Zotero Metadata Importer, which can be downloaded from within Calibre itself. It works by allowing you to export a list of books as a RIS file, which you can then import into Zotero and treat like any article.

Where to get books and articles? Well, as as student, many digital resources are automatically open to you. Like the Philosopher’s Index, called OVID. If you are an alumnus, your ex-university may provide you with complimentary access to JSTOR, as mine did. Library-wise you need to look for a library that has access to EBSCO. In the Netherlands, that is the Koninklijke Bibliotheek who will allow you to download 3 books a week for the ridiculous fee of 15 euro per year. The KB is great for other purposes as well, worth having a look at. In many other parts of the world excluding the Netherlands, your free local library will have (limited) access to EBSCO. Friends and family in Canada, Australia and the UK graciously share their online access with me. Google books is another great source. Most books will not be shown in their entirety, but if you know what you are looking for, you can search for specific words and find the right page, and yes Zotero will index it for you through your browser. A general search index pointing to lots of books is Genesis. The books posted here are not free though, the recommendation is that you buy them. Citation indexes are also useful, for determining if and how often and by whom an article has been cited. If you want more tools, have a look at this article on digital tools for researchers.

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