I recently found a new (to me, at least) way to keep track of my research. I'd been reading about Margaret Wise Brown for a biography I'm writing, when I stumbled across Zotero. According to the Zotero website, "Zotero [zoh-TAIR-oh] is a free, easy-to-use tool to help you collect, organize, cite, and share your research sources. It lives right where you do your work—in the web browser itself."
I've been using a wiki to collect and organize my research at PBworks for years, and I love it. I was intrigued by Zotero, however, and decided to give it a try with my Margaret Wise Brown research. One word describes my experience. OMG! I didn't think I could love another research tool as much as I loved my wiki, but I was wrong. (It's just like when you have that second baby and you're afraid you're not going to love it as much as that first baby and then when you have it you're all, "OMG! I love this baby, too. Maybe even more." That's what it's just like.)
Zotero is a Firefox add-on, so if it's not already your browser, you'll need to download it. (Firefox is great, by the way.) I'm not going to get into the how-to specifics of using Zotero. The folks at Zotero do a fine job explaining their own product.
The thing I like best about using Zotero is my ability to take notes within the window I'm viewing. Here's an example of how it worked for me. I wanted to quote the first few lines of "Little Red Riding Hood" from The Blue Fairy Book edited by Andrew Lang and published by Stitt Publishing Company in 1905. I found the book at Google Books, and dragged it into my Margaret Wise Brown Zotero library. Once it was logged into the library, I opened up a little notepad which I positioned directly next to the text I was reading at Google Books. Next, I clipped and copied the opening lines of "Little Red Riding Hood," pasted it into the note, and attached it to the citation in Zotero. I saw that the punctuation didn't clip and paste. Because the note was directly next to the source, it wasn't a problem to quickly type in the punctuation where it appeared in the original text. It was, in fact, easy like Sunday morning.
While doing my research, before I'd start reading a new source, I'd drag it into my library and open up a notepad. If I found something I thought might be useful, I'd pop it directly into the note, which would attach to the citation in my library. If I found I wasn't going to use the source, I'd simply delete it from the library before moving to the next one.
Zotero sits quietly at the bottom right of your computer screen. When open, it takes up as much or as little space across the bottom of your screen as you designate. If you want to take notes, you put the notepad exactly where you want it. You're the boss. It's ready when you are, and it totally obeys you.
There are piles of how-to videos out there, but I picked this one for two reasons. First, the guy's a total smarty pants, which lends credence to the Zotero thing. Second, I like his accent.