Zotero, known as a research tool for students, faculty, and other scholars, has tremendous potential for use in faith communities as a place to store and share nearly any type of digital information encountered in congregational life. This presentation opens with a basic overview of available research managers. It continues with the use of Zotero at Liberation Christian Church, and covers the benefits (including a more fully-integrated intellectual presence in the congregation’s faith life) and potential issues (such as copyright concerns) of using Zotero within faith communities. It concludes with the marketing and educational efforts involved in generating the interest and skills that congregational leadership and members must have in order to obtain full benefits from the use of this resource.
Religious information literacy (an integration of the content of religious literacy and the processes of information literacy) is largely inadequate in the lives of many congregations to sustain mature faith. Current religious education efforts in congregations often do little to alleviate this issue, focusing on the content of religious belief rather than belief contexts and processes. What happens when scholarly tools enter into congregational life? How can faith communities who are interested in intellectual development and informal digital archives use the research management tool Zotero to meet their information management needs to keep, develop, and share their faith, both within and outside of their congregation? How can the particular faith community of Liberation Christian Church (a 50-member new church start in St. Louis, Missouri that is perpetually short on funds and doesn’t own a building) have information sharing tools and resources that meet their needs?
The above questions were investigated qualitatively through observing and interviewing church members during the development and implementation of Liberation Christian Church’s Zotero library. These explorations took place during the processes of introducing and educating clergy and laypeople on the use of Zotero. Much of this research was accomplished during the teaching of an 8-week religious information literacy course, Information Salvation, at Liberation. The above questions were also researched via literature reviews and searches regarding current uses of Zotero and other online digital tools and resources, particularly those outside of traditional academic institutions. Literature searches were also conducted on successful methods of e-resource marketing, education, and implementation, particularly for organizations beyond traditional academia.
Much research about religion and information has focused on religious institutions of higher learning, rather than communities of faith and the education and transformation of laypeople. People in faith communities have often not had access to the training, tools, and resources available within academic institutions that would allow them to intellectually engage in their faith lives with greater clarity and depth. I anticipate that Liberation’s growing use of Zotero (both Liberation’s Zotero group library and church members' personal accounts) will increase Liberation members’ use of congregational information resources and grow Liberation’s faith development intellectually.
I also anticipate this project will provide Liberation Christian Church and other faith communities with opportunities to more fully integrate the mind and heart of faith in the everyday Christian journey. I hope I am able to adequately portray the value of academic tools and resources to clergy, laity, and other interested parties, so that such things will become embedded into congregational life. Congregations who use these tools with success may be an example for other faith communities interested in growing their faith intellectually. I am interested in what happens when congregations are presented with religious information literacy learning opportunities on par with information literacy initiatives in institutions of higher learning. I anticipate this project will provide a practical example for religious leaders and communities who are interested in integrating scholarly tools into congregational life.