Using Zotero

The first time I used Zotero, I was not impressed. After recently meeting one of the founders of Zotero from the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University, and following the litigation with Endnote over file formats, I decided to give it another try. I was very impressed. In fact, I now think that anyone who writes should install and use it.

Zotero is a free open source manager of citations to all sorts of documents. I’m using the beta version 2.0b5, which works well in Windows, Mac OS X, or Linux. There are several steps to get the most out of Zotero.

(Updated June 20, 2009)

Installing Zotero in Firefox
1. First you have to install the program in an up-to-date version of the Firefox browser. You can do this by going to Zotero.Org and clicking on the try out 2.0 beta button.

Creating a Zotero account
2. Next, I would recommend creating a log-in account in Zotero.Org.
3. Looking at the bottom right hand corner of your browser, click on the zotero icon. It should show you a half page or so that has several icons for making Zotero work. One looks like a grey round gear, for “actions.” Click it, and go to Preferences. In preferences, choose “Sync, and enter your Zotero username and password. This allows you to sync the data in your browser with the Zotero server, and also to use libraries from other users, or to share libraries.

Configuring Google Scholar
4. Next, go to Google Scholar (, and change your scholar preferences. The Bibliography Manager preference should be to Show links to import citations. I use the EndNnote option, which seem to work very well with Zotero.

Importing citations into your Zotero library collections
5. Next, go back to and search for a book or article. It should give you the option to “Import into EndNote.”
6. With Zotero showing on your browser (click on the zotero icon at bottom right of Firefox browser), choose a Library and Collection first, then (still in in the upper half of the browser), click on the “Import into EndNote” option. If you are lucky, it should do a fairly good job of importing the citation. The citation will be placed in the folder you had highlighted.
7. Now try a book. Look for the Inernational Standard Book Number (ISBN). For example, for example, try 0-8047-4920-5, or any similiar ISBN number you find on a book. Then look for the magic wand icon, which is to “Add item by identifier.” With luck, it too should work. Looks of other services also work. For example, in, find a book, and look for the blue book icon at the right end of the navigation toolbar window. In a web version of a New York Times or Washington Post news article, with Zotero activated, hold the curse on the navigation window look for the grey newspaper icon to appear on the right.
8. You can, of course, always create a record manually, using a couple of options from the menu. This takes some getting use to, but works fine.

Managing citations collections
9. As you begin to add citations to your library, you will find it useful to organize them better. There are several things you can try. One is to tag you citations. Open Zotero in Firefox, and highlight a citation from your library. On the column to the right, look for the tab for tags. The tags can be used to retrieve citations that deal with specific topics. Another tool is the ability to create folders for citations, that Zotero calls “collections.” These are created using the folder icon in the column to the far left.
10 You can and should sync the data from you Firefox browser to your web based Zotero account. This is done using the green sync icon on the right side column. The advantages of syncing the data are several. First, your citations are backed upon on the Zotero server. Second, the citations are available to you from any computer. Third, you can share citations with others, and also benefit from group editing of the citations, to make them more complete and accurate.
11. When using the Zotero server, you can create or join groups for sharing citations, and pick settings to share access to any of your library collections. Your choices include allowing third parties to see or edit the citations. You can share viewing or editing access with no one, with members of a group, or with everyone. You can also follow others, enter personal information, such as photos, CVs or contact information, or use Zotero for discussions or other social networking functions.

Integrating Zotero with Word or OpenOffice.
12. Now that you know how to easily import citations into your libraries and collections, and to share and manage them, install the Zotero add-in to either OpenOffice.Org or Microsoft’s Word, so you can easily use them. I believe you will need at least 3.1 of OpenOffice, or something fairly recent for MS Word.
11. From OpenOffice or Word, you now should be able to import a footnote citation directly into a document, using one of several different styles. You can also change the document preferences, and change the way the footnote is displayed, after it had been inserted into the document. You should experiment with this feature a bit, to understand how it works in practice. For example, try inserting footnotes with one, and then with more than one citation. Next, try changing your document preferences, to pick different styles, or to format the notes as footnotes or endnotes. Also, try to generate a document bibliography using different document preferences.

Once I figured out the basics, I was hooked.

How well does Zotero work? The automatic importing tools are quite important for making it attractive. These depend not only upon Zotero, but on the accuracy and completeness of third party services, such as Google Scholar, which is not 100 percent accurate in terms of the citations it serves up. Zotero encourages the joint editing and sharing of citation collections, to improve the completeness and accuracy of the citation information.

Zotero also has plenty of additional features, including the ability to store snapshots and annotations of documents, to create standalone notes, and many other useful tools.

Making a WordPress blog Zotero friendly.
Using the instructions I found here:, I was able to add a plug-in that makes the two WordPress blogs I manage provide meta data to Zotero. It helps, but does not work perfectly, perhaps because of one of the templates I use.

Some other blogs discussing the use of Zotero:

  1. Zotero, Marginal Revolution.
  2. Zotero vs Papers, e_borne.
  3. Zotero and Endnote: Note-Taking & Bibliographic Software for Historians, presentation by Harold Marcuse (Who happens to be the grandson of Herbert Marcuse).
  4. From zero to Zotero – One man’s journey out of PDF hell, Noel O’Blog.
  5. ZOTERO un Logiciel de bibliographie 2.0
  6. Software review: Zotero compared with EndNote, October 5, 2008 — Graham Lavender. The Inspired Library School Student.
  7. Zotero 1.0.9, CNET, March 29, 2009.

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