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Zotero User's LibGuide: Managing Library Items

A pathfinder for students and faculty to learn about using Zotero at FSU

Attaching Files to Zotero Library Items: Drag and Drop, Automatic Capture, or Manual Attachment

  • Files can be added to your Zotero library as either copies or links.
    • With copies, a copy of the original file is stored in the Zotero Data Directory. File copies are synced if file syncing has been set up.
    • In contrast, when a file is linked, Zotero only stores a link to the location of the original file. Linked files are not synced.
    • By default, files dragged into Zotero are added as copies of the original files. To instead add links to the original files, hold down Ctrl+Shift on Windows/Linux or Cmd+Option on OS X while dropping.
Automatically Attach PDFs when Grabbing Citation Information
  • Zotero can automatically save associated web page snapshots and PDFs when you use site translators (whether associated snapshots and PDFs are saved can be changed in the Zotero preferences). Such snapshots and PDFs are stored as copies in Zotero data directory, and appear as child items of the saved item.
Drag and Drop Files
  • You can easily copy files into your Zotero library by dragging a file (such as a PDF) into your Zotero pane and dropping it onto a collection (left column), in between library items (center column), or onto an existing library item.  This is the easiest way to attach a copy of an article to its entry in your Zotero library if you have the PDF on hand.
  • Files dropped onto an item in the center column are added as child items. Files dropped onto a collection, or among items in the center column, are added as standalone items.  You can also drop an existing standalone file item onto another item to create a child item.
  • Zotero will automatically attempt to identify any PDFs dropped as parent items using the embedded metadata for that item. If successful, Zotero will create a parent metadata entry and attach the PDF as a child item, renaming it based on the bibliographic information.


Manually Attach Files

  • Each item also has an Attachments tab in the right column.  You can attach files by clicking the Attachments tab and then the Add button.

"Attach files by dropping them on library items, or by clicking the Attachments tab and the Add button"

  • With the Zotero Desktop Application, you can also manually attach snapshots, links, and copies to items via the Attachment Menu (shown below), or by right-clicking any item and going into the "Add Attachment" menu.

Drop-down menu under paper clip icon

  • You can also manually create file copies and file links by clicking the “New Item” (Green plus sign icon) button at the top of the center column and selecting “Store Copy of File…” or “Link to File…”, respectively. This creates standalone items.

Retrieve Metadata from PDF

Users new to Zotero may find the prospect of importing all their data somewhat daunting. Zotero can import bibliographic data in a wide variety of formats, including by indexing PDF documents.  Many researchers find themselves managing a massive collection of PDFs, possibly with another program designed only for that purpose or through their own methods. Zotero makes it a breeze to import these PDFs, which takes much of the pain out of switching.

Zotero has the ability to match PDF documents to their metadata using Google Scholar. When Zotero finds a match, it creates a new library item for the paper, downloads the bibliographic metadata and attaches the original PDF to the new item. This makes it easy to move all your old PDFs into Zotero.

To use the PDF Indexing feature and begin capturing metadata from PDF documents:

  1. Turn on PDF Indexing in Zotero Preferences by going to the "Search" tab.
  2. Locate the PDF files you want to import, select them, and drag them to your Zotero Library. You can also use the Store Copy of File option under the New Item menu to import files into your library.
  3. Select the item(s) you want to match in the middle column, right-click (or control-click) and select “Retrieve Metadata for PDF." If Zotero finds a match, it will pull down the metadata, create a new library item, and make the original PDF an attachment to that item.
  4. Zotero may sometimes be unable to find a PDF match in Google Scholar. In this case Zotero will still import a copy of the file, but will not ascribe any metadata to it nor create a bibliographic entry. For a proper full record, you'll need to follow one of the other strategies for getting items into your library.


Import from Other Software or Zotero Library

Importing from Other Citation Management Software

You might want to migrate to Zotero but already have an extensive library stored in other reference management software. To import such libraries into Zotero:

  1. ​Start by exporting the bibliographic data from your other software program.
  2. Then, in Zotero, click the gear icon (Grey gear icon) and select “Import…”.
  3. Browse to your file, select it, and click the “Open” button.
  4. This should import the exported items into your Zotero library in a date-stamped collection.

Zotero can import the following bibliographic file formats:

  • Bibliontology RDF
  • BibTeX
  • Endnote XML (when useful?)
  • MEDLINE/nbib
  • MODS (Metadata Object Description Schema)
  • OVID Tagged
  • PubMed XML
  • RIS
  • RefWorks Tagged
  • Web of Science Tagged
  • Refer/BibIX
  • XML ContextObject
  • Unqualified Dublin Core RDF
Note that import/export is generally not recommended for transferring entire Zotero libraries between different Zotero installations. Import/export usually does not give you an exact copy of your Zotero library, and, if you use Zotero's word processor plugins, any links to Zotero items from existing word processor documents will be lost after recreating a Zotero library via export/import.
How Can I move my Zotero library?
  • Zotero syncs libraries through your user account. In most cases, you should be able to migrate your entire library just by installing the Zotero Desktop Application, linking your Zotero account to the new installation, and syncing your library.

If this fails to migrate your data, there are some other alternative options:

  • The most reliable alternative method to move your entire library to another machine is to copy the Zotero data folder from your Zotero profile on the first machine to the Zotero profile on your new machine.
  • To locate your Zotero data, open the Zotero Preferences window, navigate to the Advanced panel, then the Files and Folders tab. Click “Show data directory" to view the data in your file browser.
  • Be sure to close Firefox/Zotero Standalone on both machines before copying the Zotero files.
  • You can also use a USB drive to sync your data between computers.

Accessing Files

Files in your library can be accessed by double-clicking the file in the center column. Alternatively, you can right-click the file and selecting “View PDF” or “View in External Viewer” (for PDFs) or “View File”.

To locate a copied or linked file, right-click the file in the Zotero pane and select “Show File”. Copied files are stored in the Zotero Data Directory, and each file has its own subdirectory, which is named with a random 8-character string.

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