23 Things for Archivists

Thing 38: Organize Your Research Online (Zotero)

By Alexandra Krensky, including material from 23 Things Cambridge, with updates and archival examples added

Have you written papers for a professional publication and had trouble keeping track of all your references? Maybe you’re in library school now and are tired of flipping through citation manuals while working on your papers? Zotero is a citation manager that keeps track of your references for you!

Zotero was developed by the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University, the Institute for Museum and Library Services, The Sloan Foundation, and The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. It’s an extension to the Mozilla Firefox browser. It enables you to capture references from catalogues, Google Scholar, or anywhere where bibliographic information can be recognized. You can store webpages, pdfs, images, files, etc. It is a good way of managing your resources or references, great for creating bibliographies, and easy to cite-while-you-write with word processor plugins. You can set up a Group Library and share resources with others, choosing to make your group open to the public, perhaps to target the student population, or restricting membership and access, for example with a distinct research group.

Oh – and it’s free!

Instructions for Using Zotero

1. Installation

  • Install Firefox (for free) on your computer if you do not already have it available
  • Download Zotero, then register. If you have downloaded Zotero before check that you have the latest version (currently 2.0.3 as of July 15, 2010)
  • Check your browser – the Zotero icon should be installed
  • For a full description of how to use Zotero look at the video on their homepage.

2. Getting Stuff into Your Library

  • Try a search in JSTOR, or Google Scholar, or the Center for Research Libraries Catalog, or any of the other sites that are compatiblewith Zotero.
    • The compatible sites list does not seem to include any archives catalogs or digital archival collections. Although the list is not very up-to-date and some sites listed as not compatible, such as the American Memory site at the Library of Congress, listed as “Not Supported” back in 2008, seem to work just fine. You can e-mail Zotero and ask them to add sites, so here’s a chance to have your archives catalog or site added!
  • Click on the folder icon in your browser, select the items you want to download and they will pop into your Library
  • You can edit them, add notes, create new libraries, create a bibliography from them, etc. All of the basics are very well covered by the Zotero Quick Start Guide, which is usually installed in your Zotero Library or which you can easily access on their website. They also have a really useful support page.

3. Helpful Tips

  • You can also import PDFs into Zotero and it will pull the metadata from the file for you. Click the “new item” button in Zotero and then again on “Store Copy of File.” Once you have uploaded the file into your library, right-click (Windows) or ctrl+click (Mac) the item and click on “Retrieve Metadata for PDF.” If metadata has been linked to the PDF, it will be imported into the metadata fields for you. Otherwise, you can enter it manually.
  • Zotero supports a wide variety of citation styles and types of sources. They also have very comprehensive support documentation on their site.


  • Watch the Zotero introductory video
  • Download the latest version of Zotero (you can also download Firefox if you haven’t already)
  • Download a word processor plugin (Zotero supports Microsoft Word and Open Office at this time)
  • Import sources for a paper you’re working on, or if you’re not working on a paper right now, import 5 sources into your Zotero library and try out different citation styles on your own, or create a group library!

Blog Prompts

  1. Does Zotero suit your professional paper-writing needs?
  2. Is the group library function useful to you?
  3. Might students participating in National History Day find Zotero useful?


  1. […] Retroland Thing 41: Analytics Thing 42: Collaborative Annotation Thing 43: Multimedia Commenting Thing 44: Organize Your Research Online Thing 45: Print On Demand Thing 46: Using Blogging Software for […]

  2. […] managers are not included on the library list and are thing 44 on the archives […]

  3. […] this Thing is an example of something that I learned about only after it would have been useful to me. Which is […]

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