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More on adding items to Zotero - and dealing with metadata issues

It needs to be emphasised that Zotero import is only as good as the metadata an online source provides.

  • You should check metadata after adding new items, especially if not familiar with the source
  • Often some editing or tidying up will be needed.
  • Occasionally the results might not be what you expect at all…

Multiple import

Many catalogues and search engines will show a folder icon in search results pages which enables you to import multiple items from the results list.

Example: BL Main Catalogue

This is convenient for rapidly adding a lot of references for subsequent weeding and editing (eg, when exploring sources for a new or proposed research project).

Examples of BL catalogues that work well

Example: Execution of John Addison, ESTC

(click through to item, then click on book icon to add to Zotero)

This is pretty good - it’s got the right item type, author, publisher, date.


  • Add URL (use permalink in catalogue entry)
  • Add call no. (ESTC reference)
  • Add a short title (!)
  • Any more…? (perhaps depends on specific research needs)

The same item captured via the main catalogue rather than ESTC:

A caveat about the main catalogue: it works for well for some types of items (books, articles, etc), but less well for others (sound and moving image).

Examples of problematic Catalogues

After import, metadata will probably need some (or a lot of) editing:

Example: Arundel 14

Errmmm… where to start?!

What has really happened here is that the importer has grabbed the metadata for the web page, not the catalogue data. So the Zotero icon can be deceptive.

Again, compare results of capturing the item via the main Archives & MSS catalogue:

This is better, though there are some odd things going on! Still, it’s not very helpful for people who need to work with the specialist catalogue (but it does suggest that better integration ought to be possible).

The issues with this manuscript more generally point to Zotero’s possible limitations for handling specialised materials. There are two possible item types available - Manuscript or Document - but they can’t really cover the rich descriptive elements of manuscript descriptions (though these could be added as attachments), and then there are the uncertainties that crop up with pre-modern texts - dating, authorship, place of production, etc.

Manually Adding Items

What to do when a catalogue or website isn’t Zoterified, or you need to add an item that doesn’t have a webpage/URL at all?

Example: The Penitent Highwayman (English Broadside Ballads Archive)

Create item from current page (as webpage item type), edit metadata as required (eg, add date of post and author).

  • An alternative way to access this feature: right-click on the page > Zotero > “Create web page item from current page”

Or add manually - choose an item type and create from scratch.

  • it’s often worth using ‘create item from current page’ even if you’ll have to edit most fields, because it automatically provides the page URL and a timestamp.
  • manual add is often most useful when you want to add a reference that has no online location at all

Adding Attachments

You can attach links, a snapshot of a webpage, files from your computer or from the web, etc, to items. You can add as many different ‘child’ notes and attachments to any Zotero item as you like.

(You can also save notes and items directly to Zotero without needing to attach them to anything, but they’ll have more limited metadata and options. I’d recommend generally creating some sort of parent item for objects if possible.)

Example: John Addison, Ordinary’s Account

(note the case icon)

The OBO translator doesn’t automatically attach a page snapshot [though allegedly it’s supposed to], so if you want a copy of the text in order to be able to search it, you need to attach one manually. (A tip with Old Bailey Online, and anywhere else the option is available: attach the ‘Print-friendly version’ rather than the fully formatted page!)

Open the page you want to attach in your browser, and the Zotero pane. Then you can either:

  • select the item in Zotero that you want to attach the open page to and click on the paperclip button for attachment options;
  • or right-click on the item in Zotero to open up the attachment menu


  • You can rename the attachment by clicking in the title
  • You can tag attachments and/or link them to other objects using the Related tab



Notes are another kind of attachment: click on the Notes tab > “Add” button. You can quickly type or paste in rich-text notes, transcripts, summaries - any kind of annotation that seems useful.

Example: Add the formattted OBO citation (“Cite this text”) from the Addison Ordinary’s Account as a note

  • just copy and paste - it will look like this:


Organising Items

You can use collections, tags and relationships to organise and link items.

Collections and sub-collections

Example: Create a Collection titled “Crime” - copy all the highwaymen and other crime-related references gathered earlier into it.

To add a new top-level collection click on the New Library button (top, furthest left) or right-click on My Library for dialogue

To add a new sub-collection right click on its parent collection and select ‘New Subcollection’

To add an item or items to a collection, just select, drag and drop.

Drag and drop copies items rather than moving them. If you want to remove an item from a collection, right-click on it and select ‘Remove from Collection’. (This does not delete the item from your Library; to do that, select ‘Move to Trash’ instead.)

If you have the Zotero pane open in a collection or sub-collection, items will directly import there.
“My Library” is a big bucket for everything; you can’t remove items from it (except by deleting them completely). But you can remove items from any other collection without deleting them from the library: right click and select ‘remove from collection’.


In item view, go to the Tags tab.

  • click on the ‘Add’ button to add a new tag and type whatever you want
  • (after that, you can just hit Enter to complete the tag and start a new one)
  • click in existing tags to edit them
  • delete tags using the - button to the right of each tag

Example: tag the Life of John Addison reference with “highway robbery”

(You could tidy up that messy auto-imported tag at the top too!)

Tags Library

This is located at the bottom of the Collections section on the left hand side of the Zotero pane. If you can’t see it, you should be able to see a (very small!) circle at the bottom of the Collections: click on it to open the tags library.

You can drag and drop single or multiple items into tags in the Tags Library, and you can also edit and delete tag names here.

Example: select all the other highwaymen references and drag and drop them into the “highway robbery” tag.

Differences between collections and tags?

  • Collections are hierarchical and folder-like (though items can be in multiple collections)
  • Tags are portable, but collections are not: copying individual items between Zotero libraries will transfer their tags, but not their collection placements.

I generally use collections to group in broad themes and tags for detailed classification, but everyone tends to find their own way.

See: Collections and Tags [zotero]

Relationships: another option

You can also link items by creating a relationship between them, using the ‘Related’ tab.

Importing and Exporting Data

Import and Export Options

You can import entire libraries from other software, such as Endnote. Zotero recognises a number of formats.


Similarly, you can also export libraries in various structured data formats (including BibTex, XML), as well as formatted bibliographies. Right-click on the collection or selection of items you want to export and choose the “Export Collection” or “Export Items” option. You will see a dialogue to choose your required data format and any available options for that format (eg whether to export notes or files with the references) before downloading.


Exporting from Libraries at

You can also export single or multiple items from personal or group libraries on the website:

Click on the export button and a dialogue will come up allowing you to choose a format to download. You will then be able to import this reference into your Zotero library or another reference manager or tool. (As far as I know, it does not export attachments; you’d need to upload those separately.)

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This page was last modified on January 30, 2015, at 04:34 PM