Symbolic links between subcollections

One of the great virtues of Zotero is that items can appear in multiple collections. It is therefore possible to have a hierarchical structure of collections, with individual items appearing under more than one heading.

It would be wonderful if the same was possible for collections,
i.e. if one could create a subcollection X that internally is a pointer to an existing (sub)collection Y somewhere else in the structure in Zoteros left hand pane. Then the items and subsubcollections inside X would be (and remain to be) identical to those inside Y.

Currently I use a workaround by creating a new empty subcollection named like "Subtopic-X_See_collection_A/B/C/Y"
which then makes me move to A/B/C/Y, away from where I really want to be. This works but it is quite clumsy.

Since Zotero uses a database, would linking between subcollections be possible ? Or can one already do it somehow ?

Thanks !
  • You could certainly modify the code to do this, but I don't think we'd ever implement this. It's too complicated conceptually — it'd be extremely hard to convey or remember that the collections were the same and that making changes to one affected the other.

    What will likely happen at some point is the ability to place saved searches under other collections, at which point you could create a saved search that was just a copy of another collection. (You wouldn't be able to add items to such a saved search, but you could at least see the same items there without having to go find the other collection.)
  • (I mean, I think there are ways it could be done — say, highlighting the other symlinked collections when one was selected — but I don't think it's something we'd do in Zotero proper.)
  • I know that this point has been made several times, but I want to signal how valuable it would to be able to reference a single structure of items/sub-collections from different places in the main library. Hierarchical tags might work for this, but a symbolic link to a sub-collection would be a killer. The link could be a hyperlink -- it needn't duplicate the items. Something like the related items function would be fine. My main source of fatigue in Zotero derives from the confusions over duplicated or poorly duplicated sub-collections that deal with the same, or very similar, problems. Of course if it worked across the group libraries it would be a fantastic teaching and collaboration tool ...

    Thanks for the life-saving work.
  • edited July 18, 2020
    Please let me plead once more for symbolic links between subcollections. Please ! Zotero has now become almost unusable for my scientific work (yet I depend on it completely), because the list of folders and subfolders has become unmanageable. The *sole* reason is the lack of hyperlinks in the folder structure. Too many collections in subfolders belong to several higher level topics at once.
    The workaround described in my original post, namely manual pointers, means that I have to hunt back an forth in a very long linear folder structure all the time (since Zotero only offers a single window). The alternative, namely moving or copying of subfolders, while convenient in the short term, has let to an awkward forked and inconsistent structure.
    I fully agree with the previous comment by kdb_research. No folders need to be duplicated. All we need is the equivalent of hyperlinks. On the level of library items, Zotero already does just that: an item can reside in several collections at once.
    However, the present folder structure of Zotero is very similar to an internet without hyperlinks (!), where one manually has to type in each reference (while working in a single window, without a back-button), or where each reference is replaced by the full copied, and quickly outdated, contents of that webpage.
    For a really big collection, this is unworkable.
    Could you *please* help ? Thank you.
  • Can you give a concrete example of a use case for this?
  • edited July 19, 2020
    Thank you for asking. And thank you again for Zotero, which has been a life-saver.

    I collect research papers in Zotero. They need to be accessible from several different avenues, which means different hierachies, for example research topics, techniques, projects, students, grants, individual papers,...

    Topic A (e.g. materials)
    -> subtopic 1, -> -> subsubtopics a,b,c
    -> subtopic 2, -> -> subsubtopics b,d,e ("b" appears again)
    -> subtopic 3, ....
    Topic B (e.g. models for materials)
    -> subtopic 2, (again)
    -> subtopic 4, ....
    Technique TA
    -> subclass T1 -> -> applications to materials from subtopic 3 above, ...
    -> subclass T2 ....
    Technique TB
    -> ...
    Project P1
    -> material from subtopic 4, -> -> technique subclass T2 above...
    Project P2....
    Student S1..., Student S2...
    Grant G1, Grant G2...
    Paper p1, Paper p2,....

    and so on. The actual research library now contains, after many years of use, more than a thousand subcollections when fully expanded, with hierarchies deeper than in the example above, and naturally interconnected.
    The structure is similar to the connectivity of the internet (the web!), where you use hyperlinks (=pointers) to point to some webpage from any other page.
    In a Unix filesystem, such a structure is effortless to implement with symbolic links.

    Copies of collections will not work: when looking at publications in, say, collection subsubtopic a, there will often be new citations to these papers. Some new citations (Zotero items) have to be added to the subsubtopic. But it needs to stay up to date and consistent everywhere.

    On the level of items (individual papers), Zotero is so enormously useful (thank you!) because an item can be in many collections at once, i.e. the collections contain pointers (=links) to the actual item.
    On the level of Zotero collections, the same functionality is unfortunately missing.
  • Of course I strongly agree with oldtimer on this. Without a means of linking to structures of collections a large Zotero collection is, eventually, always going to become a bewildering mess. (With fragments of similar or repeated collections distributed in a disorderly way through the collection tree).

    The question is really -- what can we do to make it possible?
  • +1 to all of this. I would find this very valuable for the reasons oldtimer and kdb_research explain.
  • +1 for me as well, with the same use case as described above by oldtimer.
  • +1 from my side as well.
    A tree graph cannot accurately capture the connections between research areas, and yet the current folder structure imposes this limitation.
    Instead of a traditional folder structure, how about showing an actual, general graph in the UI? Adding a new collection would mean adding a new node that one can optionally connect in complex ways to existing nodes. No need to automatically replicate the items in the "parent" nodes, just showing symlinks/pointers inside a node's content is enough at least for my use case.
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