collections vs libraries


I'm a fairly new user but I'm finding the relationship between collections and the library awkward. And would like to suggest that multiple libraries be made possible and/or some changes to the way collections work.

eg I just deleted 2 really large collection that I'd imported but didn't realise at the time that doing so wouldn't delete the items in doing so. I was then left with a situation that i couldn't delete the items easily without also deleting the scattering of other items that weren't in the collection (and which I wanted to keep). I don't think that behaviour is very intuitive. It would be better if a) all items that are solely in that collection are deleted as well (but others aren't) or b) a dialogue comes up and asks what the user would like.

I have some quite discrete collections of reference material that I don't want to mix up - some are shared projects with others that include reference I don't think are particularly valuable. For these I really wish I could have a completely independent library where there is no possibility of me doing something stupid like I did today (see above) and having to spend ages reorganising the reference that I didn't want affected.


  • I also just noticed when I exported my library (I just lost a note I'd written using 1.5 beta so I'm going to work in endnote for a while) that it exports everything in the trash as well as the other collections. Again this seems unintuitive. So I have to empty my trash and export again.
  • I'll bite: could you tell us how you "lost a note?"
  • I actually like the collections a lot - and the fact that I can store my items in multiple (virtual) collections without duplicating the data. I only think it would be cool, if in the middle pane you could also add a "collections"-menu so that you could sort for your collections, too and not only for author etc. That would help you deleting all items belonging to a special collection more easily, especially if it was not created on a single day and you therefore can't sort by date.
    With regard to (the future possibility of) publishing/sharing the library however, I think Nathan is right and it would be good to have more librarys (a public one and a private one for instance) or at least a possibility to mark different collections for different purposes (private, share with grouo X only, share with everyone...)
  • If you really want to run completely independent libraries you can do so through multiple Firefox profiles.

    In the future there will also be more refined permissions set ups for sharing individual collections and subcollections.
  • Hi,

    Really sorry Sean didn't mean to make you want to bite. Had a frustrating day trying to enter some references that I had read the day before - I couldn't sync my library, I was finding it a little awkward to download the pdfs into zotero, had the problem I described above of trying to delete the references in 2 collection and then lost the note. Just frustrated.

    I don't really know how I lost the note - I wrote some of it, then tried to down load the pdf and copy a quote from it (which didn't work) and when I went back to the note it was still there but the text was gone! Don't Know. Will keep trying with Zotero.

    I will reply in regard to collections/libraries separately.


  • Hi,

    I do really like the collections idea, it is great to have subsets of related references and as Carina points out references often fit in multiple categories. But I have found categories awkward and as I have thought about it more think that there is a really big problem with the way 'collections' are conceived in Zotero. there seems to be a mismatch in how collections are conceived of before and after importation, and the term 'collections' is misleading because collections are actually just tags - I think the analogy of collection opens up a can of worms because it implies a discrete entity and perhaps implies that all references should be part of some collection (neither are true). Other might point out I'm confused but I'll explain:

    The problem I had of not being able to delete the references associated with a particular collection is a good example. Groups of references are imported as collections but once imported the 'collection' is actually only a tag and doesn't facilitate any data manipulation. What if someone wants to manipulate groups of reference in the same way (e.g. delete them all)? Well you cannot very easily. Because collections/tags aren't designed to provide any 'ownership' of the references there is no way to manipulate groups of references in Zotero. As in my case, it is quite conceivable that someone would want to manipulate groups of references in the same way and it is what I intuitively tried to do-without understanding Zotero.

    On the other hand when importing collections they are not merely tags. I used to setup separate endnote libraries for every paper I wrote (collections in Zotero are a much better way to go). But when I import each of these different libraries into Zotero as collections I ended up with so many duplicates I had to delete the whole lot and start again. So when importing 'collections' were not being treated as just tags but discrete groups of references, all of which were imported.

    This ambiguity has got me into the 2 awkward situations I've just described. I'm suggesting the solutions might be:

    1) For Zotero to facilitate multiple libraries that really are discrete collections - in some cases this is appropriate because people really do want to keep things separate and maintain full ability manipulate them independently.

    2) To give collections limited ability to manipulate their linked references - to make them fit better with the analogy of a 'collection'. This is tricky because we wouldn't want people accidentally deleting references when they only want to delete the collection/tag. That why I suggested having a dialogue which gives the individual the option to delete these references. I guess the alternative might be to recognise that collection are really just tags - but I don't favour this.

    3) There needs to be a way of dealing with duplicates - I know mention of this is probably boring because so many people for so long have requested it. But if collections are treated as real discrete collections on importing there is a huge potential for importing duplicates, that are even more difficult to manipulate or make sense of afterwards because the collections are then treated as merely tags (e.g. if I have 6 duplicates of reference each associated with a different collection, how do I delete 5 of the references and maintain the link to the various 'collections' - really really awkward.

    Thanks Tjowens for your suggestion but I think it sounds like a slightly awkward solution and doesn't really solve the problem I'm identifying here.

    Happy to hear if I've got everything wrong!


  • What if someone wants to manipulate groups of reference in the same way (e.g. delete them all)?
    Select All, right-click, Delete Selected Items from Library.

    The library/grouping metaphor is a pretty standard one used by lots of software (e.g. iTunes). The problem you describe importing from EndNoteĀ® is legitimate, but it's an unavoidable result of design differences. (For what it's worth, if you did have an item in six completely separate libraries, and you needed to make a change to one, you'd have to edit it six times. In Zotero you edit it once.) How other software organizes references shouldn't affect the design of Zotero.

    Duplicate detection is planned.
  • Hi,

    thanks Dan for your comment. Of course you are right, and if I had know this before I could have deleted the contents of the collections first rather than having to export all my other collections & miscellaneous references, delete all the remaining references, and then reimport and references I wanted to keep.

    But the fact that you can do it doesn't mean that doing it the way you mentioned is intuitive for someone who isn't a deeply familiar with the software as yourself (perhaps its better to say that it isn't idiot proof - as I proved ;)). Why would anyone think that deleting a collection wouldn't also delete its contents? (works with folders on computers, etc). The consequences were also pretty annoying - perhaps completely disastrous if I'd had lot of miscellaneous references (just too much work to recover). I think Zotero should actively prevent this kind of problem, not allow me to so easily stuff it up.

    I also still think the added functionality I've suggested (multiple libraries and the ability to manipulated references using collections) would make it a bit more intuitive and easier to handle ones references.


  • In my opinion, multiple libraries (e.g. databases) makes no sense at all. If you want to segment out different kinds of stuff, that's what collections are for.
  • Bruce -- if you use Zotero for *very* different kinds of stuff, the quick search quickly becomes almost useless, often presenting lots of results irrelevant to the purpose at hand. Advanced searches also become more convoluted if you always have to include a 'collection' search term.

    I did use Zotero for both research and more general-purpose (personal, domestic, misc.) stuff for a while, but found it generally a bit messy for this reason amongst others.
  • For what it's worth I've only used Zotero for a few hours and grokked that collections allow you to organize items, and that deleting the collection would just remove that categorization. I "intuitively" knew that the proper way to actually remove items would be to first click on the Collection and then use the middle pane to actually remove them.

    As far as having separate Libraries goes, instead of using different FireFox profiles as Tjowens suggested, couldn't you also use the Advanced Preferences tab and set up separate Custom storage locations?
  • You can, but then you shouldn't use the sync functionality (or change the login info by hand anytime you switch libraries).
  • @CB: I use delicious (and magnolia before the meltdown) for miscellaneous stuff not related to research.
  • Bruce -- similar solution in my case, only using Evernote. It's not free but for a commercial app it is remarkably open (I'd love to see some interop facilities between it and Zotero).
  • From above:

    Dan Stillman
    Feb 25th 2009

    (For what it's worth, if you did have an item in six completely separate libraries, and you needed to make a change to one, you'd have to edit it six times. In Zotero you edit it once.)

    I was accidentally putting notes on items in My Library instead of one of my Group Libraries. It did not sync and reproduce the notes into the same item in the Group Library. I had to copy/paste the note from the item in My Library to the same item within the Group Library. Do the changes mentioned above mean changes in bibliographical citation and not notes? Thanks!
  • The above discussion predates group library functionality. Items in groups are separate (but linked behind-the-scenes to allow for the possibility of additional functionality later).
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