Zotero for document management

Hi everybody,

I don't know if this is normal, but I've increasingly found that I store "accessory" files to papers and things in zotero. So, for a paper announcing a dataset, I'll routinely store the dataset, script files to manipulate the data, etc. in addition to the pdf of the paper itself.

Anyway, this got me thinking that Zotero actually is in decent shape to act as a standalone document management system. Nothing prevents me from adding an item marked as a manuscript or document with me as the author and then associating the necessary subfiles (the document, etc.) with the entry.

I was wondering if anybody really does this or has experience with that approach. Do people use zotero as a document management system? It seems like it has most everything there you would need. Actually, the only real addition one would need would be a way to treat the zotero storage folder like a drive of sorts.

So does anybody use zotero that way? Any recommendations? Also, are there any plans to develop ways to interface with zotero data through the OS?

  • edited April 3, 2009
    I do use it to store preprints, informally circulated manuscripts and all sorts of other unpublished stuff. It's quite interesting to be able to consult the various iterations of a scientific article, for example.

    Even important emails from peers or collaborators go into Zotero. After all, if "Personal communication" can be cited, there had better be a way to actually store it systematically. Zotero offers such a way. On that note, it would be extremely cool if one simply could forward an email to Zotero.
  • Mark, how do you get emails into Zotero? I haven't found a way that's very practical.
  • Hi all, I actually do the same. I also use zotero as a file manager. I try to save most of my documents under one folder, and then point zotero to them. This allows me to use Zotero as a database search engine in my computer.

    One thing that doesn't work nicely is when I moved zotero from one folder to another, or changed from drive D: to E: I lost all the links to the documents.
    this is a problem when you upgrade to a new computer.

  • Yeah... The big thing I was thinking is that to really use Zotero this way, you need one critical thing: a virtual drive for the storage folder.

    So, imagine you had a drive on your computer (we'll just say Z) and when you open it, you see folders for all of your zotero items that fit some criteria specified in the settings - maybe "Documents" and "Manuscripts". Each folder is just the title of the document. Inside the folder then you have all of the attachments. If you were to add another file to that folder, it would automatically attach to the item in zotero. Accordingly, "Z:\Mike's Paper\Version 1.doc" or something, would give me access to that word document so that I can open it normally in Word without having to find it's specific folder in Zotero.

    I think it something like that existed then there would be no real reason to not use zotero for document management.
  • Also, are there any plans to develop ways to interface with zotero data through the OS?
    Almost certainly not in the short term as a core part of the extension. Techno-babble follows:

    This seems to be an edge-case to me (though it may also be somewhat-related to the request for human-readable directory names in the zotero directory). I don't know how implementation would work. If you depend on Firefox to be open for the virtual drive, I suppose your FS driver could talk with it (as the word processor plugins do now). But would you really want to depend on Firefox to be open for your virtual drive to work? If not, you should know that SQLite allows only one client write access to the database (and Windows and networked file systems do not guarantee that multiple clients will have read access). You'd also need some way to update the filesystem when zotero make changes or to update the zotero database when you make changes to the filesystem.

    You may also get gripes about how files are presented: why titles over authors? or collections or tags?

    File system drivers are still mostly platform-specific. FUSE would work on Linux out-of-the-box & MacFUSE seems to be OK, but FUSE on Windows lags much farther behind (think only xp-32 works). A tool that does this would have to be written several times.

    It isn't a bad idea, but it is not trivial & the list of things on the road map seem to be both easier to implement & more important (as in they'd be used by a lot of people & would offer bigger improvements than not being inconvenienced by either using Zotero as your file browser or relying on your OS's search capabilities to find items in the Zotero folder).
  • Thanks noksagt... Interesting writeup.

    Yeah - that's why I was asking. It seems like Zotero has much of the logic in place to handle data like that, but it's not surprising that it would be difficult to do. Too bad as well about SQLite. If multiple clients could simultaneously write to the db, then the hope for future, non-firefox-based, plugins would be greater.
  • I don't use Zotero for this stuff, and I probably wouldn't personally advocate it. But the Zotero data model isn't really up to doing this well; there are no fine-grained relations, nor any notion of document versions (though the former could perhaps handle that use case).
  • CB: I just add them manually (there is an item type 'email') and append the text of a email as a note.
  • Wrt to mryckman's idea of having a "virtual drive for the storage folder" and noksagt's suggestion to use FUSE to realize it: because I wanted to have (read-only) file system access to my zotero collection hierarchy, and I was
    curious whether it can be done in the way suggested by noksagt, at
    https://github.com/hblasum/zotero-fs there is a proof-of-concept
    mounting a local Zotero 5.0.80 sqlite3 database as virtual file system
    on a Linux client. Mostly wrote it for personal usage, but disclosing
    this here in case someone wants to experiment. NB: this is just several
    hundred LoC, the maturity level is proof-of-concept, not product.
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