Roles for group libraries: a proposal

In various places we've seen requests for additional roles and a more fine-grained permission system in group libraries ([1], [2], [3], and links therein). My goal here is to make a very specific proposal in the hope to spur development of the groups functionality.

Although a finegrained permission system (where permissions can be set per user) would be the most flexible, a useful first way to implement it would be to have something like the following set of user roles:

  • viewer: can only see items (but not notes or attachments)

  • subscriber: can see items, notes and attachments

  • contributor: can add items, notes and attachments, and edit/remove only their own contributions

  • editor: can add, edit and remove all items

  • administrator: can do all the above plus group rename, delete, and managing user roles

  • owner: is an administrator to whose storage the group attachments are counted (there can be only one owner)

If we have roles like this, it would give us the possibility to maintain different types of group libraries: a broadcast model, with a lot of "subscribers" and a smaller group of "editors" and "administrators"; a contribute model, with many "contributors" and a few "editors"; and a collaborate model, with mostly "editors" who can all work together. Intermediate versions would be possible. It all would be much more useful than the current rigid distinction between public groups (viewers only) and closed groups (editors only).

* the "viewer" role is essentially what is currently the anonymous user who comes by and browses a public group. However, non-public groups too would be helped by such a role, as in cases where you want to share a bibliography with someone without giving them access to all your PDFs.
* all user roles can can be given to multiple users, except for the "owner" role, of which there always has to be only and can be no more than one one.
* I have not thought deeply about what the respective user roles should be able to do with notes and attachments, but a reasonable first stab would be to inherit permissions from top-level items. I am aware however that some have requested that permissions for top-level items and attachments be manageable separately so this may need more thought.
  • I definitely agree - I have set up a pretty large-scale group bibliography for a scholarly society, including piping the contents through to the society website via zotpress (for the curious, details are here:
    The aim is of course to have a fairly large contributor base of Zotero users who can add references, BUT, and that's a fairly large but, in the current set-up it would only take one careless or otherwise haphazard user with editing rights to delete substantial parts of the bibliography.
    My ideas on 'viewers' and 'subscribers' are less definite, but having 'contributors' separately from 'editors' would be a huge bonus for my use case.
    And perhaps 'owners' could be 'administrators' and thus several people in one group?
  • @clio_13, yeah, I used "owner" because that is the current term but there should definitely be the possibility to have more than one owner, as I also noted in the proposal. That limitation is one of the annoyances of the current system.
  • There can only be one owner because that's whose account storage usage is counted against.
  • edited August 29, 2012
    That makes sense. In that case, we would be served well with an added "administrator" role. Proposal amended accordingly.

    I would appreciate any information on how this proposal fares in the eyes of the developing powers that be. From the many threads in the forums it appears many users are looking forward for the groups functionality to improve. However, since much of the discussion is somewhat diffused and distributed over many threads, I'm hoping a concrete proposal is a useful contribution.
  • Can anyone which trac or dev-list knowledge enlighten me on whether things are moving on this front? Has this proposal been considered, used, improved, superceded, judged redundant, found useless, ignored?

    (I apologize for being a forum-only user, but I simply cannot keep tabs on all the different dev resources and yet I am interested in learning what happens when I spend time proposing interface improvements like this — and whether I should keep doing it...)
  • I'd assume that thoughtful requests are appreciated - IIRC a number of your suggestions have made it into Zotero one way or the other in the past. But as you know some of them take time.

    Things related to groups and the web interface are almost never discussed on zotero-dev and website changes only appear on trac when they are implemented - so core devs would be the only people to say.
  • Thanks. I know time is not on our side and I have learned to be patient, or at least more patient than I used to be. I also know and appreciate that several of my suggestions have made it into Zotero over the years. On this specific point, I have also noticed that changes to website and groups functionality are the most difficult to find out about, so I do hope core devs can provide some insight here
  • I am interested in learning what happens when I spend time proposing interface improvements like this — and whether I should keep doing it...
    (I can't comment on this at the moment, but as an aside, I think you've actually had more suggestions make it into Zotero than just about anyone else here, so, yes, please do keep doing it.)
  • edited June 14, 2012
    @Dan, glad to hear that.

    Hoping to hear further details about this from other devs.

    I am seriously using Zotero Groups in a handful of projects now and we run into these limitations quite often, as when people inadvertently delete items or attachments. And even though we would like to share the group library more widely, we find we simply cannot do it until more fine-grained viewing and subscribing options are in place — and until default views for public bibliographies are more sensible and pretty.
  • I have a question - my company started a Zotero group to organize our research documents. The owner of the group, our research librarian, is now a former employee. Everything about the group is still working fine but I would like to transfer "ownership" to myself. Is there a way to do this without having the owner involved?
  • not easily, no. For obvious (security) reason you need the owner to agree to a transfer of ownership.
    If this _really_ can't be done the folks at Zotero might be willing to help you out, but I don't know the protocol for that.
  • Hi,

    Just wanted to support Mark's proposal and offer one suggestion. I've got a group that's currently in development mode and have wanted to expand the mmembers, but have been concerned about deletions.

    Mark obviously has put a bit of thought into the member types and I can't see much fault. I am a fan of KISS, but I don't think he's made it too complicated.

    The one suggestion I might make is to think about limiting the ability to "empty the trash". Deletions is the key issue I think. If these were "reversible" until cleared by someone with higher level privileges, would go a long way to addressing concerns.

    More complicated, but potentially more useful, would be a change log where all changes could be reviewed. On balance I think the pareto optimal solution is to just restrict the rights to empty the trash.

    Cheers, Brian
  • Thanks for your support Brian. This is one of those issues where input from the relevant developers would be helpful (Dan Stillman has commented, but said "Can't comment on this at the moment"). Seems to me many people are looking for something like this but it is unclear what improvements, if any, have been planned.
  • More threads testifying to the need for improvement: [1], [2], [3].
  • I am trying to build a collaborative bibliography and decide that Zotero is the best tool around.
    Also, I agree with many of the concerns here (especially the deleting problem) and I think that what Mark proposed could be very important, especially the idea of many contributors that can work only on their own contribution, with a small number of editor (maybe even only one) that are responsible for the overall bibliography.
    I will stay with Zotero as long as I am confident that something similar will eventually be implemented, otherwise I will have to find a new tool.
  • Obviously any news on the subject would be much appreciated.
  • I think Mark's suggestions are very flexible, and my work could also benefit from a more nuanced permission system.
  • I am curious, are there any updates related to this topic?
  • Still interested in seeing this progressed and wondering if there are any plans. I think Mark's detailed suggestion above is good, but would be be happy with an interim fix along the lines of an earlier proposal he put forward [1], which simply created the ability to make items in a library public, but restricting attachments to group members (assuming that might be an "easy" way to take one step forward).
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