Mastering Zotero

A user guide for the Zotero reference manager

By Sebastian Karcher and Rintze M. Zelle

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Chapter Contents


Availability and Licensing

The guide “Mastering Zotero” is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported license. The source materials for this guide will always be made freely available, as well as a formatted PDF version. The authors reserve the right to sell eBook and print versions.

Even if you are reading a free version of this guide, consider purchasing a copy to thank the authors for their contributions to Zotero and the Citation Style Language.

We would like to point out that the official Zotero documentation wiki is licensed under the more restrictive Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported license. Since we wish to sell print copies of our guide, we made sure not to copy any material from the Zotero wiki. We both have made significant contributions to the Zotero wiki in the past, which can explain similarities in style and layout. Because of this license incompatibility, no material from this guide should be copied into the Zotero wiki, and vice versa.

About the Authors

Sebastian Karcher - I have been using Zotero since early 2008, when I switched my OS to Linux and looked for a new reference manager for my dissertation and related work. Where Rintze is among the first 1000 Zotero users, I’m among the first 2500 (going by account numbers). I slipped into supporting and developing Zotero by accident. The first time I edited a citation style was for “CiteFest”, a competition-style event organized by Northwestern University library to compare reference managers (needless to say, team Zotero won). Since then I have added or corrected hundreds of CSL styles. Under the patient tutelage of Avram Lyon and Simon Kornblith I started writing Zotero translators in 2011, teaching myself basic JavaScript along the way. Together with Aurimas Vinckevicius I now perform the largest share of maintenance and development work on Zotero translators.

Using the nick “adamsmith,” I also spend a good amount of time supporting users on the Zotero forums (currently counting over 20,000 posts, just edging out lead developer Dan Stillman as the most frequent contributor). Because of my involvement there, in 2012 Zotero director Sean Takats asked me to revive the Zotero trainer workshops. During these events, librarians and other people teaching Zotero get an in-depth look at the software together with tricks on how to teach it. I have since taught workshops across the US and even in France via Skype. This book grew partly out of my idea to write a handbook for these workshops.

I am currently finishing my dissertation in political science at Northwestern University on the role of business in labor market politics since 1980 in Argentina, Germany, and the US.

Rintze M. Zelle - I started using Zotero in 2007 during my PhD studies in biotechnology at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, after I had grown unhappy with the (commercial) reference manager available for our research group. The then newly released Zotero wasn’t perfect either, but it had an attractive interface and showed a lot of promise. At that time I was also looking for an open source project to contribute to, and Zotero fit the bill perfectly for someone like me who had, and has, little programming experience. Soon I started a patchwork of contributions, covering bug reports, user forum support, user documentation, a now long-deprecated NSIS-based installer for Zotero’s Word plugin (of which I once was very proud), web translators, Scaffold (a tool to write web translators), citation styles, translations to Dutch, and even a few code patches for the Zotero client itself.

As I was using Zotero to write my scientific papers, I became aware of limitations in the Citation Style Language (CSL) styles used by Zotero. I joined the CSL project in 2008, and started advocating improvements to make CSL more useful for my work. Frank G. Bennett (the creator of MultiLingual Zotero and the citeproc-js CSL processor used by Zotero) soon joined. As Frank started his work on rewriting the CSL processor for Zotero, I started a close collaboration with Frank and Bruce D’Arcus (the creator of CSL) to push development forward. I wrote most of the project’s documentation, including the CSL specification, designed new features, maintained the CSL schema as well as the various code repositories, and orchestrated the CSL releases. As CSL has matured, I now spend most time on accepting user contributions to the CSL style repository (and lately, on writing this guide).

I currently work fulltime as a scientist in biotechnology at Mascoma Corporation in New Hampshire, where I try to metabolically engineer baker’s yeast for improved biofuel production.

Why We Wrote This Book

Zotero already has its own documentation, so why did we write this guide? Well, we had the following reasons:


Due to their popularity and open source nature, Zotero and CSL both have a cast of thousands. We’re especially indebted to Zotero-developers Dan Stillman and Simon Kornblith, CSL developer Bruce D’Arcus, and CSL/citeproc-js/MultiLingual Zotero developer Frank G. Bennett.

We also would like to thank all contributors to the Zotero documentation wiki, from which we have drawn inspiration.