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Zotero: Basics

Is this guide up to date?

2024 Zotero Problem Report:

For those using annotation styles:  Increasingly, records in our catalog (Primo) are putting data in fields that map to Zotero's Extra field.  This is the field Zotero draws upon for annotations.  So, if using an annotation style, you have to manually delete the data that sometimes automatically appears in the Extra field.


All pages on this guide were updated on Oct 15, 2022, and therefore reflect changes that came with Zotero 6, as well as some other corrections.  We haven't yet added detailed info about annotating PDFs -- but what is here should be correct, for now.  Further updates will be reflected in the "Updated On" text in the bottom left of each page.  In general you might do best by using the documentation.  Still, there is stuff here tailored to Evergreeners.

Around the world, there are hundreds of library guides to Zotero, and informally I'd say that 80% or more have outdated information at any one time.  This was one of them until the October updates, and, like most other guides of its sort,  it will get out of date again over time.  We'll do our best to keep it current, but again, Zotero's own documentation should always be current and definitive ( the Zotero forum, on the other hand,, contains all sorts of old information, but the date of every post is easy to see and there is a lot of useful stuff there for the careful reader).

Read up on the new features in Zotero 6 here, including major improvements to annotating PDFs.

Why Use Zotero?

Zotero allows you to collect, manage, and cite research sources -- especially those found or referenced on the web.  It integrates with your web browser, it is easy to use, and it's free.
Zotero makes it easy to create bibliographies, even very large ones, with a couple of mouse clicks.
Zotero allows you to attach Full Text PDFs, notes and images to your citations, and to organize them into collections for different projects.
Zotero will also save snapshots of newspaper articles, twitter threads, and other web sources which can be saved along with their citations.
Ultimately, Zotero is a way to create a library of citations, sometimes along with pdfs or snapshots with the full text of the item, which can be organized as you like and which allows you to output bibliographies of any size and in any citation format (MLA, Chicago, APA, and thousands of others).
Zotero provides some free cloud space so that you can have a local copy of your library on your own machine as well as a backup in the cloud.  This also allows you to use Zotero anywhere and on different machines while always keeping your data current.
Because it is free and open to all, you keep all your data and can continue to use Zotero after you leave Evergreen.

Getting Started: Zotero on your own laptop or desktop

We recommend that you use Zotero on your own device (desktop or laptop).  You can download and start using Zotero in less than one minute.

Step One:  Download Zotero :The Zotero download page will detect your OS and offer you the correct version of Zotero (Windows, MacOS, Linux . . .)

Step Two:  From the same Zotero download page, download the connector:  Again, the Zotero download page will detect your browser and offer you the correct connector (Chrome, Firefox, Edge).

If you want to use Zotero in multiple browsers, you need to download the connector in and for each browser you intend to use.\

Special Instructions for Safari:  The Zotero connector downloads automatically with Safari.  After downloading you need to activate the extension::

  1. From the Safari menu, go to Preferences. 
  2. Select the Extensions tab. 
  3. Select the checkbox next to the Zotero Connector. 
  4. The Zotero icon should now appear next to the URL bar,

How do I know that Zotero installed correctly?

At the end of the installation process, you should be prompted to launch Zotero.  If you do, you should see the Zotero panel.

Now, on every web page you visit, some sort of Zotero icon (known as 'connectors'  should appear in your url bar  (see Zotero Connectors for examples).

You should also be able to find Zotero in your list of Applications, and you may have a Zotero shortcut icon on your Desktop, Dock, and/or Taskbar.

How do I know that my connectors are working? 

Test this by visiting a page with a document type that Zotero recognizes:  For example, an article on the New York Times site, an article in JSTOR, a record for a book in our online catalog, etc.  When you are on the page of an individual document, the appropriate Zotero connector icon (see Zotero Connectors for examples) will appear in your URL bar.  A single click on one of these icons should create an item in your Zotero library.  For example, if you are on a page for an article from the New York Times, you should see the newspaper icon:  Newspaper Connector .  When you click on it, a new Zotero item of type "Newspaper Article" should be created, including info for author(s), article title, publication title, publication date, etc. While you are still on the web page for an item you will see a small popup window showing you that Zotero is saving the citation.  When you are looking at the Zotero panel, you'll see the new item highlighted in the central panel, and the bib details displayed in the right-hand panel.


More Info

Some Best Practices:

  • Download Zotero on your own machine at time only)
  • Create a free account at (one time only)
    • Gives you 300 MB of cloud storage 
      • This serves as a back up of your data
      • . . .  and allows you to access your most current data on any machine, anywhere
  • Either:  Make sure Zotero is set to automatically sync your data every couple of minutes (do this once and it sticks);
  • OR . . . 
    • Whenever you finish working with Zotero, synchronize your data to your cloud storage.  (Every time you use Zotero)
    • Whenever you begin working with Zotero, synchronize your data from your cloud storage. (Every time you use Zotero)
  • If you consider your Zotero data to be among your most valuable possessions, then you should make a true back up of your data on a regular basis (see Backing Up Your Data for details).

 Zotero is installed on all machines in the public labs at Evergreen.  We recommend that you use Zotero on your own machine.  The campus machines have old versions of Zotero and often old browser versions as well, which means the connectors don't work on some sites some of the time.  As of Oct 2022, the campus machines are running Zotero 5 (a whole version behind), with the result that syncing is not working.  This means that for now, the rest of this page is not relevant, and that you should use Zotero in the cloud on the campus machines, not the Zotero desktop app.

Here is what you need to know if you are using Zotero on the public machines.

  1. If you do not have an account at and if you are not syncing, then while you are working on the lab machine your Zotero data will live only on that one machine that you are using. When you logout of that machine, your data might be retrievable for a while, but don't count on it.  To reliably save your work, you'll need to set up a free Zotero account and synchronize your data with your Zotero cloud storage (see the Synchronize page for instructions).  WARNING:  As of Oct 2022, syncing is not possible from the campus machines.  You have to work directly in the cloud, not using the desktop app at all (or learn how to export and re-import zotero data, which is not covered in this guide).
  2. We strongly recommend that you have a Zotero account and synchronize your data in any case. provides 300 MB of free cloud space for your data, and using it provides a data backup in case you drop you laptop in the ocean.  It also allows you to work with your data on any machine connected to the Internet anywhere in the world -- so long as syncing is working!.
  3. The computing labs have a unique environment.  Zotero is already on every campus machine, but to get started with Zotero on a campus machine, you may have to do the following:

-- Open the Zotero app.
-- Download the Zotero Connector for the browser you are using.
-- Use the Extensions icon to pin the Zotero icon to your toolbar
-- Click on the Zotero Z icon to activate the connector.


Can I skip this entire guide and just use the extensive documentation at

Yes.  In addition to the official documentation, you will find very active user forums.  Zotero programmers often respond to users there:  look especially for the highly informed comments from Adam Smith and Dan Stillman.

But still, there are two potential advantages to using this guide,

Advantage 1:  There is some information here that is specific to the Evergreen context.  But not very much.

Advantage 2:   I have included the things that seem most important to users based on years of teaching and supporting Zotero.  And I have excluded most of the things that rarely come up.  The official documentation has an obligation to be more comprehensive.  I can at least try to exclude the more marginal stuff.  And having seen many users make the same sorts of mistakes, I can highlight those issues.

A disadvantage of using any third party guide, like this one, is that it is likely to be out-of-date in some places at some times, depending on how busy or distracted the guide author is  when the Zotero folks change something.  There is a Last Updated date in the bottom left hand corner of this page.  Assume that everything on this guide is probably current as of that date.

Zotero was originally a Firefox extension, but this changed in Summer 2017.  "Zotero for Firefox" has been retired, and Zotero now works the same way on all three supported browsers.  The term "Zotero Standalone" has also been retired.  There is now just "Zotero", available for Chrome, Safari, and Firefox.

If you used to use "Zotero for Firefox" and if you haven't used Zotero in a long time, you may still have "Zotero for Firefox" on your machine.   If so, you should follow the standard download instructions to get the current version of Zotero.  Your citations, collections, libraries, etc will transition, and most features will function as before.

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