Zotero offers two principal ways of keeping your library organized:

  • Collections are similar to file folders and can be used to group your citations by project, by class, by assignment, or other ways that make sense to you. 
  • Tags are keywords that can be assigned to each citation. Most Zotero users use this function for the topics a citation is about, though there are other use cases, too. 

If you would like to brainstorm about how best to organize your Zotero library, make an appointment with a Harvard librarian


examples of collections within a Zotero libraryCollections are a great way to organize your Zotero library into smaller, more manageable components. You can create and use collections however it makes most sense to you: by topic, by project, by class—there are no hard rules, really. For larger projects, you can also create subcollections, e.g., for individual chapters of a long research paper or thesis, or for separating out different kinds of material, like research literature, interviews, and datasets. 

Create Collections

To create a new collection

  1. Click the yellow icon that looks like a file folder  , above the library pane. 
  2. Enter a name for your collection. 
  3. Start adding items to your new collection:
    • To add items that are already in your Zotero library (just in a different collection): 
      1. Go back to your My Library view.
      2. Search for the items you want to add to the new collection. 
      3. Select the items you want to add in the center pane and drag them onto the new collection in the collections pane on the left. 
    • To add citations that aren't already in your Zotero library, follow the usual steps for adding citations

To create a new subcollection

  1. Right-click on an existing collection.
  2. Select "New Subcollection" from the context menu. 
  3. Enter a name for the subcollection. 
  4. Add citations to the subcollection as described above. 

Important: Collections don't really behave like folders on your computer, but rather like labels in Gmail. If you have an item that belongs in different collections, you don't need to make copies of that item; it can belong to many different collections at once, and any changes you make to the item (including adding file attachments and notes or editing the metadata) will be reflected in all collections it is a part of. 

Different Views of Collections and Subcollections 

By default, the center pane will only show the items in the collection or subcollection selected in the collections pane on the left. In other words, you won't see items that are in subcollections to the collection you're in. 

To change this, go to the View menu and toggle the option to "View Items from Subcollections." This will now show you all items in your collection and in the subcollections contained in it. This may be useful, for example, if you're creating a bibliography from a collection that includes subcollections. 

view items from subcollections menu option

Moving Citations Between Collections and Deleting Citations from Collections 

If an item ended up in the wrong collection, or if you simply want to delete an item from a collection, do the following: 

  1. Drag the item to the collection you would like to add it to. You can also right-click (control-click on a Mac) on the item, select "Add to Collection" on the context menu, and then browse to the collection you would like to move the citation to. 
  2. Right-click (control-click on a Mac) on the item and select "Remove Item from Collection." This will delete the item from the collection but will keep it in your Zotero library. 

Important tips:

  • If you select the "Move Item to Trash" option instead, this will delete the item from this collection and all other collections, as well as from your Zotero library. 
  • If you accidentally imported duplicate items at some point, do not delete (move to trash) one of them because you may accidentally delete it from collections. Instead, use Zotero's Merge function. 

Deleting Collections 

Should you ever want to delete a collection or subcollection, be aware that there are two deletion modes and proceed with caution: 

  • If you want to delete the collection or subcollection but want to keep the citations in it, right-click on the collection and select "Delete Collection," or the folder icon with a red minus sign. This will delete the collection but will keep the items in it in your Zotero library. 
  • If you want to delete the collection or subcollection and the items in it, right-click on the collection and select "Delete Collection and Items," or the trash can icon. This will delete the collection and all items in it; it will also delete these citations from your Zotero library and all other collections they may be a part of



Tags are keywords you can assign to items. They can be anything you like—most often they're used to describe the topics an item is about, but some users have also used them to mark the status of an item (e.g., read or unread), assign responsibility (e.g., in a shared group library), or even just to color-code it (e.g., the color of books in a personal library). 

Tags are searchable through the Zotero search box and browsable through the tag pane in the bottom left corner of your Zotero window. 

Tags can be imported from databases along with citation information or they can be added manually. We highly recommend disabling the automatic tagging feature and instead tag manually because the former will clutter your tag cloud, while the latter allows you to tailor your tagging system to your individual needs. 

Adding Tags

To tag an item:

  1. Select the "Tags" tab in the item detail pane on the right. location of the tag pane and add tag button
  2. Click on the "Add" button. 
  3. Type the tag that you want to apply in the box and hit enter. 
    Note: If a tag already exists that starts with the same combination of letters, it will pop up, and you can select the one you want by clicking on it. 
  4. Add as many tags as necessary. 
  5. All tags you added to the item should now also appear, in alphabetical order in the tag pane on the bottom left of your Zotero window. (See below for more information on the tag pane.) 

If you want to tag multiple items with the same tag at once, do the following: 

  1. Make sure that the tag you want to apply already exists: 
    • If the tag appears in the tag pane, you're good to go. 
    • If the tag doesn't appear in the tag pane, select one of the items you'd like to tag and add the tag to that one item, as described above. 
  2. In the center pane, select all the items you want to tag with the tag in question. 
  3. Drag the items onto the tag in the tag pane. 
  4. To verify that this worked, click on the tag in the tag pane.
    • If you see all of the items you tried to tag with this tag in the center pane now, you're all set.
    • If you don't see all the items that were supposed to be tagged, repeat the steps above. 


The Tag Pane 

You can find the tag pane in the bottom left corner of your Zotero window. The tag pane is the best place to manage your tags as well as to browse your library by tags. 

location of tag pane in lower left-hand corner of Zotero library

Browsing Your Library by Tags 

The tag pane will only show the tags attached to the items in the collection you're currently viewing. We therefore recommend to start browsing by tag in your "My Library" view. 

To explore your library (or a collection or subcollection, depending on your view) by tag, simply click on the tag, and it will show all items thus tagged within your library (or collection or subcollection). If these items have also been tagged with other tags, those additional tags will still show in the tag pane. You can click on them to refine your selection further. 

Color-Coded Tags 

You can color-code up to nine tags. To do so,

  1. right-click on the tag;
  2. select "Assign Color..."; 
  3. click on the color rectangle to choose a color; 
  4. click "Set Color." 

To remove a color, follow the same steps as above but select "Remove Color" instead of "Set Color." 

You'll notice that the dialog box also allows you to define a position from 1-9 to this tag. (If you don't do anything, Zotero will attach a position to any color-coded tag automatically.) This is because color-coded tags are displayed before all other tags in your tag pane, which are sorted alphabetically. Therefore, you can use color-coded tags not only to highlight those that are most important to the project you are currently working on, but to surface them before less relevant tags and in the order that is most useful to your project, regardless of alphabetical order. 

Renaming, Merging, and Deleting Tags 

To rename a tag:

  1. Right-click on the tag.
  2. Select "Rename Tag..." 
  3. Enter the new name. 
  4. Click "OK."

To merge two or more tags into one: 

  1. Right-click on the tag you no longer want to use. 
  2. Select "Rename Tag..."
  3. Enter the name of the tag that you want to use going forward, making sure that you use exactly the same spelling, including capitalization
  4. Click "OK." 

To delete a tag

  1. Right-click on the tag you want to delete. 
  2. Select "Delete Tag..." 
  3. Click "OK." 

In all of these cases, changes you make to tags will be reflected on all items tagged with that tag: 

  • Renaming a tag will automatically apply that change to all items tagged with this tag. 
  • When merging tags, items tagged with the no preferred tag will be tagged with the new, preferred tag. 
  • Deleting a tag will remove it from all items tagged with it. The items themselves will not be deleted.