April 1, 2013

Creating New Items in Zotero

    Reviewed by Fred Gibbs
    Recommended for Beginning Users

Using Python to Create an New Zotero Item

In Intro to the Zotero API, you learned a little bit about Zotero; now you can access some of its functions using Python scripts. In this lesson, you will create a new item in a Zotero library and add some basic metadata such as title and date.

Creating a new Zotero Item

It will be helpful to remember that Zotero began as a citation management system, and that an item on Zotero contains only metadata; it’s a bit like a library calling card. To upload file contents into Zotero, you would create an attachment to that item. But for now you will start by creating a new Zotero Item and assigning some information to metadata fields.

Your first step is to import the python modules that you will need for this program.

from libZotero import zotero
import urllib2
import datetime

Your next line of code will connect to the zotero group library for this lesson using the unique group id and API key. (You can also replace the first number in the line with your own group or user ID, but if you are trying to connect to an individual user library, you must change the word group to the word user and create your own API key.)

#links to zotero group library
zlib = zotero.Library('group', '155975','<null>', 'f4Bfk3OTYb7bukNwfcKXKNLG')

Now that you have imported the required modules and connected to your zotero library, you can create a new item and assign it some metadata. Start by using the following code to create a new item of the type document and set the title to Python Lesson Document.

#create a new item of type document
newItem = zotero.getTemplateItem('document')

#sets the title of the item to Python Lesson Document
newItem.set('title', 'Python Lesson Document')

Next you will add two more types of metadata to your item. First, you will add an abstract note, which is basically a short description of the item you have created. Then you will set the item’s creation date to the current date.

#adds a new abstract note
newItem.set('abstractNote', 'Created using a zotero python library and the write api')

#sets date to current date
now = datetime.datetime.today().strftime("%Y-%m-%d")
newItem.set('date', now)

Now that you have set the important metadata for your item, you can make a request to the API to create that item. This code has set the writeFailure property to display an error message if the item is not successfully created.

# make the request to the API to create the item
# a Zotero Item object will be returned
# if the creation went okay it will have a writeFailure property set to False
createdItem = zlib.createItem(newItem)
if createdItem.writeFailure != False:

Your last step is to add a tag to your new item. The following code will tag your item as python lesson and update the item with the new tag. Just as in the last segment, this code contains a writeFailure property that will print an error message if the item has not updated correctly.

#adds a new tag to the new item
tagname = 'python lesson'

#in the bracket (tagname, '<tag type:0>')
createdItem.addTag(tagname, '0')

#updates the item with the new tag
updatedItem = zlib.writeUpdatedItem(createdItem)
if updatedItem.writeFailure != False:
   print("Error updating item")

At last, you have created a new item with a title and a tag name. This last line of code will confirm the item you have just created.

print 'Created new item <%s> with new tag <%s>' % (createdItem.title, tagname)

If all has gone according to plan, your output should look like this:

Created new item <Python Lesson Document> with new tag <python lesson>

You can also check your Zotero library to find the document that you made using Python. The title, abstract, and date should be filled out, and the tag should appear also.

By editing the program above, you can create items with different types (such as books, journal articles, or newspapers) and specify more precise titles, creation dates, and tags. To see a list of all the Item Types available in the Zotero API, use your browser to navigate to this URL:


You can then see the fields available in each Item Type template by navigating to the following URL, replacing document with the key for the Item Type that interests you:


For example, the list of Item Types returned by the first URL shows a type called videoRecording. In our code above, you could request a template for that type by changing the document argument in our getItemTemplate() function with videoRecording. To see which fields are available in this template, you could navigate in your browser to the appropriate URL:


For more details, see the documentation on write requests for the Zotero API.

Note: You are now prepared to move on to the next lesson in this series.

About the author

Amanda Morton is a DH Fellow at the Center for History and New Media.  

Suggested Citation

Amanda Morton , "Creating New Items in Zotero," Programming Historian, (01 April 2013), http://programminghistorian.org/lessons/creating-new-items-in-zotero