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Martin Paul Eve

Professor of Literature, Technology and Publishing at Birkbeck, University of London

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As I count down to the launch of Orbit: Writing around Pynchon, I've been thinking carefully about the mechanisms through which the articles will be consumed. In short: what metadata should be in the PDFs and where should it be.

Obviously, I want the metadata to be visible to the human eye, but what about embedding this within the PDF's proper metadata mechanism? Apache FOP, which I'm using to the transforms, has the facility to do this. However, do other journals bother?

Here's a metadata dump using pdftk on a top-rank Taylor and Francis journal in English literature:

InfoKey: Producer
InfoValue: iText 2.1.4 (by
InfoKey: ModDate
InfoValue: D:20101227134204Z
InfoKey: CreationDate
InfoValue: D:20101227134204Z
PdfID0: da625abeee725c7372c85bab42a58ff9
PdfID1: a738f6173b5722dbf66507c0289aa1
NumberOfPages: 17

That's not especially descriptive!

By contrast, my XSL transform is producing the following:

InfoKey: Creator
InfoValue: meXml: Martin Eve's XML Generator.
InfoKey: Title
InfoValue: Generating PDFs from OJS
InfoKey: Producer
InfoValue: Apache FOP Version 1.0
InfoKey: Author
InfoValue: Martin Paul Eve
InfoKey: Subject
InfoValue: It has long been desirable to create PDF files from a standard XML base. This plugin allows that to happen using a combination of OJS, Saxon and FOP.
InfoKey: CreationDate
InfoValue: D:20120605175241+01'00'
PdfID0: f2e62132fce56dea2a80dccf6703b95
PdfID1: f2e62132fce56dea2a80dccf6703b95
NumberOfPages: 4
PageLabelNewIndex: 1
PageLabelStart: 1
PageLabelPrefix: 1
PageLabelNumStyle: NoNumber
PageLabelNewIndex: 2
PageLabelStart: 1
PageLabelPrefix: 1
PageLabelNumStyle: NoNumber
PageLabelNewIndex: 3
PageLabelStart: 1
PageLabelPrefix: 2
PageLabelNumStyle: NoNumber
PageLabelNewIndex: 4
PageLabelStart: 1
PageLabelPrefix: 3
PageLabelNumStyle: NoNumber

However, interestingly, the Taylor and Francis journal can be perfectly detected by Zotero. So where is it getting its info?

The great JISC document on PDF metadata extraction mechanisms has the following for Zotero:

Zotero uses "Google Scholar Results as well as DOIs on the first page to get metadata and that works in a large majority of cases". This implies that metadata extraction relies on converting the PDF to text at the client, using Regular Expressions to detect the DOI string, and submitting that string to Google Scholar or to retrieve the matching record.

All sounds good. So, as a test, I changed the DOI in my test document to reflect an article that I know worked. I changed the author, Title and DOI to all match the second article. I even put in a URL pointer to

However, Zotero still wouldn't pick it up; it completely mis-identifies it. So I decided to dive into the mechanics.

Zotero's main PDF functionality resides in recognizePDF.js. Here's the first part of that function:

const MAX_PAGES = 3;

const lineRe = /^\s*([^\s]+(?: [^\s]+)+)/;

this._libraryID = libraryID;
this._callback = callback;
//this._captchaCallback = captchaCallback;

var cacheFile = Zotero.getZoteroDirectory();
if(cacheFile.exists()) {

Zotero.debug('Running pdftotext -enc UTF-8 -nopgbrk '
+ '-l ' + MAX_PAGES + ' "' + file.path + '" "'
+ cacheFile.path + '"');

var proc = Components.classes[";1"].
var exec = Zotero.getZoteroDirectory();

var args = ['-enc', 'UTF-8', '-nopgbrk', '-layout', '-l', MAX_PAGES];
args.push(file.path, cacheFi10.1080/09502360802263782le.path);
try {
if (!Zotero.isFx36) {
proc.runw(true, args, args.length);
else {, args, args.length);
catch (e) {
Zotero.debug("Error running pdfinfo", 1);
Zotero.debug(e, 1);

if(!cacheFile.exists()) {
this._callback(false, "recognizePDF.couldNotRead");

var inputStream = Components.classes[";1"]
inputStream.init(cacheFile, 0x01, 0664, 0);
var intlStream = Components.classes[";1"]
intlStream.init(inputStream, "UTF-8", 65535,

// get the lines in this sample
var lines = [];
var lineLengths = [];
var str = {};
while(intlStream.readLine(str)) {
var line = lineRe.exec(str.value);
if(line) {


This first code block runs pdftotext on the file. The command it assembles looks somewhat like this: pdftotext -enc UTF-8 -nopgbrk -l '3' new.pdf /your/zotero/directory/recognizePDFcache.txt.

So far so good. The output I got looked a little like this:

Orbit: Writing Around Pynchon
ISSN: 2044-4095


Author Name Redacted
University of Sussex
Title Redacted
28 September 2011

It has long been desirable to create PDF files from a standard XML base.

The remainder of this function makes an informed guess as to which type of document it's dealing with.

// look for DOI
var allText = lines.join("\n");
var m = Zotero.Utilities.cleanDOI(allText);
if(m) {
this._DOI = m[0];

// get (not quite) median length
var lineLengthsLength = lineLengths.length;
if(lineLengthsLength < 20
|| lines[0] === "This is a digital copy of a book that was preserved for generations on library shelves before it was carefully scanned by Google as part of a project") {
this._callback(false, "recognizePDF.noOCR");
} else {
var sortedLengths = lineLengths.sort();
var medianLength = sortedLengths[Math.floor(lineLengthsLength/2)];

// pick lines within 4 chars of the median (this is completely arbitrary)
this._goodLines = [];
var uBound = medianLength + 4;
var lBound = medianLength - 4;
for (var i=0; i<lineLengthsLength; i++) {
if(lineLengths[i] > lBound && lineLengths[i] < uBound) {
// Strip quotation marks so they don't mess up search query quoting
var line = lines[i].replace('"', '');

this._startLine = this._iteration = 0;

First off, it amalgamates the lines and passes them to the cleanDOI function. This performs a string.match:


I can confirm that my DOI passes the match test here.

The next step Zotero takes is to work out how many lines are in the document. If there are fewer than 20 lines, it assumes that the document doesn't contain OCRed text and returns a fail.

As you can see, though, Zotero also has a debug function, so I enabled that at this point. When I looked in the log, the DOI number was not being picked up by Zotero's internal pdftotext. In fact, Zotero's version of pdfttotext seems to disregard anything inside a block!

The second I put the DOI number in a non-table area, it was detected.

tl;dr: make sure your DOI numbers are somewhere that Zotero's version of pdftotext can read it.

Featured image by TJOwens under a CC-BY license.