Summary Report of Identifier Webinar

On October 29th, NISO held the latest in its 2008 series of education webinars What's in a Name?: Identifiers for Institutions, Public Identities, and Researchers. The information community has long relied on identifiers to ensure the smooth exchange and discovery of content. Never an easy task, identification has taken on new levels of complexity as we attempt to reconcile print and digital versions; track products between producer and institution and, more granularly, individual departments; follow a researcher’s work through various publications; and identify parties in their role within the information supply chain.

Helen Henderson (Managing Director, Ringgold, Ltd.) started the webinar off with an introduction to the question of why we need identifiers, as well as a glimpse at the large number of identifiers in use or being currently developed in this space. She noted that, as content has gone digital, we can no longer define an institution by its physical presence—electronic information can be used at campuses in different countries, in different ways. Moving transactions through the electronic supply chain frequently brings uncertainly that you are referring to the same institution—whether a department, different campus, related institution, or simply in the case of a name change. Consistent identifiers are needed, however, to ensure smooth information supply, in authentication, for usage statistics and licensing, research evaluation, and more.

Grace Agnew (Associate University Librarian for Digital Library Systems, Rutgers University Libraries) then introduced the work of NISO's Institutional Identifiers (I2) Working Group, of which she is co-chair. Recognizing the need for a consistent institutional identifier that can be used across the supply chain, in libraries, publishing houses, book sellers, and more, this group has begun its work by looking at how identifiers are used in the information workspace by the various stakeholders. Questions being asked include: What are people currently using? What are barriers to adoption? What are your needs? What metadata is needed to provide the critical context (e.g., IP ranges, contacts, etc.)? This background research is coupled with realization that there are varied levels of complexity—how to reconcile competing needs and complementary needs into a useful standard.

To look more closely at the I2 approach, co-chair Tina Feick (Director of Sales and Marketing, North America, Harrassowitz) shared with the audience the work as it has occurred in the first of their case studies, Scenario A: the e-resource supply chain/acquisition process. In this scenario, the group has identified various stakeholders, including publishers, libraries, subscription services, book dealers, and aggregators, among others. The group then concentrated these to focus on five sections: systems, libraries, publishers, intermediaries, and one to provide research/background on this scenario. Each group is looking at the various transactions that take place in each group, what common uses can be found across the different groups, and what identifiers are currently being applied—including not only library identifiers, but also publisher, consortial, and vendor identifiers. The goal is to identify then a format for an identifier that can be applied across these uses and by all relevant stakeholders. During this process it is also recognized the importance that what is developed is actually implemented—so attention is also being paid to what support tools will be needed to assist in adoption. The goal is to have a draft standard in fall 2009.

The webinar then moved to take a look at identification on a human scale with Thomson Reuter’s ResearcherID, which was launched publicly in early 2008. Ellen Rotenberg (Manager, Product Development, Thomson Reuters) began by stating that name ambiguity generally falls into three categories: name variance, common names, and name changes. But clear and accurate identification is needed for research accuracy, grant funding, and tenure, as well in discovery, including citation counts, locating co-authors, and even reviewers. ResearcherID is a free online community, with an open registry, where authors can sign up to receive a unique identifier that provides a persistent presence on the web to assist with citation metrics (including visual displays), publicize their research, and provides search functionality to help locate other researchers working in like fields.

Reynold Guida (Director, Product Development, Thomson Reuters) then gave a live tour of ResearcherID, highlighting various uses. For instance, ResearcherID can allow sponsor organizations—to register their researchers in batch loads and then enable them to offer services based on the registry, such as matching researchers’ output against citations indexes, enabling collaboration opportunities, and yet allowing their researchers to control their information with privacy controls that are determined on an individual bases. ResearcherID has recently introduced a "badge" functionality, as well, that allows researchers  to link to ResearcherID items and metrics from their own webpages.

The final presentation, on the International Standard Name Identifier (ISNI - ISO 27729), came from Andy Weissberg (GM, Identifier Services, R.R. Bowker). Andy gave an update on where ISNI stands, what it is, and what use cases there are. He started by providing a bit of context to help the audience understand the need for ISNI. Persons, corporate bodies, and other expressions often vary from place to place—because of language and lettering differences, name changes, and other impacts—and this can frequently be coupled with the difficulty of systems to identify names from pure naming conventions with letters. For us to succeed in finding a solution to this problem, then, we have to collaborate, and do so across the supply chain; as was mentioned earlier, what we’re seeing now is library-centric, publisher-centric, and the like, but nothing that crosses over types. ISNI aims to disambiguate public identities, particularly in the digital environment, where variances and changes occur at a much greater rate. The unique use of ISNI is in that it can recognize the role that a person can play in the creation, production, management, and distribution chain and specifically tie them to the content to support the exchange of the content associated with those parties. It is really a bridge identifier, as it also allows various industry partners to exchange information about a particular party without the need to disclose confidential information. And it therefore maintains a minimum metadata set needed to disambiguate two parties.

After introducing various use cases, from serving as a unique number assigned to an entity as a placeholder in citations or authority records to providing links to sources where variant names are found, Andy then reviewed the ISNI composition, structure, and associated metadata. The ISNI standard is currently at the Draft International Standard (DIS) phase, and completion is expected in early 2010.