Magazine article Information Today

The Digital Object Identifier

Magazine article Information Today

The Digital Object Identifier

Article excerpt

Linking to documents on the Web is the most characteristic new feature of the citation pattern in professional and scholarly publications. The bane of linking is the dreaded "File 404: File Not Found" message. Even if the link was accurate at the time of citing there's no guarantee that the cited page will be there a day later. Even the smallest reorganization of a Web site can render the URL invalid. In the best-case scenario, a forwarding link is provided. The Digital Object Identifier (DOI) helps to maintain the validity of the links-at least for those publications that have been assigned the unique identifier by publishers that joined the DOI Foundation.

Before DOI

Uniquely identifying a document is nothing new, and the publishing industry has been dealing with this issue for a long time. International standards, like the ISBN and the ISSN, were meant to solve the problem of unambiguous identification of books and serials. ISBN was quite a good solution. It was effective in identifying (through various ISBNs) different editions of the same book in different formats (such as large print) and bindings (paperbacks), and even with different content (abridged editions).

The ISBN also had the advantage of identifying a book's publisher. In the case of serials, of course, the unique identifier was appropriate only for those who dealt with serials at the monographic level, like catalogers. Those who had to deal with the analytics (such as the individual articles, editorials, commentaries, etc.) needed a more specific identifier.

Thus the SICI (Serial Item and Contribution Identifier) was born. It was sanctioned by national and international standard organizations, but was not widely embraced by publishers (with the exception of John Wiley & Sons), let alone by online information services (with the notable exception of JSTOR). When was the last time you saw a SICI at the bottom of an article, and in how many journals? Not too many, I'm afraid.

Publishers and editors of scholarly journals never stopped competing in coming up with different citation styles, for no sensible reason other than showing the not-invented-here attitude in rejecting existing styles. It tells you something about the excess of academe that the EndNote bibliography management software supports more than 400 citation styles. ISSN does not rank high in the common elements of the citation styles, let alone SICI.

URLs brought their own variety of citation styles and recommendations, but are notorious for their lack of persistence and reliability. The creation of digital archives that are accessible through the Web forced publishers to come up with a practical solution to identify not only individual works but also parts of the works and their combinations, such as bibliographic citations, abstracts, references, full text, and illustrations. The publishers were particularly motivated by the pressing need to identify which elements of the archives should be made available to qualifying users (such as those who had a subscription for specific volume and issue ranges of journals) on the one hand, and to pay-per-view users on the other.

In the mid-1990s, major publishers started to negotiate about the content and syntax of a new identifier for digital resources. It took a long time, but the DOI specification evolved after a few years. More importantly, it got endorsed in the form of the CrossRef system.

The DOI Structure and Repository

The DOI consists of two parts: a prefix and a suffix. The prefix identifies the publishers, which in turn assign the suffix. The suffix identifies the individual work or parts) of a work. Each DOI is assigned at least one URL, but more often several URLs. The syntax of the suffix is at the discretion of the publisher. The different URLs represent various combinations of data (the entire document in possibly different file formats) and subsets of the documents. These subsets can include pure bibliographic citation or a variety of enhanced citations with various pieces of valueadded information: abstracts, descriptors, subject codes, cited references, etc. …

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