Last week I attended a very productive and unusually amicable meeting on identifiers run by JISC and ably facilitated by Chris Awre. Besides their obvious critical relevance, my interest in identifiers goes back to an international symposium on the topic that CETIS hosted way back in 2003. That particular event generated a voluminous report and a series of usecases that I believe are still relevant today. The Digital Curation Centre ran a subsequent identifiers event in 2005 which presented various identifier technologies, a series of case studies and sparked considerable debate. I was interested to attend last week’s meeting to see how the debate regarding identifier requirements and technologies had moved forward given the significant developments of the intervening years, including Web 2.0, social networking, and OER.
And you know what? I think the debate has matured significantly. There was much greater acceptance that one size will never fit all, that there will always be multiple technologies to choose from, that choice of identifier scheme frequently depends on choice of technology platform (e.g. if you run DSpace you will use Handles) and that the technology is the easy part to solve. Previous identifier events tended to degenerate into holy wars but there was admirably little crusading evident last week. Although there was some flak flying around on the back channel.
I was slightly frustrated that, as usual, much of the debate focused implicitly on scholarly works and a particular form of “publication”. However there was much that was of relevance to the teaching and learning domain too. Here are some of the statement from the event that I would endorse:
Chris Awre, University of Hull
The emphasis on identifiers themselves can be distracting, it’s better to focus on the role and purpose of identifiers.
Identifying digital content at different phases of its lifecycle is key to the management of that content.
Identifiers need to have an associated meaning. An identifier is only an identifier if it is associated with a thing, otherwise it is just a string.
Identifiers need to disambiguate what they are identifying.
Henry Thompson, University of Edinburgh
Any naming schemes for sharing on the web are only as good as the services behind them.
Persistence of activity is critical, not persistence of technology. There are no purely technical solutions to vulnerabilities.
The only naming scheme of any technical sophistication is the Linean taxonomic scheme. (!)
Make it easy for ordinary users to mint good URIs.
Les Carr, University of Southampton
Persistence of URIs can be made difficult by institutions view of the web purely as a marketing tool.
Bas Cordewener, SURF Foundation
DOI is the only system that has a business model, but it can be expensive for repositories to implement.
Commercial influences should be kept at bay but we need to recognise that there are many different systems meeting different requirements.
Hugh Glaser, University of Southampton
Authority is established not bestowed.
Conclusion and JISC Interventions
The general conclusion of this event was that technology is not the problem, sufficient infrastructure already exists and one size will never fit all.
There was some debate regarding appropriate JISC interventions in this space but there was some consensus that JISC could usefully work with bodies such as UCISA, SCONUL and the Research Councils to provide advice on policy and business cases illustrating the appropriate use of identifiers. Case studies and demonstrators that situate solutions in context, articulate specific workflows and promote good practice in managing identifiers would also be of considerable value.
I’ll post a second piece shortly summarising the breakout group that focused specifically on identifier requirements within the teaching and learning domain.