“Doctor Livingstone, I presume?” The now famous words –purportedly uttered by Henry Stanley, an explorer and journalist, when he and missionary David Livingstone met up near Lake Tanganyika in October 1871– were spoken in jest. As the first European to contact tribes in central Africa and the only European around for miles, he was unlikely to be anyone else. Given the evidence, Stanley knew that he encountered the missing doctor. Today, in the unknowable wilds of the World Wide Web, what unique feature distinguishes one David Livingstone from another? How do we as readers explore and find the researcher and the scholarship that we are looking for?
One way to distinguish among names is to disambiguate them by adding descriptive words, such as an occupation or a specific interest, that sets them apart from their namesakes and eponyms. Just like Eric the Red, is different from say Eric the Blond or Eric the Brunette, we have not only David Livingstone, missionary, but also David Livingstone the cricketer, the historian, and the director.
Library authority files also disambiguate names, most often by adding birth and death dates to the name authority record. They are created by specialists in metadata who conduct extensive research and investigate publishing output. In addition, Library authority files, such as those at the Library of Congress (LCNA) help us link together author pseudonyms or name changes, such as Currer Bell, Wendy Carlos, and Robert Galbraith.
But how to differentiate among today’s common names, the Professor Lees, Professor Singhs, Professor Paterson and Professor Browns? What if their name appears in a variety of ways in their scholarly output: for example, J.E. Brown, Jedediah Ezekial Brown, Jed Brown –is this the same person?
More recently, two new identifiers have appeared with the goal of unambiguously attributing a work to its creator wherever that work is described, especially in an online environment.
One is the International Standard Name Identifier (ISNI), an ISO standard. Not reliant on adjectives or birthdates, this persistent unique identifier is 16 digit number similar to the more familiar ISBN found on book jackets. In fact, “It is part of a family of international standard identifiers that includes identifiers of works, recordings, products and right holders in all repertoires, e.g. DOI, ISAN, ISBN, ISRC, ISSN, ISTC, and ISWC” (ISNI website).
Like library authority files, it deals primarily with the creators, writers, composers, artists, inventors, and researchers of published works.
The ISNI will act as a “bridge identifier across multiple domains and become a critical component in Linked Data and Semantic Web applications.
The other identifier to arrive on the scene is the Open Researcher & Contributor ID (Orcid), a unique identifier that individual researchers may create and use to distinguish their work, –including but not limited to, datasets, equipment, articles, media stories, citations, experiments, patents, and notebooks, etc., –from other researchers with similar names, or to collate research that has appeared under name-variants over time. Anyone with a valid email address may apply for an ORCID by registering here: https://orcid.org/register
While the ISNI is part of the publication and distribution chain, the ORCID is considered part of the entire research cycle and can be obtained and used even before a researcher publishes. The research community may embed these identifiers into their workflows, for example manuscript submissions, grant applications, and research data management plans.
It is possible to only have need of one of these identifiers and depending on your research outputs, it may also be prudent to have both.
Realizing that is can become tedious keeping track of all these things, ORCID and ISNI are working together in the hopes of synthesizing their systems, one ID number to rule them all if you will.
There is a simple way to connect the ISNI with ORCiD via an API.
Go to http://isni2orcid.labs.orcid-eu.org/ and log in with your ORCID. Once logged in, the application (which is in beta) will search and link your ORCID iD and ISNI.
When my ID appears a computer, an application, a researcher, a reader will know that it is me and not any of the other gals who share the name.