A rose by any other name … may not get your institution’s research funded


In thinking about names within the library world, Shakespeare’s famous line has always frustrated me. A rose still smells as sweet if called something else. Sure, but if you call it something else, I probably won’t be able to ever find it elsewhere, sow it, grow it, enjoy it …

When it comes to names and the work libraries do, I prefer these two quotes:

“Fate tried to conceal him by naming him Smith.” —Oliver Wendell Holmes

“You’re not a star until they can spell your name in Karachi.” —Humphrey Bogart

In a research environment, we need ways to reference people and organizations by unique “names”—identifiers—that are persistent, and actionable. And in some cases, that can mean the difference between getting funded or not.

“I’m looking for a blue book”

I’m astounded at how often I hear some version of the “blue book” story from librarians. A patron walks in and says they’re looking for a book. And besides maybe a general category (“It was about fish”), all they remember is that it had “a blue cover.”

Obviously, lots of books have blue covers. That’s what makes this anecdote amusing. But it’s a metaphor for a bigger challenge we face: a lot of materials share overlapping and contradictory metadata.

Unique identifiers can mean the difference between getting funded or not. #OCLCnext Click To Tweet

From a research funding perspective, this is obviously a concern. Researchers, research organizations, but also governments and other funding bodies want to be able to get credit for work they created or helped create. Persistent identifiers—in particular, author or researcher and organizational identifiers—support the need to create unambiguous and lasting links between author, affiliated organization, funding body, and publication (and potentially other research outputs).

A few of the organizations seeking to create those kinds of identifiers already exist. ORCID and ISNI, Scopus or Web of Science, provide person identifiers; organizational identifiers are provided by organizations such as ISNI; OCLC’s VIAF service includes authorized names from national bibliographies; the experimental WorldCat Identities extends name identifiers to more fictional and uncontrolled names in WorldCat.

All that needs to be done is to actually use them.

Adoption: “What’s in it for me?”

In a report I wrote with Annette Dortmund and Constance Malpas, “Convenience and Compliance: Case Studies on Persistent Identifiers in European Research Information Management,” we looked at the adoption of person and organization identifiers chiefly within a European research information management context. But the conclusion certainly applies more broadly—if you’re looking at identifiers as “interesting” or “good practice” but not “useful,” they will not be widely adopted or appreciated.

In a research information management context, usefulness of identifier adoption often consists in being able to accurately harvest publication metadata for a given researcher, or for all researchers affiliated with your institution. Identifiers facilitate the exchange of data between systems, in a word: interoperability.

One could think of many kinds of library activities where identifiers could be useful:

  • tracking and presenting institutional research outputs across different systems (and for different stakeholders)
  • creating researcher profiles, highlighting activities and publications, but also organizations they worked for and with
  • supplying funders with information about return-on-investment

It helps, too, if you think about utility first from a nonlibrarian standpoint. That is, who else among stakeholders could benefit from identifiers, both inside and outside the wider institution? What other systems could benefit from improved interoperability?

Libraries are getting involved

Being able to accurately report on the results of funded work is quickly becoming a “must have” for research institutions. While other drivers—such as open access mandates—are also taken seriously, the power of the purse strings is undeniable. Identifiers that are used consistently throughout all systems can help connect you to success.

And there’s a lesson here for all libraries, too, not just those that support nationally funded research: Whether you need direct funding, votes on a budget measure, or simply good will from the community, tie what you measure to external, shareholder goals. That way, your institution gets the credit for all the beautiful roses in your garden.