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But What About Corporate Authors? NISO Institutional Identifier Project Underway
Posted On January 21, 2008
Thomson Scientific ( has joined an effort with the National Information Standards Organization (NISO; to build an open standard for identifying institutions. The initial NISO effort will focus on academic and research institutions, the kind often referred to in author affiliation or corporate author fields. NISO is a nonprofit association accredited by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) that creates technical standards for managing information. Voting members come from more than 70 organizations in the fields of publishing, libraries, information technology, and media. Patricia Brennan, product development manager at Thomson Scientific, is co-chair of the NISO Business Information Topic Committee, the group assigned the task of appointing members to the new working group and overseeing its efforts.

At the same time that Thomson Scientific announced, it also issued a press release endorsing NISO’s intent to develop a standard identification for institutions by setting up a new working group to address the issues. James Pringle, vice president of product development at Thomson Scientific, outlined the problems the new NISO effort will face. "A major issue for libraries and universities around the world has been the difficulty of uniquely and appropriately identifying an institution and its relationships with its subsidiaries—libraries, departments, campuses, or offices. Thomson Scientific supports NISO in its effort to determine how to leverage institutional identifiers to uniquely track institutional relationships, as this knowledge will directly impact the ability for all institutions and their subsidiaries to provide accurate customer service."

The charge from the voting membership to the new working group is to study and propose an identifier that will uniquely identify institutions and describe relationships between entities within institutions. In the course of developing a proposed identifier, the group will consider the minimum set of data consistent with account privacy and security issues, as well as other data used to support different business models.

Efforts will build on the work of the Journal Supply Chain Efficiency Improvement Pilot (JSCEIP). Todd Carpenter, managing director of NISO, points out, "The supply chain for serials is a complicated process and content providers often distribute materials to a variety or entities within an institution: in libraries, across departments, and directly to individuals. Identifying these entities and describing their relationships will improve customer service for all engaged in information exchange."

Helen Henderson, managing director of Ringgold Ltd., is an active participant in JSCEIP and one of the new project’s leading advocates among NISO’s voting membership. She noted, "One of the major issues is the lack of a common way of uniquely identifying the institution and its relationships with its subsidiaries which would include libraries, departments, campuses, or offices. This new institutional identifier will improve the efficiency of the process."

The problems that standard identifiers would solve are persistent. Pringle points out that Thomson Scientific runs into problems with institutional identication, even internationally, all the time. "Stable identifiers could show that such and such medical school belongs to two universities or who funds it and which research comes from which universities. There are partial solutions out there now, but we find they are very fluid in terms of who is managing them, how they agree on changing hierarchies, and how shareable they are. For example, publishers may be trying to determine the usage for their journals at an institution. The citation and publication patterns today may tap several databases. Currently there is no good way to unite information. We end up treating different parts of an institution as different entities. More standardization would leave us better off." Pringle even envisioned the clarification of institutional structures as a form of corporate "author disambiguation" similar to the role of for personal authors.

Clearly the task may take some time to complete. However, Pringle says that people are already working on the problem and making a lot of progress. For example, he pointed to Ringgold, which "actively accesses 100,000 institutions worldwide with a parent/child relationship." Continuing to focus on academic and government agencies first should make the problem solvable, according to Pringle.

Barbara Quint was senior editor of Online Searcher, co-editor of The Information Advisor’s Guide to Internet Research, and a columnist for Information Today.

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Comments Add A Comment
Posted By Bob Buntrock1/21/2008 7:24:40 PM

As with individual authors, rigorous, accurate identification of corporate authors is defintiely a problem. Even more than individuals, corporations/institutions frequently change identities, affilitations, or even existence through mergers, acquisitions, failures, etc. Again, several A&I organizations mange to do an even better job maintaing and codifying corporate authors including Chemical Abstracts Service, Derwent Patents (a Thomson Company), IFI US Patent files, and API/ENCOMPASS than is done with individual authors.

Granted one-stop shopping will ultimately help the information community, but coverage will continue to be a problem, especially for those orgaizations not regularly cited by publications of interest to NISO (including patents, although an increasing number of patents are awarded to academic institutions) or becasue they are not academic.

In all probablity, both kinds of authors (as well as citations) will need to be searched with judicious use of "expand" command, thesauri, and other resources. Time will tell.

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