You might have noticed little codes on journal articles and other resources that look something like 10.1000/xyz123 – these are known as DOIs (digital object identifiers). In this post we talk about why we’ve decided to start adding DOIs to our own outputs, including our Outlines and any other resources we publish.
One of the biggest challenges we come across when searching for evidence relating to social care and services that’s published outside of the traditional model of academic publishing (e.g. journal articles) is that quite often, links to documents are broken, known as “LinkRot”, and results in problems like “404 not found” messages. This is a huge problem in articles; doi.org have found that in some cases within four years half of the links in an article are broken. In the Evidence Search and Summary Service we spend a lot of time trying to track down pdfs of reports on very relevant, important and potentially impactful work – including research, practice and expert opinion – and often this knowledge is lost, inaccessible, no longer online or impossible to find. This can be for any of several reasons, including because the organisations or groups that conducted and published the work are no longer funded and no longer exist, or because the outputs produced by an organisation at one stage of its existence aren’t carried over when they get a new name and a new website.
Another challenge we have is that very often, this work (what’s often referred to as grey literature) is hard to search for and identify, or even evaluate based on the information that is available about its production. This can limit our ability to evaluate the relevant evidence and use it in ways that would be useful to the practitioners we work for. This is a significant issue in evidence use across health and social care, where grey literature is understood to be a valuable resource in systematic reviews (Arsenio Paez 2017) and other processes based on finding and using evidence, such as knowledge mobilisation.
As we’ll discuss, DOIs are a useful way of addressing these and other challenges, and we’ve decided to practice what we preach by registering our own content with Crossref to assign DOIs to our publications.
What’s a DOI?
DOI is an acronym for “digital object identifier”, meaning a “digital identifier of an object”. A DOI name is an identifier (not a location) of an entity on digital networks. It provides a system for persistent and actionable identification and interoperable exchange of managed information on digital networks. A DOI name can be assigned to any entity — physical, digital or abstract — primarily for sharing with an interested user community or managing as intellectual property. (doi.org)
Unlike a URL, a DOI is a persistent identifier [PID] —a life-long reference—that sticks to the content of an online object, not the location, therefore remaining associated with the work, irrespective of changes to work’s web address. The DOI is associated with a URL, but this can be updated centrally, so it always redirects to the current location of the content.
Why use DOIs?
There are several benefits to adding DOIs to your grey literature outputs, that we think make it a good idea for our Outlines. These include: permanence; discoverability; citeability; capturing reach; and opportunities for organised growth.
One of the main benefits of DOIs is their permanence:
A DOI is unique, and once allocated can only ever apply to that object. For example, a publication might change its owner as a result of business mergers; but the DOI of that publication does not change. The new owner might move the content to a different hosting server or additional locations, or add new data about it; the DOI does not change. Anyone looking for that publication using the DOI can be sure they have found the correct material, even though it’s not owned by who they thought or located where they expect it to be. Other information can be associated with the object through the DOI system, such as a statement of rights ownership, or links to related material, or anything else. (doi.org)
This is great for our service because its future is uncertain. We don’t know where the future of the Evidence Search and Summary Service will be, but we don’t want to lose track of our resources or end up with broken links from third party websites should we have to relocate our online content. With DOIs, we can future-proof our links. As the APA Style Blog says:
The DOI is like a digital fingerprint: Each article receives a unique one at birth, and it can be used to identify the article throughout its lifespan, no matter where it goes.
It’s our hope that DOIs will make our work more discoverable online. Richard Corlett (2011) says:
Google Scholar claims to find relevant work from ‘articles, theses, books, abstracts and court opinions, from academic publishers, professional societies, online repositories, universities and other web sites’, but the published scientific literature overwhelmingly dominates search results. To a large extent this reflects the invisibility of most gray literature to the automated software—web crawlers—that Google Scholar uses to locate documents for inclusion in search results.
This is particularly helpful for us, because although our outputs are indexed in databases such as the Social Care Institute for Excellence’s Social Care Online, and the National Health and Care Institute for Excellence Evidence Search, it’s still important for social care and services practitioners who don’t necessarily know about these search tools, to be able to find our work online.
Being able to find accurate information about resources when they come up in online search results is also important. Richard Higgins at Indiana University writes about how assigning DOIs to resources can help reduce the problems of the “metadata mega mess” that exists in search tools:
Keyword searches by title or author in Google, for example, and even Google Scholar, which relies on mechanisms rather than unique IDs, often return inaccurate information: titles are attributed to the wrong authors, especially those with common names; citations of articles are mistaken for the original article; publication years become volume numbers; and a score of other inaccuracies.
As Richard Corlett (2011) writes; “[e]ven when gray documents are located, they are often poorly indexed because the software is unable to identify bibliographic data.” This means that it can be hard to work out who’s produced a piece of work, as well as how to cite it should you come to use it in your own work. DOIs are a way of making it really clear at the very least who the author is, when it was published, and by what organisation. This means it’s easier to evaluate the work based on information about its producers, as well as easier to accurately and appropriately reference it as a source.
Crossref also has a handy tool where if you enter information about the item you want to cite (e.g. title, author, DOI) you can export a formatted reference (as RIS/APA/Harvard etc.) which makes citing sources a little more efficient than manually typing it all out.
A benefit of being registered with Crossref is that you can track the reach of your outputs:
Cited-by provides members with a way to look at the Crossref metadata to find out how your publications are being cited and share that information with your readers and authors. (Crossref)
Another benefit of having a fixed DOI for outputs, particularly in social services, where several organisations create ‘one stop shops’ or mini ‘evidence hubs’ of potentially useful resources, is that:
DOIs…can also resolve to other services and to multiple locations of the same object with certainty that the objects are indeed the same – for example, the same material residing in a publisher’s hosted content and in a third party open repository. (doi.org)
Having a PID and asking people to use it when referring to your resources means that the reach of these outputs and where they’re being shared (e.g. on blogs, Twitter, social bookmarking sites like Mendeley and CiteULike) can be captured more comprehensively:
PIDs provide citation aggregators like the Data Citation Index and Impactstory.org an easy, unambiguous way to parse out “mentions” in online forums and journals. (Stacey Konkiel for e-Science Community Blog)
Richard Higgins talks about how DOIs increase reach and impact:
Publishers, repositories, aggregators, indexers, and providers of research and academic profiles are now relying on DOIs to identify specific works accurately, which in turn more reliably links that work to its authors and creators. Furthermore, metadata and information about individual works are increasingly tied to DOIs.
This is really important for us because as well as trying to make our Outlines and other outputs as useful as possible to the people who commission them, we also try to design and produce them so they have relevance to social care and services more widely. The better able we are to find out where our resources are being used (using citation metrics and other resources), the better able we are to work out how we can more effectively develop them (and, identify where we’re having an impact and be able to justify the continuation of a currently temporary/precarious information service).
Opportunities for well-organised growth
We’ve got high hopes for our service, and who knows where the future will take us. It’s early days so far but the amount of Outlines we’ve created so far is steadily growing. We thought DOIs were a good idea to help us manage our ‘assets’ efficiently:
Over time, assets evolve. What started life as for example a single video might come to exist in different electronic formats, in different language versions, in edited or extended variations. New services arise to be offered with your assets. Keeping track of all of these is a challenge in itself. But without efficient management of all this information, sharing content and information with others – whether in a commercial transaction or in a collaborative effort – becomes increasingly difficult. (doi.org)
Iriss ESSS Outline DOIs
As CrossRef explain, when you register with them as a publisher, they give you a DOI prefix. This prefix is unique to your organisation, and allows you to create identifiers that are also unique to your organisation. CrossRef give you your DOI prefix (our prefix is 10.31583). Then you must come up with a suffix pattern that works for your organisation. There are rules about what characters you can use in suffixes and recommendations as to how you should make these work for your own organisation. We’ve decided that our suffixes will be “esss.” followed by the date the product was published.
Together these two pieces of information give you an identifier that is unique to that specific piece of work. So for example, the first Outline we’ve assigned a DOI to is the ESSS Outline: Experiential therapies for children who have experienced trauma, and its DOI is 10.31583/esss.20180723.
Once we’ve registered this information with Crossref, the identifier can be used as a way to persistently link to the output. The link looks like this: https://doi.org/10.31583/esss.20180723
The process of depositing metadata with Crossref is quick and easy and there’s a whole range of tools available to us now we’re registered with Crossref. We’re looking forward to seeing how the process and resources work for us in the future.