There is growing awareness of the need for management of namespaces for public vocabularies and for identification of authority data and other bibliographic entities. For every FRBR entity, an identifier. There are three essential characteristics of such identifiers:
- Global uniqueness: a natural benefit of the Internet as a global file system.
- Persistence: a function of the commitment of the organizations.
- Canonical character: assets that have a single preferred identifier will aggregate with greater visibility, strengthening citability and the benefits of social bibliography.
The first attribute comes for free with the use of Internet protocols. The second has to do with the character of organizations, and no collection of organizations is more likely to succeed at this than the global library community (or has a stronger stake in that success). The third characteristic is the missing piece. Libraries have paid insufficient attention to identifier strategies, and the near-term business case for collective action is weak, even as the long-term imperative is strong. Think of it as the tragedy of the dot commons.
National libraries lack a global mandate. No software provider has sufficient reach. Open Library has the right philosophical orientation, but lacks standing and the promise of professionally-mediated persistence. Google can achieve the goal, but a shareholder business-model is a mismatch with the long-term social commitment required. IFLA is a good forum for consensus, but lacks appropriate operational capacity. OCLC has the critical seed data, but has insufficient business motivations to commit the resources, and is not considered entirely neutral by some stakeholders.
Many respected library technologists simply accept that Identifier Babel is a fact of a complicated environment, and the best that can be hoped for is identity mapping. To accept this position is to accept a declining visibility on the Web (already low) for the intellectual assets managed by libraries, and over the long run, a commensurate decline in importance of libraries in a born-digital world.
ICANN is on the threshold of a new process for the approval of generic Top Level Domains (gTLDs), open to applications from any established public or private organization. The application fee of $185,000 USD can be expected to reduce inclinations towards gTLD squatting, but still there will be a lot of interest in this new approach to Web identifiers.
The international library community should take advantage of this opportunity to establish a business-neutral, canonical naming authority that will assure that digital library users of the future will benefit from the fixity of resources on a sound and persistent global scaffolding of knowledge.
This goal can best be met through an alliance of stakeholders who share identifier policies, infrastructure, and transparent governance, guided by a common responsibility to the needs of users, now and into the future.
Dot ID anyone? I’ll write the proposal... anyone care to stake the fee?
Stone totems, the semantics of which are unknown to me. On the grounds of a temple in Kyoto (the Arashiyama ward).