Names Project Blog

Initiatives for identifying institutions

Posted in identifiers, reports by Amanda Hill on 6 July, 2010

The NISO Institutional Identifers (I2) group has just released its mid-term report on the development of a new standard for uniquely identifying organisations. It encompasses all institutions, but particularly those…

…engaged in the selection, purchase, licensing, storage, description, management, and delivery of information (“information supply chain”).

This is a broad grouping,  including libraries, publishers, government departments, museums, archives, news services, universities and collaborative groups and consortia. There are existing identifiers for many of these organisations, a fact which is recognised in the report, which analyses some of them (namely the ISNI: International Standard Name Identifier (ISO draft standard 27729), the MARC Code List for Organizations, the ANSI/NISO SAN: Standard Address Number for the publishing industry and the D-U-N-S number for businesses).

The disadvantages of all these identifiers, except the ISNI, as expressed in the report, is that they do not support the decentralised creation of a core set of metadata about each organisation. Nor do they allow for the inclusion of an external link to an alternative identifier which provides additional information about the organisation. The report points out that many existing codes “pre-date the Web and are not ‘resolvable'” (they can’t be used to link directly to further information about the  institutions online). ISNI will support these things, but its disadvantage, from the perspective of I2, is that its metadata set is limited to the following fields  (this list is taken from the ‘ISNI Overview’ link on the ISNI site):

– Name of the Public identity
– Date and place of birth and or death (or registration and dissolution for legal entities)
– Class and Roles as defined by the Registration Agency. Classes define the repertoire (such as Musical, Audio-Visual, Literary,..) and Roles can be Author, Performer, Publisher,..
– Title of [or?] reference to a creation
– A URI (or URL) providing a link to more detailed information about the Public Identity.

This limited set of data is deliberate: ISNI is being designed as an open, light-weight, bridging system that will be used to link a variety of other databases, including proprietary ones, which would not share their internal information. The I2 proposed metadata set is richer, allowing for the expression of relationships between different organisations, such as hierarchies within institutions and records of former names. It does seem likely that the I2 group will recommend the use of the ISNI for the identifiers themselves. ISNI has a broader scope, being aimed at all creators of materials: their identifiers are going be used for individuals as well as for organisations. We have been talking to ISNI representatives about assigning ISNI identifiers to the people and institutions that have been uniquely identified within the Names system. This is likely to happen in the next few months.

The Names project is principally interested in uniquely identifying a subset of the I2 group’s target audience: UK academic institutions. Currently these are identified in Names at a high level and with minimal additional information (see, for example, this record for The University of Manchester), but in the future we may want to capture information about lower levels of hierarchy within the institutions: department or faculty details, for example. The data model for Names allows for this additional information to be held, although the system does not do so at the moment.

Below is a very rough-and-ready mapping of the corporate name elements identified in the Names project’s Data Analysis Report of March 2008 [PDF file] (which was based on the Functional Requirements for Authority Data) with those in the I2 group’s draft schema and the above list of ISNI elements. Names in bold are represented in both the I2 list and in the Names one. There is a fair degree of agreement across the two, if not exact mappings in all cases.

Names model

I2 Metadata


Corporate body





Usage date (for variant names only)


Other designation








Field of activity



Known by

Assigned identifiers

Institution identifier & variant identifiers




Expanded form of name

Variant name



Alternative language form of name

Other variant name

Hierarchical relationship

Affiliated institution

Sequential relationship


Contact information


The I2 group are looking for feedback on their interim report. If you have views on the ways in which institutional identifiers might be generated, used and sustained, and would like to influence the development of this NISO standard, this is your chance to get involved.


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