“Trust” and identifiers: two great concepts that concept great together

My two primary areas of interest – library science and maritime history – bumped into each other this week in an interesting way. On the MARHST-L discussion list, there’s been much talk about various vessel identifiers. They haven’t really been called that; participants have been discussing “Official Numbers,” the Mercantile Navy List, and Lloyd’s Numbers, and it has made me think of IMO numbers, Hull Identification numbers, USCG Documentation numbers, naval identifiers (ie, PT-109, CV-42, etc.), and various other vessel identifiers.

On the library side, the latest issue of NISO’s publication, Information Standards Quarterly, is now available, and the entire issue is about identifiers. There’s an article about ISNI, the International Standard Name Identifier; ORCID, the Open Researcher & Contributor ID; the Names Project; the use of SAN, the Standard Address Number, in supply chains; I² and ISNI, and more. I² is the Institutional Identifier; I was very briefly on this working group before I left my previous job.

In that previous job, I used the ISSN, the International Standard Serial Number, a great deal. But for various reasons, it didn’t fill our bill, and we had to create our own unique identifier. We loved and used the ISSN, but it wasn’t quite the complete thing. The identifier we developed was (and, to my knowledge, still is) only used in-house, though it could have had great application elsewhere.

At ShipIndex.org, I believe my future includes developing a new vessel identifier.  (Yes, I know.) I’ve presented on this before, at both library conferences (with slides) and at maritime history conferences, but it hasn’t started to be developed yet. As I see it, when that starts to happen, it’ll be through our website, and it’ll be by individuals who want or need an identifier. People who know more about a specific ship than I do will be able to collate various citations that refer to a single ship, even if its name has changed, and improve the quality of the community’s knowledge about those ships. They’ll also be able to do lots, lots, more, but that’s more for another time.

This isn’t a great description of what I have in mind, and I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to get it built, but I have high hopes for what ShipIndex, with the help of its constituents, can create. I aim to do whatever I can to make it happen. Alas, it’ll take a lot of time and money, and those aren’t yet in abundant supply.

In the NISO publication, Geoff Bilder has a great Op-Ed piece about Trust and Identifiers. I once had a beer with him (I honestly can’t remember if it was in Asheville, NC, or Edinburgh, Scotland. If it was in Edinburgh, I trust it was a scotch, not a beer. I feel certain it was at a UKSG conference [which, possibly, could have placed it in Torquay or Coventry; not just Edinburgh], but at the same time I also think there was discussion of skipping out on the NASIG conference [with someone else, not Geoff] to try and catch UNC and ECU play baseball in the NCAA playoffs. But I digress…) and I probably made a fool of myself. He’s clearly an incredibly smart guy, and I know that what he writes is worth reading, and worth reading closely.

I would like to see ShipIndex.org become the trustworthy source, as described by Geoff, for vessel identifiers. I think it can happen, if only because I’m not sure anyone else is ready to do it. If you’re willing to help, let me know.

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