Name Identifiers Webinar Q&A

Below are listed questions that were submitted during the NISO webinar, "What’s in a Name? Latest Developments in Identifiers," held March 10, 2010.

Answers from the presenters will be added shortly. Not all the questions could be responded to during the live webinar, so those that could not be addressed at the time are also included below.


  • Why Name Identifiers
    Robert Wolven, Associate University Librarian for Bibliographic Services and Collection Development, Columbia University
  • Linking Names
    Dr. Thomas B. Hickey, Chief Scientist, OCLC
  • I2 (Institutional Identifiers) Working Group: Where We Are Now, What's Ahead
    Helen L. Henderson, Vice President, Marketing Research & Development, Ringgold, Inc.

  1. Who is linking to VIAF, and how?

    Answer (Thom Hickey): The Swedish National Library is starting to link to us, as is the German version of Wikipedia.  At least two projects at the National Library of Australia and the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney are either linking to VIAF or using VIAF's cross references.
  2. When and how will working catalogers be able to reap the benefits of the VIAF?

    Answer 1 (Bob Wolven): It can already be used and useful in some ways. Catalogers at Columbia have found it helpful to see supporting information from several authority files when researching historical personages, and sometimes a name has been established in a non-US file before appearing in the NAF. The VIAF functionality makes it easy to see an overview of available information in one place. 

    The bigger question is probably how the full extent of VIAF information can be leveraged for use in multiple discovery environments, without having to be re-created manually in local authority files. Ultimately, applications that achieve this may change the nature and expectations of authority work for catalogers. 

    Answer 2 (Thom Hickey): VIAF is probably the most use for catalogers dealing with materials outside what is covered by their national authority files. VIAF is also becoming quite good with coverage of non-Latin scripts. The VIAF site is public at

  3. If ORCID is outgrowth of Thomas-Reuters, wouldn't there be many dissimilarities with author names? Author citation in journal databases is usually radically different from VIAF (e.g., no middle name, etc.)

    Answer (Thom Hickey): While journal citations have traditionally used abbreviated forms of names, the data the publishers currently maintain about their authors is much richer, both in the name and associated data.

  4. Thom - love the spots. Where did that linked graph come from - how was it created?

    Answer (Thom Hickey): Found it at Wikipedia: pointing at I am not sure how it was created.

  5. Have any of VIAF, ISNI, ORCID disclaimed (e.g. via CC0 or public domain) or claimed (e.g. via copyright or EULA) rights/restrictions in the data they will manage? (Open data can make a big difference in data reusability/interoperability).

    Answer (Thom Hickey): I believe all will have some restrictions on their data.  That said, a great deal will be public, and needs to be for them to be viable services.

  6. Hi, Do you have an ontology for VIAF? How do you propose future libraries joining VIAF. Are you going to publish a schema so external institutions can map/export data to it.

    Answer (Thom Hickey): No ontology at this time, but as we expand and improve our RDF view of VIAF we will need to develop one.  Currently VIAF members are mostly national libraries, but the service is up for free and personal names added to LC/NACO will find their way into VIAF (typically in 4-6 weeks). We expose the records in MARC-21, UNIMARC, limited RDF and our internal XML.

  7. To what group does I2 WG report?

    Answer (Karen Wetzel, NISO Standards Program Manager): The I2 (Institutional Identifiers) Working Group reports to NISO's Business Information Topic Committee. In addition, Helen Henderson is a member of both groups and serves as a liaison between them in order to ensure that communication is constant.

  8. Here is another question for Thomas. Viaf supports displaying data in mulitiple langauges. Is there a drive to identify which term came from which language? (I just saw language attribute on one of the slides.) If so are you thinking of enhancing terms with language codes standards, such as: And a follow up to that - how will you handle terms which contain mixed languages? These questions are focused towards internationalization, where based on user's location a preferred term in user's language is shown. Thanks!

    Answer (Thom Hickey): Actually, VIAF is more aware of differing scripts and the source of the data rather than language, although we retain it whenever we have it. This shouldn't prevent us from doing much of what you want; for example, someone whose preferred language is German could be shown the preferred
    form used by the German National Library (DNB), or someone that preferred Arabic could be shown one of the Arabic script forms.

  9. We cannot link our ISSNs or ISBNs accurately now. What hope for name identifiers?

    Answer 1 (Thom Hickey): There is no hope for perfection, but every hope that the level of accuracy will be adequate.  Currently we strive for better than 99% accuracy in links within VIAF, but that level of accuracy means that many names that should match don't because of lack of information about them.

    Answer 2 (Bob Wolven): While it's true that linking based on ISSNs and ISBNs is far from perfect, it's also far more advanced than just a few years ago. One reason is that there's a greater and ever-growing recognition of the value of this data, by most players in the information supply chain. If we build technical applications that demonstrate real benefits of name identifiers, we can look to see a similar recognition and adoption. To reverse the question, consider where we'd be if we made no attempt to use standard numbers for linking.
  10. I am interested to know when the information in the webinar will impact my daily work as a cataloger. When will I have access to data from VIAF and the other projects described?

    Answer (Thom Hickey): VIAF is available publicly at, but there is currently no schedule as to if and when it might be integrated into OCLC cataloging services.