The Loon thought that the announcement of the ISO ISNI standard was thoroughly charming. (Yes, she is a strange bird.) ISNI CEO Olav Stokkmo was quoted, “The fundamental goal of ISNI is to provide a persistent identifier that can be shared and used by any organization that holds information on people and characters, reducing duplication of effort and improving accuracy.”
Characters, eh? Under certain lights, the Loon is one of those. Could she get an ISNI? According to ISNI’s home page, yes: “Those Parties can be natural persons (a human being like an book author), legal entities (like a Record Label) or even fictional characters (like Peter Pan).”
The Loon loves ISNIs already!
No, but let’s step back a moment and think about this. Identifiers are tricky beasts, and that’s before one arrives at lies programmers believe about names, names of people or names of pseudonyms.
Since OCLC is already part of the ISNI constellation, ISNI has presumably already run into problems of pseudonyms and fictional characters, since library authority files contain both. So ISNI presumably knows whether the Loon and her BAE receive different identifiers, and if so, whether ISNI will establish a link between one and the other. (Please don’t, ISNI.)
ISNI presumably also has metadata distinguishing natural persons from pseudonyms from fictional characters. Lovely. Which distinguisher does Violet Blue receive? Lady Gaga? The chronicler of the Quixote? (Trust the Loon, Cervantes was playing all sorts of mask games with that one; he learned to from the picaresque genre the immortal Quixote draws heavily on.)
Is the Hamlet of Hamlet the same Hamlet as the Hamlet of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead? Is Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe the same character as Coetzee’s (who, if the Loon recalls correctly, is not even named within the book’s pages)? Does the historical emperor Claudius receive the same ISNI as Robert Graves’s character? Suetonius’s, in several ways equally fictionalized?
ISNI would no doubt prefer to punt on such questions. They just mint identifiers, right? It’s up to the rest of us to decide the boundaries of their application. Unfortunately, ISNI can’t punt, because ISNI must decide whether one or several ISNIs are minted around these edge cases. Perhaps ISNI builds equivalence and referral mechanisms itself, or perhaps it leaves such dilemmas to the evil Modeller and his henchlings, but the question of what merits an ISNI can’t be dodged.
The easiest solution may well be “mint ISNIs for everything and let the Web sort it out.” That solution will not, the Loon fears, endear itself to librarians, or much of anyone else, really.
The Loon could take a stab at some of these questions, but she knows that her background in literature study would govern her answers, and she isn’t sure that’s the most productive perspective from which to regard them. She looks forward, perhaps with more glee than she ought, to watching ISNI work out the answers.
- Data lifecycles versus research lifecycles