Digital Object Identifiers (DOI) are meant to provide actionable, interoperable, persistent links to digital objects. They were developed by the publishing community as a method to “protect assets in the digital environment,” and have been governed by the International DOI Foundation since 1998. As for what objects a DOI can be assigned to, the International DOI Foundation says that “It can be any entity — physical, digital or abstract — that you wish to identify, primarily for sharing with an interested user community or managing as intellectual property.”
The Project Vox team was looking for a method to make the content on our site persistently identifiable and easy to cite, so DOIs seemed like a great solution. In addition to providing consistent access to materials on our site, we were interested in the perceived publication credit it would lend to our contributors. There was one other major advantage to using DOIs: doing so would enable us to track Project Vox using altmetrics, which look beyond traditional download and citation counts to discover where and by whom a given article is being used by tracking mentions in social and mainstream media. A number of different tools are available for tracking altmetrics, but the one we were interested in using, Altmetric Explorer, works best by tracking DOIs.
When we started talking through the realities of using DOIs, though, we ran into some problems. Originally, we had envisioned assigning DOIs to each page of the Project Vox website. However, one of the advantages to publishing in the digital environment is its dynamic nature. DOIs, on the other hand, are meant to represent fixed works; if a person cites something with a DOI, she should, in theory, be able to reference that exact digital object as it was when it was cited. If we were to update a page, we would need to assign it a new DOI and archive the old version so that it is still accessible. This opens up a whole new can of worms: how often would we need to update the pages? How would we make this old version available?
Another issue came up in regards to creating DOIs for materials on the site. In order to create them, we would need to deposit Project Vox materials into DukeSpace, the University’s institutional repository. The institutional repository is a stable preservation environment that provides access to digital content managed by the Duke University Archives, dissertations and master’s projects, and university records. Putting Project Vox into the institutional repository is complicated due to its dynamic nature — most of the files in the repository are fixed files, not complex digital objects like web pages. Additionally, tracking DOIs assigned by DukeSpace would give us tracking data about how often the files were being accessed from the repository, not from the website itself.
Because of these challenges, DOIs do not seem like the right fit for the site. We are currently working on creating human-readable URLs and inserting Google Scholar compliant metadata in order to make the site indexable and trackable, but we are interested in finding out more about methods for identifying, tracking, and citing digital humanities projects. Our next step is to see whether we can use altmetrics, a non-traditional method of tracking publications, on Project Vox, a non-traditional publication. Let us know if you have any ideas!