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Digital Object Identifiers and their use at American U.: DOIs

This guide describes the role of Digital Object Identifiers (DOIs) in the scholarly communication landscape and how DOIs are assigned by AU Library.

What is a DOI and how does it work?


DOI stands for Digital Object Identifier, a system to unambiguously identify - and thereby, be able to reliably cite - creative and research outputs. It was developed in the late 1990s, and implemented in the early 2000s, primarily and originally for articles in scholarly journals. For some examples of the use of DOIs in citing sources, see How to Use the New DOI Format in APA Style; and for more details on the DOI infrastructure, the Key Facts on the Digital Object Identifier System.) Since those early years, DOIs have also become adopted for datasets and other research outputs.

DOIs are (intended to be) globally unique, persistent identifiers:

  • The global uniqueness is assured by the distributed DOI generation system, which relies on a group of registration agencies, which in turn have member organizations that offer services to allow their members to create and maintain DOIs. (American University Library obtains DOIs via DataCite.)
  • The assurance of persistence is the task of the organization creating (also called "minting") and maintaining DOIs, and the associated metadata, such as American University Library.  A DOI is created to resolve to the URL of a resource on the web; if that URL changes, the DOI shall be modified to point to the new URL, thus assuring the "stability" of the DOI in any citation, to take a reader/user to the same digital object regardless of where it may have moved on the web from its original location.

American University Library generates and maintains DOIs for selected items in its Digital Research Archive. A list of all of those items can be found via DataCite Search, with links to the item in the Digital Research Archive.

The library can also "reserve" DOIs for articles, reports, datasets, etc., before the DOI is made live and pointed to that (or any other, related) digital object with a URL. For example, we have created a DOI for a report to include in the suggested citation that that report contains. Please send any inquiries about this service to


The role of DOIs in the scholarly ecosystem

In the "scholarly ecosystem" depicted here:

several questions may be asked by the parties involved, and from the outside:

  • by the university (for scholarly productivity or promotion and tenure review): what scholarly outputs has this researcher created and published? What do we need to do to accommodate his/her research output?

  • by funding agencies: what publications and datasets have been generated by this researcher's work that has been funded by us?

  • by publishers (of articles, books, etc.): how can we and our publications' readers find and identify the researcher, and research data, "behind" this publication?

  • by researchers: how can I easily list and cite my publications, datasets, funding sources?

  • by other researchers: how can I find out which dataset or datasets informed the findings in this publication? What publications resulted from this dataset I discovered? 

The combination of Digital Object Identifiers (DOIs) for datasets and publications, and ORCID iDs for researchers and research contributors can help establish these linkages easily and unambiguously.  (Persistent Identifiers for organizations and funding sources are in development, but beyond the scope of this guide.)

Source of graphic: presentation Linking research data and publications: a survey of the landscape in the social sciences at the Second Workshop on Linking and Contextualizing Publications and Datasets.