This is an article from the Spring 2014 issue of LSA Magazine. To read more stories like this, click here.

Names can be tricky.

At the University of Michigan, there are, at last count, 23 faculty named J. Lee, 19 named J. Kim, and 11 named S. Smith — all of whom must contend with the possibility that their work will be confused with that of another researcher.

“So when you multiply U-M by every other university in the world, figuring out who wrote what becomes a difficult challenge,” says U-M librarian Jim Ottaviani, who is part of a new project that develops identification to connect researchers unambiguously to their work.

The Open Researcher and Contributor ID project, or ORCID, creates identifiers that attach to a researcher forever, regardless of whether they change their name, move to a different university, or begin research in a different discipline.

“What can be more compelling than accurately matching a person with his or her research output?” asks Ottaviani, who manages Deep Blue, the U-M repository for scholarly and artistic work. “That would be awesome.”

The ORCID system is based on ResearcherID software created by Thomson Reuters, a company that publishes research journals. Efforts to globally integrate ORCID into research grew out of conversations between Thomson Reuters and Nature Publishing Group in early 2009. Since then, ORCID has become an international collaboration among academic institutions such as U-M, government agencies such as the National Institutes of Health, and charitable foundations such as the Wellcome Trust, along with scholarly societies and publishers.

Researchers generally aren’t required to include an ORCID identifier with their submitted manuscripts and funding applications — yet. But when that time comes, the campus and its faculty want to be prepared.

The U-M library system supports the implementation of ORCID and has begun to work with Information and Technology Services (ITS) and others to integrate ORCID with existing systems on campus, such as MCommunity, a directory of people and groups at U-M. The University also acts as a voting member on the ORCID Board of Directors, so U-M will be able to create ORCID identifiers for all researchers and potentially students on campus, making the process easy for everyone.

In addition to ensuring that scholarship gets attributed to the correct researcher, ORCID also gathers a researcher’s scholarly assets in one place. August Evrard, an astrophysicist with appointments in LSA’s Departments of Physics and Astronomy, doesn’t worry much that his work will be confused with that of another researcher; his name is pretty uncommon. But ORCID still has value for Evrard because, he says, research is moving beyond traditional books and articles to include products like software and shared data sets.

“That means that I can get a 360-degree view of what someone contributes to research,” Evrard says. “To me, that’s the core reason why ORCID can be successful. It helps you as a scholar shine a light on all the things that you’ve done, and it makes sure that the digital record reflects correctly on your contributions.”

Elaine Westbrooks, associate university librarian for research at U-M, believes that a comprehensive list of scholarly assets is important for researchers to have and to share. She notes, “At a public institution, there are additional reasons why you want your research to be discovered. Taxpayers fund the research, and at [U-M], we have a responsibility to share it. What does that mean for transparency and the University’s impact in this region, the University’s impact on the world?”

Westbrooks reflects, “In 500 years, all these things will be accessible because we made the decision today that this is important.”

To read more stories from LSA Magazine, click here.

Photo credit: Thomas Jackson/Getty Images.