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USGS Data Management

Preserve > Persistent Identifiers

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Persistent Identifiers

Persistent Identifiers are globally unique numeric and/or character strings that reference a digital object. Persistent identifiers can be actionable in that they enable a user to access the digital resource via a persistent link. They are intended to function for the long term. While there are several standard persistent identifier systems, the most relevant to USGS are Digital Object Identifiers (DOI).

What are DOIs and how are they useful?

Key Points

  • Persistent identifiers
    • provide a long-term reference to a digital object.
    • can be actionable, providing a persistent link to the digital resource.
    • can allow datasets to be tracked and cited.
    • encourage access, discovery, and potential reuse of datasets.
  • The Digital Object Identifier (DOI) System enables the location of digital objects on the Internet.
  • DOIs are globally unique, alphanumeric strings assigned to one digital object.
  • USGS publications are assigned Digital Object Identifiers as part of the library cataloging process.
  • Visit the USGS DOI Creation Tool to create a DOI for the dataset itself.

A Digital Object Identifier (DOI) is one type of unique, persistent identifier that is permanently assigned to a specific electronic resource. It is sometimes likened to a Social Security Number (SSN) for a person. Just as a person may be assigned a unique number that identifies him or her to various parties – employers, creditors, the Internal Revenue Service – and remains the same no matter where he or she moves, so an electronic object receives a unique sequence of alphanumeric characters that remain tied to that object, no matter how many times the object moves to different servers or property rights owners. A DOI can link an end user to the unique digital object. A DOI supports scientific integrity in that it provides access to the data, workflow, or software version used in a research project from which results can be reproduced. Two official Digital Object Identifier registration organizations used by the USGS and sanctioned by the Digital Object Identifier Consortium ( are CrossRef and DataCite.

A DOI is permanently attached to a digital object, and is managed apart from the object’s physical location. The DOI itself doesn’t change. This provides enormous advantage, because a properly managed DOI will always point to the current online location of that object, and can therefore be used reliably in all references and citations. The reliability of DOIs provides a strong advantage over a cited URL, which does little good for end users if the desired object is no longer available from that electronic location.

A DOI identifies a specific online resource, such as the final version of a dataset or publication that was approved for release, a dataset that was improved and annotated to meet a requirement, or the version of a numerical model that was used in a scientific publication.

Here’s what a doi looks like:

doi: 10.5066/USGS.7539

Here’s how it becomes an actionable link:

Example citations with DOIs for data:

Moody, J.A., and Meade, R.H., 2013, Powder River: Data for cross-channel profiles at 22 sites in southeastern Montana from 1975 through 2013: U.S. Geological Survey dataset,

Diffendorfer, J.E., Compton, Roger, Kramer, Louisa, Ancona, Zach, and Norton, Donna, 2014, Onshore industrial wind turbine locations for the United States through July, 2013: U.S. Geological Survey Data Series 817,

Best Practices:

  • Ensure a persistent identifier is assigned to published scholarly articles
    • Some publishers may already require this and will do it for you.
    • USGS publications are assigned Digital Object Identifiers as part of the library cataloging process.
  • When assigning a Digital Object Identifier for a dataset:
    • Assign a Digital Object Identifier for each version of your dataset if you want to track changes to the dataset.
    • Include the Digital Object Identifier in your metadata record that describes your data [see Describe > Metadata for more information]
    • Include the Digital Object Identifier in the citation of the data set. [see Describe > Data Citation for more information]


  • USGS - Digital Object Identifier Creation Tool
  • Description:
    USGS Core Science Analytics, Synthesis, and Libraries and DOE’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory Mercury Consortium established a Digital Object Identifier service for USGS and Mercury data/metadata projects. The Digital Object Identifier creation tool is offered through the California Digital Library’s UC3EZID which enables a digital object producer to obtain and manage persistent identifiers for their digital content.

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