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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 Series publications are assigned Digital Object Identifiers as part of the library cataloging process.
  • USGS Data approved for release must be assigned Digital Object Identifiers.
  • 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.

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.

USGS Use of DOIs

Two official DOI registration organizations used by the USGS and sanctioned by the Digital Object Identifier Consortium ( are CrossRef and DataCite.

A DOI name takes the form of a character string divided into two parts, a prefix and a suffix, separated by a slash. The prefix for USGS scholarly series publications is 10.3133. The prefix for USGS data is 10.5066. Hence when a DOI has a 10.3133 it is a USGS scholarly series publication that is referenced and when a DOI has a 10.5066 it is USGS data that is referenced.

Here's what a DOI looks like:

doi: 10.3133/pp1814A

Here's how it becomes an actionable link:

For USGS Publications

Digital Object Identifiers for USGS series publications will be obtained for you when they are released through the USGS publication process specified in the Fundamental Science Practices. These Digital Object Identifiers will originate from the CrossRef system. This DOI assignment is part of the standard USGS publications process.

Example USGS Publication (DOI automatically obtained through CrossRef):

Engott, J.A., Johnson, A.G., Bassiouni, Maoya, and Izuka, S.K., 2015, Spatially distributed groundwater recharge for 2010 land cover estimated using a water-budget model for the Island of O`ahu, Hawai`i: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2015–5010, 49 p.,

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,

For USGS Datasets

For data that residing on USGS Federal servers, USGS scientists obtain DOIs for citing data using the USGS Digital Object Identifier Creation Tool which accesses All data that is released through USGS must have a DOI.

Data associated with the scholarly publication (DOI obtained by data owner through DataCite):

Engott, J.A., 2015, Mean annual water-budget components for the Island of Oahu, Hawaii, for average climate conditions, 1978-2007 rainfall and 2010 land cover: U.S. Geological Survey data release,

Catchings, R.D. Strayer, L.M. Goldman, M.R. Criley, C.J. Garcia, S.H. Sickler, R.R. Catchings, M.K. Chan, J.H. Gordon, L. Haefner, S. Blair, L. Gandhok, G. and Johnson, M., 2015, 2013 East Bay Seismic Experiment (EBSE)--implosion data, Hayward, Calif.: U.S. Geological Survey data release,

For USGS data residing on non-USGS Federal servers, please consult your Bureau Approving Official for guidance.

For Outside Journal Publications

Most peer-reviewed journals will assign the DOI to articles using their own DOI prefix and registration process.

Example outside journal publication (No action needed to create a DOI):

Estimates of Natural Salinity and Hydrology in a Subtropical Estuarine Ecosystem: Implications for Greater Everglades Restoration Frank E. Marshall, G. Lynn Wingard, Patrick A. Pitts.

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.

What the U.S. Geological Survey Manual Says:

The USGS Instructional Memoradum IM OSQI 2015-03 - Fundamental Science Practices: Review and Approval of Scientific Data for Release requires persistent identifiers:

Data approved for release must be assigned a persistent identifier, specifically a Digital Object Identifier (DOI) from the USGS registration agent, and be accompanied by a recommended citation.

Recommended Reading


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