Accelerating Science Discovery - Join the Discussion

Before and after CrossRef

by Walt Warnick on Thu, December 19, 2013

Doctor at University of Oxford


It is truly wonderful when something comes along that speeds access to science. Such is the case with CrossRef’s linking network for scholarly literature. Anyone that has ever done a literature search prior to 2000 is completely blown away today when they encounter the time saved and the quality of CrossRef’s linking service. I vividly recall my own literature review for my PhD dissertation almost 40 years ago and I want to share my story.

For many long and miserable days and nights for a solid month I practically lived at the University of Maryland’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Library plowing through a massive set of numerous volumes of citation indices looking up keywords related to my dissertation. My topic Secondary deflections and lateral stability of beams was based on my research at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory. None of my faculty had specialized in such topics and so my task was monumental-- do a full blown literature review from scratch. I would write down suspected relevant citations and walk through the extensive stacks of the library where I could locate the journal, find the right volume of the journal, and examine the article. Since the indexing contained minimal information, most of the time the articles weren’t relevant and much of my effort was fruitless. When I got lucky and found a relevant article, I had to copy the citation information and meat of the article by hand. Then I had to scour the references in that article and determine if it was necessary to find the referenced journals in the stacks and examine the referenced articles. This is how a dissertation literature review was done before online literature searching. Online searching has been further enhanced by the inclusion of links to the full text. Links between the literature citations and the full text is facilitated by CrossRef.

I estimate that my agonizing month’s dissertation research would easily take less than two days to complete today. I can access the library remotely from anywhere, anytime. Multiple key words and Boolean tools let me target precisely what I am looking for in my subject area and weed out irrelevant articles. Results are available with the click of the mouse and articles as well as their references are instantly accessible for review via Digital Object Identifiers (DOIs), a unique and permanent alphanumeric string assigned to digital objects, e.g., electronic journal articles or book chapters. The time saved allows me more time to do constructive work on the experimental and analytical parts of the dissertation.

CrossRef, a network founded on publisher collaboration, uniquely captures the power of the web for science and totally revolutionizes what it means to do a scholarly literature review by linking millions of articles and chapters, from thousands of publications, from hundreds of publishers. CrossRef’s citation linking service that assigns DOIs is a PhD student’s dream come true. I can only imagine how far science might have progressed if CrossRef had been available 40 years ago, as it truly speeds access to science and frees up precious time for researchers .


Likewise, OSTI’s mission is to accelerate the diffusion of knowledge to advance science and sustain technological creativity. We believe that researchers need fast scientific information in order to make great discoveries and we work continuously to provide the latest suite of innovative tools and resources to make it happen. OSTI was pleased to join CrossRef in 2005, pioneering a first-of-a-kind government-private partnership to add reference-linking capabilities of CrossRef. We began to assign DOIs to DOE’s R&D technical report collection so they could be reliably cited by journal articles and by other technical reports. Today over 135,000 technical reports available through OSTI’s SciTech Connect have been assigned DOIs. Additionally, over 180,000 science journal articles and conference papers in SciTech Connect have DOIs, the DOE Data Explorer provides 558 datatsets with DOIs, and the Energy Technology Data Exchange World Energy Base (ETDEWEB) provides more than 1.2 million citations with DOI links.

And, OSTI is committed to increasing the use of DOIs as they become available.

CrossRef is additionally closing the federal journal literature gap with FundRef (beta) which they announced in May 2012. FundRef is a pilot collaboration between scholarly publishers and funding agencies to standardize funding source information for scholarly publications and to track funded research via a funding agency field. OSTI has lacked the ability to fully account for and provide access to journal articles resulting from DOE research. Being able to track the scholarly publications that result from funding activities will provide us with an important measure of our impact on research progress. OSTI became one of four funding agencies participating in the pilot of the funder identification service, which provides the names of research funders and the grant or award number attributed in journal articles or other scholarly documents.

FundRef is also slated to be the cornerstone of the proposed Clearinghouse for the Open Research of the United States (CHORUS), described as a framework for a possible public-private partnership to increase public access to federally-funded, peer-reviewed publications.

OSTI believes science can be advanced by accelerating the access to science. My example of a dissertation literature review before and after CrossRef is a prime example of how this works. As OSTI continues to work with scholarly publishers on a number of initiatives to improve and accelerate access to DOE R&D results, CrossRef and FundRef collaborations are key to OSTI’s commitment to make the web work better for science.

Dr. Walter Warnick, Director


Page last updated on 2017-08-11 04:20

About the Author

Dr. Walt Warnick's picture
Walt Warnick
Former Director, U.S. DOE Office of Scientific and Technical Information