Notes from the LITA Standards IG meeting

Todd Carpenter, NISO’s new Managing Director (since September 2006) gave a talk about the new NISO organization that has evolved out of the recommendations from the 2005 “Blue Ribbon Panel” that reviewed the organization. He started by reiterating facts and perceptions about NISO — that it is the agency responsible for ANSI Z39 standards and the ANSI representative to the ISO TC46; that standards formation under NISO is a long, arduous process measured in years; that NISO has been reactive to situations within the community and has not been engaged in the incubation or early development of standardization efforts; and that it is focused on internal communities (libraries) rather than engagement with other groups and industries with similar needs to libraries.

NISO status

As a snapshot of what it is now, Todd said that NISO has 3 full-time professional staff, a dozen or so consultants and partners that make up a “virtual staff” and about 300 volunteers working on NISO standards activities. The organization is made up of 82 voting members, 27 Library Standards Alliance members, and 13 maintenance agencies. Revenue for 2006 was $714,000, up modestly from previous years; 80% of revenue is from membership dues while the remaining 20% is from seminars and publishing. Grants receipts are a new form of revenue with $196,000 received from the Mellon foundation and $24,000 from IMLS.

NISO is taking a much broader focus on standards related activities that was previously conceived. NISO will certainly continue to maintain a portfolio of Z39.xx standards and participation in ISO standard efforts, but it is now envisioned that there can be other types of outputs/solutions: recommended practice documents; tools, plugins, or web services definitions; white papers investigating and educating on new technologies; registries in support of identifiers and other processes; and creation of “living documents” such as wiki sites (with an editorial board). He highlighted the difference of two recent standards efforts (SUSHI and SEUR) as compared to the traditional ANSI standards process: incubation of draft standard in months rather than years (SUSHI – 13 months, SERU – 9 months) with draft standards for organizations to trial, test, and iteratively improve leading from concept to final approval in less than two years. (“Final approval” in this case is a majority vote of NISO members, not the full consensus needed for an ANSI Z39-track standard.)

The Strategic Framework

The “Blue Ribbon Panel” in 2005 describes a “Strategic Framework” of areas in which NISO should operate. This strategic framework helps pinpoint areas across the community that are most critical for the creation, persistent management and exchange of trusted information in support of research and learning. This framework is seen as critical for three reasons. First the community that NISO serves is changing rapidly, and it needs better ways of identifying and prioritizing the community’s requirements and take actions to address them. Second, NISO is working with scarce resources. Third, and related to the previous two, is a desire to avoid duplication of standards work.

The framework divides the world into three components. The first is “activities” (what an organization is doing) with these categories: Discovery to Delivery; Collection Management; Space-connecting (getting physical things from one place to another); Business intelligence (statistics and such); and management and policy. The second component is “entities” (what is being acted upon) with these categories: people; information object; collections; organizations; and services. The third is purpose of the standard with these categories: identification (what is being talked about); formats and structures (what is is and how it is constructed); transactions (how a process occurs); and policy. Todd offered Z39.50 as an example of how a standard can be placed in this framework: the activity is “discovery to delivery” of “collections” as entities with the purpose of defining a transactional format.

New Organizational Structure

NISO as an organization is changing to fulfill this framework. The former structure had a single Standards Development Committee, and all working groups reported to the SDC. In practice, this is found to be too top-heavy to effectively manage a diverse portfolio of standards. The new structure adds a layer to manage the diversity. At the top is the Architecture Committee with the primary goals of developing and maintaining the framework (as described above), gather input from external experts on the framework, reach out to other standards bodies, and managing topic committees (see below).

Working groups are structured much as they were before — doing the actual standards making. In between the working groups and the Architecture Committee are new Topic Committees. Each topic committee is aligned with the “activities” in the framework, and has these responsibilities: management of a portfolio of standards; coordination of the reaffirmation process for existing standards; and leadership in the strategic expansion of standards within the area of expertise.

One way Topic Committees will proactively explore areas of standardization needs within an area of focus is through meetings of “Thought Leaders.” Each topic committee will organize one or two meetings a year of eight to 12 key specialists to explore the state of the art in a particular topic area. The thought leaders will review the core issues and “points of pain” then priorities these issues based on the viability of solving or substantially improving the situation within 18 months, given current technology and “cultural” environments. After selecting the most pressing issue to pursue, the thought leaders then describe what a solution would look like and draft a charge for working group (including timeline, expected reporting, and anticipated outcomes) along with potential working group participants. This information is reported back to the Topic Committee and NISO. The outcome of the working group could be a standards- or recommended practice-based solution. Todd emphasized that participation in the thought leader meeting will not necessarily imply service on the working group. The initial series of thought leader meetings will revolve around institutional repositories, digital libraries and digital collections, electronic learning systems and digital information, and research data.

Updated Infrastructure and Outreach Efforts

Part of the Mellon foundation grant money is going to fund the creation of a suite of technological tools to improve the workflow of the standards making process. Areas of effort include organizational management (streamline voting, contact management) as well as committee communications (assign tasks and automate follow-up, collaborative authoring tools, document management, web video conference). Doing so will allow easier adherence to the ANSI policies for standards-making efforts.

The final area of focus for NISO is in outreach, education and training about standards. In particular, educational programming is a key aspect of outreach to the community. It fosters the adoption and application of standards as well as enhances the development process by providing an opportunity for the community to be engaged in the standards development efforts. These efforts also generate revenue to support the organization. The events will take the form of roving presentations at venues around the country and use of ‘webinars’ for quick, in-depth exploration of a technical area. Todd notes that while there is a great deal of individual participation in NISO activities (committee and working group membership, etc.) that there is not a lot of “organizational” participation. Member libraries make up only one-third of voting membership and the Library Standards Alliance program has only 27 members. He sees that library consortia may represent a way to pool the efforts of individual libraries to support the standards development process.