Hot Off The Presses From IPA and IFRRO!

Identifier and Metadata Standards in the Publishing Industry

Even before the age of the internet, the information community has collaborated across geographical boundaries in order to effectively and efficiently disseminate materials. Doing so necessitated collaboration and consensus in developing the standards required to smooth exchange of scholarship and research findings. As a result, most standards development organizations, such as NISO, have seen the value of welcoming in a range of seemingly disparate groups. As an example, NISO membership has grown more international in its scope, with 25% of NISO members now based outside the US, such as the British Library, the National Library of Finland, IOP Publishing, the ISSN International Centre, and the World Bank Group. For our more than 400 member organizations to achieve their respective goals and missions, there must be a certain commonality in approach. We’re not alone in this work, but there’s always more progress to be made.

Produced by the International Federation of Reproduction Rights Organisations (IFRRO) and the International Publishers Association (IPA), a new report illuminates some of the challenges encountered in the work. Identifier and Metadata Standards in the Publishing Industry opens with an explanation of its rationale—“to provide a high-level overview of the deployment of technical standards in the global publishing value and supply chains, with a particular emphasis on where the standards infrastructure may need development if it is to meet the needs of some or all participants in those chains.” There follows a short list of participants in that chain—the body of creators of visual and textual content, service providers, intermediaries, and consumers. 

Given the funding bodies behind the work, it is understandable that author Mike Bide focuses on the European perspective in looking at a set of long-established, standardized mechanisms. There is the ISBN (International Standard Book Number), the ISNI (International Standard Name Identifier), the ISTC (International Standard Text Code), ONIX, and more. He concludes that members of the IFRRO and the IPA may be losing ground in a global marketplace. 

Emerging areas requiring their attention include but are not limited to: 

  • Standards deployment in academic publishing 
  • Application of new technologies in rights management and content identification 
  • Issues of cross-border search for out-of-commerce works
  • Attention to the need for better infrastructure for underdeveloped areas around the globe

Bide concludes that European entities are minimizing their own effectiveness by being too deeply mired in building local rather than global solutions to emerging areas of concern. Standards processes are cumbersome and vary from country to country within the EU. 

Recommended Steps

The report’s initial and strongest recommendation is that industry stakeholders become more involved with development activities, engaging with “the agencies responsible for standards management, such as ISBN-IA; to participate in standards development forums such as ISO TC46/SC9 and to maintain a watching brief on other areas of interest, such as the work of the TDM Community Interest Group and the Content Authenticity Initiative.” It’s worth noting that NISO serves as the Secretariat for this ISO Committee and Todd Carpenter, Executive Director of NISO, serves as its Committee Manager. As such, NISO is deeply involved with all of those groups, and Carpenter makes an important point in his monthly I/O column when he asks, “Whom among you can’t think of at least a handful of ways your role or your institution could be more efficient, or... improved through a community approach to solving the problem?” The need is for greater collaboration across borders. While some efforts referenced in the report have failed, there remain both a real need and a real opportunity for greater engagement. 

Further, the report concludes that collaboration might also aid in education efforts of the community in understanding the applicability of international standards (such as problems associated with identifiers for images or rights management).

The final general recommendation reads, “For standards to be truly global they need to be inclusive, reaching all communities and also to be widely used and accessible in all parts of the world. We suggest that development projects such as training, capacity building and the development of technical tools are necessary, in both specific communities such as in support of the visually impaired and also in less developed parts of the world to ensure equity of access. We understand that development is part of the global mission of the commissioning parties, and recommend future collaboration in this area.”

Call to Action

The report’s final paragraphs issue a call—“If we have demonstrated anything in this report, we hope we have underlined how far the global publishing industry is from having developed and deployed the sort of infrastructure envisaged as necessary components of a global digital rights infrastructure. Much work has been done to define what a comprehensive solution might look like. Rather too little of it is in place. It is here that we stray into long-term strategic questions for all readers of this report that are clearly not within our remit. If there is to be ‘a global digital rights infrastructure,’ what part(s) could or should relevant organisations play in its development and governance?

As one of those relevant organizations, NISO invites both European colleagues and those around the world to engage with us and further the good of all.