One of the most ironic truths about standards is that there are so many of them. Unfortunately, along with this multiplicity, there is also a lot of overlap and duplication. For various reasons, two or more specifications are often developed that serve the same purpose, or possibly address different components of a larger problem. Over time, technological solutions for managing an issue could change, requiring new standards to be developed, leaving both solutions to exist in the market simultaneously. Since old technologies hardly ever die off completely, those legacy systems and the newer ones will likely need to interoperate at some level, so that the standards that support them must be mapped or translated and thus both need to be continually maintained. Of course, there are also social, business, and political reasons why people choose to implement a given solution. This description is only a portion of the puzzle as to why multiple specifications exist and are advanced. I often state the adage that 90% of standards issues have nothing to do with technology; that 90% causes the majority of problems related to duplication in standards work.
A few examples of this phenomenon come to mind this month. First, a new specification related to transferring of rights information is being considered by ISO TC 46/SC 9. The proposal was developed simultaneously half a world apart by two groups that are concerned about the availability of rights information for cultural content yet weren't communicating with each other. One group, led by Europeana and the Digital Public Library of America, released a set of rights statements for cultural heritage institutions last spring. Meanwhile, a group in Japan suggested that the ISO community that develops identification and description standards address the same problem. Neither group is the first to explore the issue of rights information, nor to include it in metadata. Dublin Core included rights as early as 1999, though in an unstructured form. Several rights expression languages have been developed. And now it seems yet another effort may move forward.
Another example: during the ALA Midwinter conference in Atlanta, NISO hosted a meeting to discuss the variety of circulation-related exchange standards in the community. This isn't a case of multiple organizations pursuing related work, but in fact a rationalization of NISO's portfolio. Work on improving the SIP standard has been in progress since 3M transferred SIP 3.0 to NISO several years ago. At the same time, the NCIP standard is managed through a continuous maintenance procedure, and NISO has recently launched new work on standardizing APIs to exchange information for electronic resources. Beyond NISO, UK-based BIC (Book Industry Communication) has been working on its Library Communications Framework (LCF). ISO standards for some of these services exist as well. Each of these efforts serves its own role and function in the world of library systems, but our community isn't so big and the number of suppliers isn't so large that we couldn't and shouldn't consolidate these related endeavors. Such a rationalization was the topic of discussion during the meeting in Atlanta. We plan to extend this conversation with a public webinar on the morning of March 23rd, so be on the lookout for more information on that.
NISO is also making a broader effort to reorganize and consolidate our varied portfolio of current and future work. We need to be efficient, focused on those efforts that provide the greatest value to our members and our community. We must keep asking ourselves whether what we are focused on developing serves the greatest number of users in the most robust way possible. We began this reorganization process last fall with a community survey to which many people contributed. NISO's leadership is now reviewing this data and considering which of our efforts have had the greatest impact. We are also looking at how to restructure our portfolio while retaining close connections to our various communities to make sure that maintenance of legacy activities doesn't inhibit us from advancing new and critical work to help all of you remain effective and productive. This process includes re-grouping our work to bring it more closely in line with functional activities, stabilizing long-standing standards, and expanding participation on those leadership groups.
NISO shouldn't advance every project or every idea. We need to be selective and to work together to ensure that our projects have the best impacts. Sometimes that means partnerships, sometimes it means deprecating efforts or standards. Occasionally being selective means stopping work after it has begun, in favor of other newer, better ideas when they are raised. It also requires there be a willingness to set aside social preferences that might lead to multiple efforts, in support of singular projects. Sometimes complexity is appropriate, because we live in a complex world; other times, complexity just adds to overall confusion instead of helping to solve problems. NISO is committed to being more efficient and reducing that complexity whenever possible.