Making Our Vision A Reality

I have had a small inspirational quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson posted in my office for several years now. It reads, “The world makes way for the man who knows where he is going.”  Despite the subtle sexism of the nineteenth century, I appreciate the quote for its perspective on goals: it’s better to know what you’re trying to do and where you’re trying to get to. Having this knowledge provides at least a compass, if not necessarily a direct route, toward your goal. Failing that, quoting another great philosopher, Yogi Berra, “If you don't know where you are going, you might wind up someplace else.”  We all perform better with concrete goals.

2019 was transitional and transformative for NISO. When the year began, there was no clear understanding of exactly where we would end up. We had many ideas and the outline of some plans, but it was quite uncertain how each would play out, which would receive broad membership support, and how they would be received. Through perseverance, luck, and possibly good planning, we managed to pull things together in a way that seems to please our community.  Looking back on our activities, there is much to be proud of and much to be excited about as we position ourselves to move forward in the upcoming decade.

NISO has always been focused on a mission of building knowledge, fostering discussion, and advancing authoritative standards development through collaboration. Over the past decades we have succeeded in serving libraries, publishers, and supporting service organizations. Combined with NFAIS, we now have the resources, a larger, more invigorated community, and the platforms that position us to drive forward efficiencies in our community.

Over the summer and fall of 2019, the NISO Board of Directors discussed where we as a newly combined organization should be focusing our attentionAs part of that effort they agreed on a new vision statement for NISO and our world:

Our vision is an engaged world collaborating to advance the infrastructure enabling the unfettered exchange of information.

In some ways goals and visions are related--but they are not the same. An organizational vision statement is not meant to be something that is achievable, but rather an idea of a potential world we are endeavoring to bring into reality. For example, a non-profit that is organized to feed the needy might have a vision of a world in which everyone has all the food they need, which while laudable, realistically isn’t likely to come to pass. Similarly, NISO’s vision is one in which all parties involved with content creation and dissemination collaborate to build and support an infrastructure that allows users access to the information they seek. We welcome worldwide participation from all of the participants in this ecosystem, but we also recognize many cannot participate for various reasons. We still want to create an open and welcoming environment for them. While infrastructure might not be always be a gripping area of work, it is vitally important. People may not recognize or appreciate infrastructure until it fails, at which point they begin to care, often caring quite a bit!  Anyone whose whose plumbing breaks, or whose heat or electricity fails in the winter, is quite concerned with the construction and maintenance of robust infrastructure systems. Thus, NISO aims to create a world where our information infrastructure issues are resolved before they become real, painful problems. Finally, we hope to provide unfettered access, meaning that users are not unduly burdened by the infrastructure they are using. This isn’t necessarily the same as free or open access, which might be beneficial as well, but that is not our goal. We want all of those systems that provide access to function seamlessly, be they from creation and submission, through production to discovery, delivery and onto preservation for future generations. That is the vision we hope to bring to fruition through our work.

To support this vision, the NISO Board laid out a set of strategic objectives to connect a diverse community of stakeholders, to build innovative solutions through collaboration, to drive thought leadership and innovation, and to provide value to our members and the community at large.  In the coming months, we will describe in more detail each of these objectives and how they will work together to support our vision and mission.

A key element of this vision is bringing people together at the upcoming NISO Plus Conference.  We are so pleased to welcome to the conference luminaries like Amy Brand, danah boyd, and the Miles Conrad Award winner, James Neal, and the many confirmed speakers participating. As I discussed in December, we hope to create an environment where conversation and engagement will be core elements of the program, so be prepared to engage in the topics and contribute your ideas about where the topics will go, or seek answers to your questions. It will be an exciting time and you will want to be a part of it. Remember that the early-bird registration deadline ends on January 15 (just one week away), so register now.

Looking forward, I hope that the upcoming decade brings each of you health, prosperity, and success in all your endeavors.

Todd Carpenter
Executive Director, NISO