Building Events with Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Their Heart

Letter From The Executive Director, September 2020

Earlier this summer, we made the decision to move to an aggressively virtual-first footing for the upcoming NISO Plus 2021 conference. We want to think creatively and take advantage of the myriad ways in which a virtual conference provides opportunities to engage with participants differently from a physical experience. Of course, in a more normal world, we would have loved to build on the successes we had in February 2020, by hosting hundreds of people in Baltimore as we had originally planned. Instead, we’re excited about the prospects of building a virtual-first event—we’re definitely not bemoaning that fact we can’t meet in person, nor are we thinking of a virtual experience as a poor substitute for in-person interaction.  

Among the things we’re looking forward to is attracting a much broader international audience. Building diversity of engagement within NISO is the first of the five areas of focus that the Board laid out in our new strategic plan. Because the virtual format will release us from the traditional workday time constraints of an in-person schedule, we will be time-shifting content and discussion so that it will be friendly to non-U.S. time zones. As such, the Plus 21 Conference will allow us to purposefully engage with an international audience at the conference, in the conversations, and—most importantly—in the subsequent work resulting from the conference.  

To help us do this, we have recruited an amazing program committee, which represents the diversity that we hope to see represented in the program as well as in its participants. The committee includes people from every continent (well, except Antarctica) and every corner of our diverse community. Much like the program itself, the committee will work asynchronously, with the initial committee meeting held three times to accommodate members’ schedules. After all, committing to participation shouldn’t mean that we require those in China or Australia to work until 1:00 or 2:00 a.m. to align with Western European or North American workday schedules. It also means that we should be willing to adjust our work schedules as well, which the NISO staff has done and will continue to do.

Sponsors have begun to line up behind the conference for 2021, just as they did for the first NISO Plus Conference.  We are so grateful for their support. If your organization is not yet on board with supporting NISO Plus 21 and is looking to show the community that you support removing technical barriers to information access, please reach out to us. With your backing, we will be able to keep the registration costs for the event reasonable for participants and their organizations, whose budgets are being squeezed because of the pandemic. Just as with time zones, cost could otherwise be a significant barrier to participation. We tried to keep costs down as much as possible in 2020, and we aim to do so again in 2021. Registration will open later in September, so be on the lookout for that announcement. 

Diversity, equity, inclusion, and virtual-first are also themes of another NISO event we are organizing: the Humanities Roundtable. This long-standing program of NFAIS that NISO is committed to continuing will take place on September 23. Again, with the generous support of our community members, we were able to launch registration at a rate that is humanities-friendly. This year’s program is tremendous, focusing on various ways that diversity and equity relate to collections discovery and assessment in the humanities.

Finally, rounding out this theme, several people have suggested that NISO consider some new work item proposals focused on equity and inclusion. We are seeking to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion not only in our own activities, but in our community standards and best-practice work as well. We anticipate making announcements regarding some of this potential new work later this fall. If you have an idea about how NISO’s standards or best-practice work can effect change in our community, please reach out to me directly.

As we return from the summer break to what will be a challenging fall in many respects, I want to wish you all the best, and encourage you to be safe, to be patient, and to strive to engage in community activities, whatever they may be. Even in difficult times, there is great work being done.



Todd Carpenter
Executive Director, NISO