Still Seeking Novelty

Letter from the Executive Director

It is long past the time to say we should “embrace the new.” Living with the pandemic certainly isn’t new. Homeschooling or Zoom happy hours have passed the phase of being novel. As February begins, we are past the point of wishing someone a happy new year.  Yet, as much as possible, we still need that spark of interest that varies days that otherwise seem to run one into the next, week after week.

When we launched the NISO Plus Conference back in 2020, we had a vision for something that could be meaningfully different from most other conferences. The plan was to not center the event around listening to a “sage on the stage,” but to engage in collaborative learning and discussion with attendees who had come to a room focused on particular topic. The talks were lively, the conversations were amazing, and the enthusiasm around the first NISO Plus was palpable. People were excited about the prospects and possibilities that opened up after the meeting drew to a close. Sadly, “What happens on Wednesday”—which was my unofficial theme for the discussions and goals of the meeting—was the markets began to falter at the first glimmers of realization that the pandemic could radically alter our lives. And alter our lives it certainly did.

So once again, we are poised to re-envision our conference. NISO Plus 2021 will be unlike what we did last year. It will be unlike anything that NFAIS had done with its annual conference, which predated the merger, and the first NISO Plus. And yet, our vision and goals are similarly aligned. We don’t seek to recreate the in-person experience in a Zoom window. After 10 months of living our interactive world via screens, we all know that isn’t exactly possible. We started, though, by embracing the potential of the virtual.

We can time-shift content, so that we can separate the consumption of content from the discussion of those ideas. We also plan to use the in-person discussions as jumping-off points to continue the conversations after the conference is over, with workshops and continuing conversation forums. The online format allows us to engage a worldwide audience for the meeting, expanding our reach. No longer are people bound by the limits of their travel budgets or the ability to get to Baltimore. Even people committed to other concurrent events can participate, given the time zones and schedules. 

Through the generous support of the conference sponsors, we are able to maintain incredibly low registration rates, which can further support diverse participation. Sponsors have also helped us to award several scholarships to participate in the program and to engage throughout the year in a training program we are expanding from 2020. We are going to be testing new ways to get participants interacting with each other. We are expecting great things to happen at NISO Plus 2021, but we also hope to launch many other things in its wake.

Our event next month will be another experiment, just as NISO Plus 2020 was. In January, NISO helped to co-organize another ground-breaking virtual event, PIDapalooza, in partnership with CDL, Crossref, DataCite, and ORCID. PIDapalooza is a celebration of persistent identifiers (PIDs), and is styled after a music festival. Now in its fifth year, the conference, like everything else these days, was virtual, but it took on the style of a 24-hour nonstop party that moved around the world. There were sessions in multiple languages, managed by teams on each continent, that brought together an amazing 1,150 people who are excited by the potential of persistent identifiers. NISO plays several important roles in this space, both as an organization that publishes a number of important identifier standards, and as the Secretariat (on behalf of ANSI) of the ISO Technical Subcommittee on Identification and Description (ISO TC 46/SC 9).  NISO has now assumed management of the PID Forum, a discussion forum for the PID community that was initially launched by the FREYA project.  

After years of partying along with the others, it made sense that NISO engage more directly with the conference as a co-organizer. In experiencing the entire breadth of the PIDapalooza conference, I was awed by the enthusiasm and dedication those in the PID community have for the conference and also for the potential that these infrastructure tools have to support research to make our world a better place, one identifier at a time. It is that excitement and engagement that we hope will carry us to success at NISO Plus and through the months ahead. Because it’s not what happens in the meetings we organize, it’s the outcomes we produce because of the meetings that are important. I hope you can join us on our journey. It will be impactful and fun.


Todd Carpenter
Executive Director, NISO