Letter from the Executive Director, September 2021
“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans”
— John Lennon, “Beautiful Boy”
If I had ever given the question much thought, I would never have picked myself for being a “corporate man"; it really never fit my personality. There are so many things that consume my interests, I thought my career would quickly move on from challenge to challenge. So perhaps it is the challenging work of NISO that has kept my excitement and enthusiasm high, as I pass a fifteen-year milestone leading this great organization.
In its portfolio, NISO covers everything from the analog — paper and ink permanence, binding, and even the shelving that stores physical materials — to the digital — metadata, authentication, discovery, and accessibility. Some of NISO’s standards have their roots in the 1930s and others originated at the dawn of computer systems, while the more recent ones address the most modern questions of creating and managing electronic content in all its newest forms. The NISO community has explored licensing, new and old forms of assessment, expanded use of knowledge bases, advanced single sign-on, privacy, and data sharing. It certainly is an eclectic mix of topics, particularly as the forms of content that are created and distributed have expanded in this increasingly digital world.
Like the focus of our work, NISO itself has grown and expanded. We collectively advanced some incredible new ideas that have proven long-lasting. NISO began issuing a more diverse set of information outputs. We began issuing Recommended Practices in 2006, which expanded our range of outputs, and over that time we have published 31 of them, about two per year. Some of them have become as well-known as our standards, such as KBART, ODI, or RA21/SeamlessAccess. We developed a robust program of virtual educational events that now includes more than 40 sessions per year. In 2019, following our merger with NFAIS, we kicked off what has become an amazing new annual conference, NISO Plus. That event grew to include more than 800 participants from around the world this year.
That is not to say that the past 15 years have been without their challenges. In 2006, some were questioning the very rationale for NISO and whether it should be rolled up into another organization. Behind the scenes, home-grown systems inhibited our ability to manage a complex portfolio of groups and projects, limiting our growth. There was much debate then (as is still the case now) about which projects made sense for us to pursue and which should be deprecated. Not long after we had established a new footing and begun a modest expansion of our work, the Great Recession hit, with its displacement of institutional budgets and the resulting paring back of investments. Then, most recently, we’ve taken another slide with the COVID-19 pandemic. During all of this, the accelerating pace of mergers in our community has proven a challenging headwind. We’ve taken our share of hits financially, we’ve lost memberships, and had some disappointing programs, yet overall we’ve continued to grow and prosper.
Throughout this journey, I’ve been joined by some truly amazing friends and colleagues. The community of NISO members has held strong, even grown (rather significantly). Over the years, I have made so many close connections and enjoyed the lively debates around technology, standards, and best practices for content and libraries. Last month, Nettie Lagace, Alice Meadows, and I taught a FORCE11 FSCI course on how to become an Information Standardista. It was a great opportunity to welcome a new group into the community of people who work to improve efficiency through a consensus process. In that course, we focused very little on the technology of information standards: That isn’t what standards are really about. Sure, standards often include technology, but, at their core, consensus standards are about people and solving social issues related to technology. They are about solving real people’s problems with their systems, seeing if others are facing similar problems, and figuring out how we might all work together to address those issues. Thank you all for joining me on this journey and supporting our work, be it through volunteering, implementing, or simply being aware that you are using our outputs.
After all this time, I am still invigorated about the possibility of helping people create, distribute, and access content more efficiently because of the work that NISO does. This is an exciting time to be rethinking how people distribute, find, and access content and helping to bring those ideas to reality. It seems to me that, organizationally, we’re picking up the pace and enhancing our impact, with more great ideas coming our way and being generated because of the thought leadership taking place at NISO events. Of course, these opportunities — or whatever winds the world will blow our way — will bring with them new sets of challenges, but it will always keep our lives exhilarating. I bet most of you hadn’t thought the world of information standards could be this entrancing. Fifteen years ago, when I wrote my first newsletter introduction, I had expectations that things would get interesting, but had only the vaguest idea what that would mean. It has been interesting, and it will be fun to see what adventures lie ahead!
With thanks to all of you who have joined me on this path so far and will continue on with us,
Todd A. Carpenter