An Entire Year of Standards in One Month!

Letter from the Executive Director, October 2021

It seems like we keep hearing that something is occurring more frequently than usual. Often it is related to weather. It might be the severity of a flood. It might have been an entire year’s worth of rain falling in a couple of days. There is some data to support this general feeling we’re having. However, the increasing frequency of events need not all be bad and a cause for worry; recently, NISO experienced an entire year’s worth of work in September! We consistently have a lot of projects underway, as it takes an average of 32 months to complete a project. Plus, more projects require ongoing maintenance and development, such as JATS, Transfer, and KBART. But this September, NISO established a new “personal best,” with four new projects being initiated this month. On average, this is usually how many new projects NISO launches in an entire year.  Fortunately, unlike some of the climate change records, this new record-setting by NISO will have a positive impact on our world.

The first project to be approved this month focuses on the establishment of a system for identifying the content in packages of digital material. The second is about Controlled Digital Lending, which also received funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to support the work. The third is focused on communicating information about retracted science, and the fourth will address the interoperability of publisher and repository systems.

Each of these projects was an outcome of the NISO Plus Conference, which is organized in part to generate project ideas to advance in our community. These projects address significant emerging areas of discussion and challenges facing libraries, publishers, vendors, and the users they serve. In some cases, these projects address long-simmering issues that it is time we as a community address. Each is an interesting combination of policy and implementation, with NISO’s focus being strongly in the implementation (i.e., “How does this happen?”) arena. Following the conference, the NISO leadership committees prioritized the ideas that were generated, then NISO organized conference participants to put forward new work item proposals to establish projects. Now, six months later, we will begin that work. 

Digital content has long been licensed in package form to libraries. In doing so, publishers and content providers have established the practice of adding and even deleting content from those packages as circumstances change. Understanding what's part of a collection and for what duration is a significant challenge that grows over time, particularly when contracts stipulate a perpetual access clause. What does it mean to have subscribed to a certain package from 2010 to 2021, and perpetual access is granted to content from that time period? What was in that collection and how do we establish this meaning, and then communicate it across the community? This project will begin a process to address this issue.  Eventually, a standard identifier system will be needed to support the definition of this identifier and its metadata.  

Similarly, controlled digital lending has been a practice libraries have used to share content in a limited, secure, copy-for-copy basis for several years. As the practice grew during the pandemic, when access to physical collections was either limited or completely disrupted, more institutions were facing the challenge of how to add this new service model to their practice. The community needs to consider what infrastructure exists—such as ILL and circulation protocols and systems—and how might it need to change to adapt to controlled digital lending practice. With the generous support of a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, a NISO working group will begin a 24-month initiative to document existing practice, identify needed changes to existing infrastructure and interoperability needs, and determine if any further changes to existing standards or schemas is appropriate. The resulting Recommended Practice will provide a set of guidelines for institutions who seek to implement CDL or make their existing CDL practice more efficient. Like the focus of most NISO projects, the questions of whether and when to apply CDL practice will be the decision of each individual institution, with NISO’s initiative focused on addressing the “how-to” questions when applying CDL practice across the community.

The next two projects are related to the growing complexity of the information ecosystem and the requirements for ensuring consistency of information’s status across the network. The first project is focused on the critically important issue of retractions—on establishing norms of how retracted science is indicated and how information about the retraction decision is shared. This initiative is a direct result of the recent Sloan Foundation–funded project, Reducing the Inadvertent Spread of Retracted Science (RISRS), led by Jodi Schneider at the University of Illinois. Similar to the CDL project, this effort will not establish norms for publishers to determine what is to be retracted or why, but rather, describe best practice on how that decision should be communicated to users and associated systems. As we have seen, retracted information can have a long and worrying impact on people’s understanding of scientific results and on the scientific process writ large. With papers being increasingly available open access and shareable across a variety of platforms, being able to share the retracted status of a paper in an interoperable way is vital to addressing this issue.

The broader issue of the need for interoperability between numerous content systems is the rationale for the next project. The ecosystem of repository and publisher systems is a complicated one, with new content, related content, data, and other tools that are associated with each other. If a data set is posted or updated in one repository, how will the published paper be connected to it or users be made aware of this new content? How can we manage to keep the ecosystem connected to and aware of these related objects and their status changes? This group will explore those issues as it seeks to leverage existing technologies, like NISO’s ResourceSync standard, to ensure that the most up-to-date information is available and accessible from the publication of record. 

It is an amazing time for NISO. This fall is one of our busiest ever. Beyond these projects, NISO is also planning for the next NISO Plus 2022, with advance registration opening this week. If you want to see what NISO Plus 2021 was like, you can experience much of the recorded content freely on the Cadmore Media platform. Beyond this, we’ve launched a series of free community conversations on diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility to explore ways in which standards, particularly vocabulary standards, can address inequity in the communities we serve. And, of course, our ongoing series of educational events continues apace with the next Humanities Roundtable later this month.