Letter From the Executive Director, March 2022
There are some things that fly by so quickly but are so packed with useful information that they can be hard to summarize. Rather than a deep dive into one particular topic and its many component elements, which can be overwhelming due to the level of detail, some events range across multiple topics, each with its own potential deep dive into specifics. That was my experience at the NISO Plus conference this year. Even though the event presentations were pre- recorded, and all of the live discussion sessions and keynotes were also recorded, the challenge is, of course, time. With three ongoing tracks, it was certainly too much to consume at the time, or even in the two weeks since.
We set out with a set of very specific goals in mind when we began planning NISO Plus. Of course, we wanted to delight, educate, and engage the participants. Sharing perspectives and ideas is core to every gathering. What sets NISO Plus apart is the desire to take these perspectives and ideas and create a structure to advance concrete work related to these efforts. As I’ve said at the beginning of each NISO Plus, the most important element of the conference isn’t what happens between the opening and closing keynotes, it’s the work that begins the day after the conference ends and the outcomes that result. NISO Plus 2020 and 2021 have proven this, with the launch of four projects—here, here, here, and here—that all had their germination at the conference.
Here are a few of the ideas that caught my attention and those of the participants at this year’s NISO Plus conference:
Ethics and diversity
In keeping with NISO’s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusivity, several sessions were focused on this topic, and many good ideas turned on various aspects of this issue. Beyond the need for greater awareness and care about inclusion in information systems and the standards process, generally speaking, there were several specific project ideas.
Accessibility has always been a focus for NISO’s work around document structures. Remediation of non-accessible information is a huge undertaking, and there is ongoing work to build a system for communicating the status and availability of remediated files. As that project progresses, there will be a need for a formal structure that institutions outside the pilot can adopt.
How the community measures and assesses its progress in improving diversity is another question that was discussed. The need for best practices for the collection of demographic information related to diversity was identified as another potential project.
Each of these ideas should be taken into consideration, while following the advice from Katharina Ruckstuhl during her closing keynote that impacted communities should be consulted before any recommendation be advanced, and that careful consideration of their concerns and perspectives should be incorporated into any decision-making that would impact them.
Another element of a diversifying and global scholarly ecosystem is that not everyone communicates in the same language. Multilingualism is an often overlooked problem in scholarly communication, because there is an expectation that everyone can communicate in English. While automatic translation of all scholarly resources is some time off, there are a variety of ideas related to how the ecosystem can improve the management of a multilingual environment. Again, metadata took a prime place in the discussion, with a suggestion that there could be standardized metadata to describe translations, such as what tools or approaches were used. Best practices should be established for when translations should be made available, and for what level of a given resource (full text, abstract, etc.), or in which regions. Another suggestion was to ensure that best-practice resources were available in a range of languages, so that they’re not solely Western- or English language–focused.
The normalization of nontextual information
The world of content is increasingly heterogeneous in its forms, with articles and books no longer the only methods of distributing content. Of course, the problem with these newer forms of content is that they often lack persistent identifiers and commonly agreed-upon metadata forms. We already lack the means to fully assess the scholarly impact of more traditional resources, and there are even less well-defined approaches to assessing the impact of these nontraditional forms.
As Patricia Flatley Brennan discussed in the Miles Conrad Lecture, we lack metadata structures for describing data and algorithmic models used in processing and analyzing these resources. Similarly, standard approaches to APIs or linking protocols could be developed to address the access or delivery of content for machine learning consumptions. There is also the question of how we can encapsulate user versions of web services, especially large-scale platform data or tools.
Open access and workflow pain points
Several sessions focused on the transition from subscription to open access publication models. This shift requires a tremendous reconfiguration of the scholarly communication business and editorial processes. Many of the systems that have been built to support traditional business models aren’t necessarily designed to support open access. For example, manuscript submission systems and accounting systems are generally not interoperable, although they would need to be in an author-pays model. Additionally, could it be possible to connect various author-facing systems by using a packaging structure for author metadata, so that it could be imported or exported across systems for things like CVs, IRs, or submission systems, thereby reducing the need to re-enter information? And, there is the ever-present need for better adoption and interoperability of persistent identifiers and their associated metadata (a perennial favorite!). Usage of OA resources is another challenge that was raised in a session on the topic. Particularly, linking item-level metadata with usage was described as being one the most difficult and persistent problems that should be addressed.
Preservation of collaborative documents
During the discussion following the Document Semantic Support session, an interesting topic arose, to do with the move away from traditional word processing and office file formats. These newer, more collaborative structures, such as Google Docs and other web-based office document formats, are significantly different from the self-contained documents we have used for decades. When creating these documents, most people don’t consider the document’s underlying structure and what the implications may be of using it. There is no GDoc file format that is a self-contained object on some drive somewhere. These items are more like entries in a giant database that are rendered online. They only exist as concrete files once they are exported. What are the implications, then, for preservation, provenance, and consistency? What does this mean for the world of metadata, document semantics, formatting. and permanence?
There were many other ideas—more than four dozen of them—generated during NISO Plus. We’ve begun the process of reviewing and vetting these ideas. You can view them and discuss them (or anything else you’d like!) on the NISO Discourse platform, which is open to all—not just attendees of the conference.
The questions for each of you are: Which of these ideas catch your attention? What is something that is critical to your organization’s goals and success?
If you’re interested in engaging on any of these ideas, please let us know! Note your name and the topic in the appropriate thread. Of course, NISO can’t tackle each of these dozens of ideas. We certainly can’t do it all! But we rely on the engagement of the community with these efforts, and your enthusiasm for them is an important signal about which projects should move forward. The NISO standards leadership committees will be reviewing the outputs in March and organizing discussion forums this spring to generate new work proposals to get these efforts off the ground. Of course, as this progress develops, we will continue to keep you all informed. Next month, we expect to announce planning sessions on the top three to five ideas, based on the Topic Committee’s review. Please join us as we continue the work!
Executive Director, NISO