"The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page."
- Saint Augustine of Hippo
Later this month, a few of the NISO staff will participate in the annual plenary meeting of the ISO Technical Committee on Information & Documentation (TC46) and its five subcommittees. It is always a busy week, drawing together some 150 experts from around the world to discuss progress toward a variety of standards on everything from country codes to transliteration standards, physical item maintenance, records management issues, and identifiers. The United States is an active participant in many of these efforts, which include NISO's role as secretariat of the subcommittee on Identification and Description (TC 46/SC 9), the manager of standards such as ISBN, ISSN, ISRC, DOI and several vocabulary standards.
This year, the plenary meeting will be held in Pretoria, South Africa, at the kind invitation of national standards body the South African Bureau of Standards. The fact that this year we are hosted in Africa is an important reminder of the worldwide nature of the efforts we are engaged in. More importantly, however, it reminds us of the value of our work in supporting dissemination of content to communities that can benefit the most from improved education, improved health outcomes from research, efficient and accessible content dissemination, content discovery, and preservation. For all that first-world people often complain about, there are places where significant structural problems impact a majority of the population. Yet work in those countries continues despite fewer resources, more limited tools, and reduced connectivity.
While we in the United States, Western Europe, and other "developed countries" have plenty that we can share, there is much for us to learn from engaging with developing nations in Africa, South America, and elsewhere. Creativity in solving problems is often a result of resource constraints. Seeing how others approach a problem and deal with the limited resources at their disposal can lead one to consider ways to better utilize the resources that we do have. There is so much learning we can all benefit from.
Each year I look forward to seeing our international standards development colleagues and this year is no different in that respect. However, this year adds the opportunity to learn from colleagues who operate in an environment different from ours. I am looking forward to the opportunity to meet, learn from, and share with colleagues with whom we don't regularly engage. Distance need not be the barrier it once was, but we still need an impetus to encourage connection. We all can do more to bring under-represented groups into our efforts, whether those groups are from our neighboring communities, other organizations, or half a world away. I hope that we will be able to extend our impact, but also that we will bring some of the learning and improved relationships back with us after our trip, and use them to expand the perspectives that make our standards better.
We will report on the outcomes of the plenary meeting during the NISO Open Teleconference on June 12 at 3:00pm Eastern time. In addition to our regular update of ISO activities, I hope to also report on some of the things I've learned during our visit to South Africa.