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Letter from the Executive Director

One of the key challenges in standards adoption is ensuring consistency in the use of the elements that are included in the specification across different providers and, occasionally, within a single provider.  Although some things included in specifications -- such as size, speed, or shape -- are hard to misunderstand or misapply, with information standards, these specifications are often less clear. There might be different reasons to provide dates in varied formats.  There might be legitimate reasons for marking up content in certain ways for specific purposes, or important reasons for describing a person or content in a certain way at different times.

One example of this problem in the NISO portfolio is our work on XML markup standards. There is a great deal of potential variation in how different companies use the ANSI/NISO JATS standard tags for marking up a production file, based on how their internal systems function and some basic assumptions about what information should be contained within those tags. These variances can create interoperability issues as similar tags are used for different purposes, or when different structures are used inconsistently.  Without getting too deeply into the technical weeds, this problem exists across a variety of standards, such as with both SIP and NCIP, with MARC and ONIX, and with accessibility markup.

To address this problem with JATS, NISO adopted the JATS4R community last fall and its recommendations regarding the application of the JATS standard are now being published as NISO Recommended Practices. The JATS4R community is developing a suite of recommendations that address numerous barriers to interoperability by tackling specific issues with the use of tagging structures using the JATS standard. Using XML, the same document component may be tagged several different ways and still be valid. However, for interchange systems to accurately identify and reuse elements of content across creators, distributors, and users, the documents must be tagged in a consistent, predictable way. Some examples of the specific issues JATS4R has addressed include recommendations on Data Availability StatementsDisplay Objects (such as figures, tables, boxes, and math)Citations, and Authors and Affiliations.

This distinction is also important with regard to a forthcoming Recommended Practice, the Resource Access in the 21st Century initiative (RA21).  At its core, the RA21 initiative is built around the desire to make access control via SAML-based identity management systems, like OpenAthens and Shibboleth, a more seamless process and one more closely aligned with the user-experience on common consumer web services.  RA21 is a joint initiative led by NISO and the International Association of STM Publishers that is developing a recommended practice and infrastructure to simplify connecting patrons to their institutional identity provider (IDP).

What is critically important in using SAML for library services is to understand the use of the attributes of the patron in the SAML data exchange.  SAML services can be used to provide a variety of online access-controlled services. The amount of data shared by the institution about the user is contextual and dependent on the service.  If the user is accessing a course-management service, it is important to know a lot about who the user is to provide the correct course details and services. In the library context, all that is required to facilitate access is for the institution to provide entitlement information as a token indicating the user is authorized to access the content. Although the RA21 service, which is simply a browser-based preference of which identity provider to connect a user with, does not share attributes or control which data is to be provided by the institution, the recommendation will provide guidance on limiting attributes to the minimal level necessary to facilitate access.

In this way, part of the RA21 recommendation will also address this broader issue of how best to comply with the recommendation, just like the JATS4R project is doing with tag use-or avoiding misuse-in JATS.  Failure to provide specific direction about JATS tag use can inhibit interoperability, which is the core reason to use JATS in the first place. Failure of organizations to limit attribute release to only those data that are absolutely necessary can create privacy threats for library patrons.  If the group does not provide guidance on how best to avoid these private-data leakages, it runs the risk of trust in the service eroding among librarians. It is important to note here that data provided in the RA21 SAML login experience is controlled by the institution, rather than controlled by what is requested by the publisher, so data management is governed by the institution. However, with most SAML implementations, these attribute release policies aren't controlled by the library.  It will take a concerted effort to communicate to the institutional IT staff that in the case of library services, far less data needs to be exchanged than other services.

It is important that along with the technical requirements of a standard or recommendations that this less formal guidance on implementation should also be provided to engender and maintain trust in the exchange.  For even with the best standard, if people's trust in how it is deployed begins to wane, then adoption too will diminish. In the end, a standard that is too broad is almost as useless as not having a standard at all.

With kindest regards, 

NISO Reports

Media Stories

Freeing the Textbook: Educational Resources in US Higher Education, 2018

This report documents findings of a survey of 4,000 faculty members and department chairs teaching in U.S. institutions of higher education. It appears that awareness and use of open educational resources (OER) will continue to grow. Key findings include the following:

  • "Overall faculty satisfaction with required textbooks is high, with over 80 percent either 'Extremely Satisfied' or 'Moderately Satisfied.' That said, faculty express considerable resentment about price, unnecessary frequent updates, and other issues with commercial textbooks."

  • "Faculty often make changes to their textbooks, presenting material in a different order (70 percent), skipping sections (68 percent), replacing content with their own (45 percent), replacing with content from others (41 percent), correcting errors (21 percent), or revising textbook material (20 percent)."

  • "Department chairpersons overwhelmingly believe that making textbooks less expensive for students would be the most important improvement to course materials."

  • "Faculty are acting independently to control costs by supporting used textbooks and rental programs, placing copies on reserve, and selecting materials based on cost."

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Time for Books to Get Accessible

Bill Kasdorf, Principal at Kasdorf & Associates, advises publishers that building accessibility into their electronic product need not be as challenging as feared. He refers publishing professionals to the BISG Guide to Accessible Publishing. The new 140-page document encompasses “the alignment of standards that are enabling the current prospect of ‘born accessible’: an ePub 3 with proper HTML tagging, some ARIA attributes (not rocket science: simple semantics that label components such as chapters and footnotes so that assistive technology can recognize them), a bit of accessibility metadata, and good image descriptions for books with images.”

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The Ascent of Open Access Report: An Analysis of the Open Access Landscape Since the Turn of the Millennium

This report is an analysis of the Open Access landscape as existed between the year 2000 through 2016. Using data taken from the Digital Science service, Dimensions, the analysts “compare... leading countries for research outputs with those producing the most Open Access papers”.  Key findings include the following:

  • The volume of Open Access articles has clearly been rising in recent years. However, the overall volume of research has also been rising.”

  • “Countries that have invested in Open Access have typically increased their level of international collaboration.”

  • “Open Access, Funded, and Internationally Collaborative papers account for just 6.3% of all output but garner 15.2% of the citations.”

  • “China has gone from not appearing in the top 12 producers in both volume of articles and OA papers in 2010 to being the second highest producer overall and the third highest in OA (2016).”

  • “India’s more measured success is still no less remarkable – not in the top 12 producers in either category in 2010 to being ninth highest producer overall and twelfth highest in OA (2016).”

  • “Brazil is another success story, second only to the UK, with 51.2% of its research output available through Open Access channels.

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The Rise and Demise of RSS

Extended and useful overview of the rise and fall of the RSS technology that fueled awareness and syndication of Web-based content. From the article:

"RSS might have been able to overcome some of these limitations if it had been further developed. Maybe RSS could have been extended somehow so that friends subscribed to the same channel could syndicate their thoughts about an article to each other. Maybe browser support could have been improved. But whereas a company like Facebook was able to 'move fast and break things,' the RSS developer community was stuck trying to achieve consensus. When they failed to agree on a single standard, effort that could have gone into improving RSS was instead squandered on duplicating work that had already been done. ...Atom would not have been necessary if the members of the Syndication mailing list had been able to compromise and collaborate, and 'all that cleanup work could have been put into RSS to strengthen it.' So if we are asking ourselves why RSS is no longer popular, a good first-order explanation is that social networks supplanted it. If we ask ourselves why social networks were able to supplant it, then the answer may be that the people trying to make RSS succeed faced a problem much harder than, say, building Facebook. As Dornfest wrote to the Syndication mailing list at one point, 'currently it's the politics far more than the serialization that's far from simple."

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Lyrasis and DuraSpace Announce Intent to Merge

"LYRASIS, an innovative full-service technology and services nonprofit, and DuraSpace, which specializes in open source technologies, plan to join their world-class 501(c)(3) nonprofit teams in 2019...The combined organization will serve over 1,200 members and 3,500 organizational users across the globe...A new division of LYRASIS, the DuraSpace Community Supported Programs Division, will be formed to accelerate the pace of development for a combined 8 global open source technology communities, including DSpace, Fedora, VIVO, DuraCloud, ArchivesSpace, CollectionSpace, SimplyE public, and SimplyE academic."

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Exploring PubMed as a Reliable Resource for Scholarly Communications Services

"The authors tested recent claims that content in PMC [PubMed Central] is of low quality and affects PubMed's reliability, while exploring PubMed's role in the current scholarly communications landscape.... Almost all PubMed content (91%) is indexed in MEDLINE; however, since the launch of PMC, the percentage of PubMed records indexed in MEDLINE has slowly decreased. This trend is the result of an increase in PMC content from journals that are not indexed in MEDLINE and not as a result of author manuscripts submitted to PMC in compliance with public access policies. Author manuscripts in PMC continue to be published in MEDLINE-indexed journals at a high rate (85%)... MEDLINE continues to serve "as a highly selective index of journals in biomedical literature and PMC" serves more "as an open archive of quality biomedical and life sciences literature and a repository of funded research." The authors concluded that "quality control exists in the maintenance and facilitation of both resources, and funding from major grantors is a major component of quality assurance in PMC."

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New and Proposed Specs and Standards

ISO 30301:2019 Information and documentation -- Management systems for records -- Requirements

Technical Committee ISO/TC 46/SC 11 Archives/records management

"This document specifies requirements to be met by a management system for records (MSR) in order to support an organization in the achievement of its mandate, mission, strategy and goals. It addresses the development and implementation of a records policy and objectives and gives information on measuring and monitoring performance. An MSR can be established by an organization or across organizations that share business activities. Throughout this document, the term 'organization' is not limited to one organization but also includes other organizational structures."

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ISO/IEC 27018:2019 Information technology -- Security techniques -- Code of practice for protection of personally identifiable information (PII) in public clouds acting as PII processors

Technical Committee ISO/IEC JTC 1/SC 27 IT Security techniques

"This document establishes commonly accepted control objectives, controls and guidelines for implementing measures to protect Personally Identifiable Information (PII) in line with the privacy principles in ISO/IEC 29100 for the public cloud computing environment. In particular, this document specifies guidelines based on ISO/IEC 27002, taking into consideration the regulatory requirements for the protection of PII which can be applicable within the context of the information security risk environment(s) of a provider of public cloud services."

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