Letter from the Executive Director, January 2022
The past year (or two) was full of peaks and valleys, trials and successes. When 2021 started, there was a growing sense of hope that vaccinations might allow us collectively to get past the lockdowns and separation caused by COVID-19. Meanwhile, NISO was scrambling to put together our first large-scale, online conference. With the support of dozens of organizing committee members, even more speakers, an AMAZING team of staff, and hundreds of participants, the second NISO Plus online conference was a resounding success. As envisioned, the model for NISO Plus generated more than three dozen ideas, which were considered and explored in more depth. Three of those outputs turned into new projects, which were launched in the fall. Yet, as we move from one success to another, it seems the pandemic refuses to relinquish its grip on the world, as new more transmissible variants of the coronavirus emerge. While I had looked forward to returning to something that resembled “normal” in the coming year, it seems that the current life we lead is the new normal and the actively engaged world of 2019 is increasingly ‘“he past.” Despite this, I’m heartened by the pace of activity at NISO and in the information world throughout the pandemic.
Looking forward, I see a number of tremendous opportunities for NISO. Throughout the pandemic, our community has had to adapt and pivot, to support creators and consumers of content. The demand to share scholarly output has only increased over the past two years, with more and more content in a variety of forms being shared, and that content is being reviewed and published at a faster pace. Machines are playing an increasing role in the mediation of content, as digital interactions become the default method for engaging with content, particularly remotely. Each of these engagement points requires new standards and methods for interacting with content.
As content consumers work or study more remotely, there will be increasing need for improved authentication and user experiences, something NISO has been leading with the ongoing SeamlessAccess initiative but that requires ever more support and adoption. New forms of content sharing, such as video, require discovery methods and metadata. NISO got an early jump on this and is nearly finished with a project on audio and video metadata for discovery. So many advances have happened around our community with regard to support for research data, software, nontraditional content, and preservation.
The transition to a workflow that supports publication via subscription to an open system supported by author (or institutional) payments to distribute content will require development of an infrastructure to manage this process. In all likelihood, this infrastructure will be at least as complex as the subscription management infrastructures, perhaps even more so. This is because there are hundreds of thousands of authors, with overlapping and interconnected affiliations, who are increasingly signing transformative agreements—a scale many times more complicated than the traditional subscription model. Initial work on this has begun, but considerably more work needs to be done to define the workflows, the interoperability needs, and the data standards necessary to support these exchanges.
We also need to work to reconnect the splintering world of content. Openness has many benefits, from equity of access to increased use and transparency. However, an ecosystem where content is freely replicated, moved, and potentially altered presents its own challenges. This trend toward openness is likely to accelerate as more content is shared openly, either because of mandates or simply due to the growing recognition of the benefits of sharing. But often, content is constantly changing, evolving, and improving through the life cycle of a project, which requires the connectivity of the ecosystem. A preprint may eventually be peer reviewed or published. A data set that is connected to a published paper may be released or amended. How to address the challenges of errors or retracted information is one area of work related to this and is one element of the newly formed NISO initiative on correcting retracted research. Connecting the ecosystem of repositories is the focus of a new project, Notify, led by the COAR Repositories group, while connecting repositories and publisher systems is the focus of a new NISO initiative.
Equity and inclusion continue to remain important issues requiring focused attention and energy. Last fall, NISO hosted three discussion forums focused on areas of inclusivity related to metadata: the first on metadata to support DEIA, the second on accessibility, and the third on sharing indigenous knowledge. Each highlighted several concrete areas where we can collectively do better, noting specific initiatives that NISO can move forward with to make progress on each topic. The NISO DEIA committee met in the last week of December to discuss these ideas and will be issuing a summary outlining next steps in early 2022.
As we enter 2022, I reflect on being both amazed and heartened by the commitment our community has to improving their services and to the ecosystem at large. We’ve all been pulled in so many directions, tested, and bedraggled at times. Despite the pandemic, we’ve all shown incredible resilience and perseverance, all the while making access simpler and more efficient for those who want and need it. We’ve made considerable progress and continue to do so. I’m hoping that the lessons of this time will allow deeper engagement with ideas and knowledge, moving forward.
I wish the very best to all of you for a productive, healthy, and peace-filled new year!
Executive Director, NISO