libraries and standards

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Dorothea has a curmudgeonly post today about what she sees as the absence of librarians in the technical standards community.

She's says she might be wrong--and she is. So here's my curmudgeonly response. :)

There are many, many librarians and libraries involved in technical standards development and implementation. For goodness sake, who do you think developed the Dublin Core?

Making generalizations about the library profession based on one academic library is a bit like making generalizations about the web development profession based on one development firm. People with an interest in standards tend to cluster, and there are plenty of places in library land to find them:

  • OCLC, of course. (Based in Dublin, Ohio, for those not familiar with them...which is how the Dublin Core got its name.) Take a look at some of the research initiatives they're involved with, most (if not all) of which have librarians in key positions.
  • The Coalition for Networked Information (CNI), a deeply library-focused organization formed jointly by the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) and EDUCAUSE. Its founder, the late Paul Peters, was one of my most-favorite library people. And its current director, Cliff Lynch, is a near legend in the library technology field. Take a look at their current projects
  • The Open Archives Initiative--check out the number of library folks on their Technical Committee
  • The NISO OpenURL committee, based at CalTech's library.

I know there have been librarians on a variety of IETF and W3C committees, as well, but I don't have time to look all of that up. My guess is that some of my regular library community readers will add some of that in my comments section.

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Puff for OR from Lorcan Dempsey - Weblog on January 3, 2004 4:35 PM

Nice puff for OR in context of general discussion of Librarian's contribution to standards work. , of course. (Based in Dublin, Ohio, for those not familiar with them�which is how the Dublin Core got its name.) Take a look at... Read More


Okay, fair cop. As far as it goes.

I still think there's a problem. There is a small part of the profession -- you just outlined it -- that's busting butt to lead.

The rest of the profession, as best I can tell, is just sitting there. This is not good. We don't need just a few librarians. We need a major librarian presence in electronic-media standards, and I respectfully submit that we don't have it.

To add to your list, Liz, librarians have also been extremely active in the TEI Consortium:

And a question, while I'm musing.

OCLC isn't a library. Neither is CNI. How many of the librarians who are actively participating in standards organizations work at actual libraries, as opposed to consortia, service bureaus, or research organizations?

I'm not saying that consortia etc. getting involved is bad -- quite the contrary. But if library-librarians don't do standards -- well, that makes a significant difference to where I start looking for jobs.

This is starting to sound a lot like the old question of "who's a librarian?" :)

My anecdotal experience is that there are a lot of us who trained as librarians but aren't working in organizations formally identified as "libraries" - probably more of us every year in the various facets of the IT sector. And my guess would be that we tend to be disproportianately involved in development of open standards.

There are certainly librarians working on the development of middleware standards within the Internet2 space, and there is a nascent conversation I'm aware of for trying to understand common metadata formats for digital repositories like MIT's D-Space and Washington's Digital Well, and I'm sure there are others.

When I got out of library school back in '85 I was convinced that I was going to actually work in a library - but almost twenty years later I haven't done it yet, and I don't regret a minute of my career path!

I think in _any_ profession there will be a "small proportion of the population busting butt to lead." Librarians are no different from any other profession in that regard.

For some examples of specific libraries and librarians involved in standards-based projects, take a look at the most recent CNI task force meeting report.

(CNI has only a handful of fulltime staff--most of what the organization does is based in its membership, which is heavily populated by libraries and librarians.)

I *am* a librarian, by training and by previous employers. I am currently working for a vendor in the library automation field and am deeply involved in a number of NISO and ISO standards committees.

On every committee that I am on, we wish, we beg for, we want the participation of "real" librarians. Take the NCIP implementors committee, for instance. It's almost entirely vendors (like myself) who try and represent what we think out customers are saying. We would much prefer to have "straight from the horse's mouth" input from practicing librarians who can verbalize real needs.

Why don't librarians participate in NISO and ISO standards committees?

I can think of several reasons: a) not glitzy and may not help you get tenure, b) cost: although much work gets done by email and conference call, there are a couple of face-to-face meeting every year, c) standards making is a process. Standards can take years to come to fruition and - in this era of immediate gratification - no one has the patience to see the process out.

Exceptions are few and far between.

Where I work, we've been seriously shorthanded for almost 5 years. The librarians are too busy keeping the library running to worry about what's happening outside the university.

Shortsighted, yes. But you have to draw a line somewhere short of a nervous breakdown.

There's also the fact that only 2 of us are actually interested in technology in the first place. My boss has enough trouble managing her email. She doesn't care what else is out there unless it directly effects her job.

Dorothea, I think you're looking for librarians in the wrong places. There just aren't that many technological librarians yet. I'm considered a "guru" because I can hand-code html.

I believe that the profession is in a state of flux. There are the traditional librarians who have spent most of their careers with printed materials. They've adapted to the sudden appearence of the Internet and the new digital formats but they're not really comfortable with them.

Then there are the tech-interested like you (and myself), who are attracted by the possibilities. We're few and far between still but if we manage to do well, others will follow.

I think we're in a situation where if we want something done, we'll have to do it ourselves. Which means taking the lead in bringing libraries into the new millenium and librarians into the active side of things.

Several comments:

Geez, Liz, I wish you would have included in your list the organization that for many years had more per capita investment in standards than any other in the library field: RLG.

We're still very actively involved in standards development and implementation (first to implement the full ISO ILL protocol, as a recent example), at a level that's difficult for a small and "stretched" staff. And yes, most of the people at RLG involved in standards are either librarians or close enough.

The second major one: LITA had a Technical Standards in Library Automation committee for many years, trying to maintain and build "working librarian" involvement in standards development. It was very tough: These things really do take time and an ongoing intellectual investment over the course of several years. Ted Koppel's comment is right on the money.

Third: To some extent, I think that libraries rely on consortia as "proxy involvement."

(By the way, Laura, LITA has more than 4,000 members, most of them librarians. I know there are more than a handful of "technological librarians," although you can always define that term narrowly enough to exclude most us/them. Libraries have been ahead of the curve on quite a few technological developments, certainly including networks and the internet.)

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This page contains a single entry published on December 18, 2003 11:44 AM.

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