Codified Innovations: Data Standards and Their Useful Applications

Stephanie Schmitt, Yale University Law Library

This half-day Midwinter 2005 symposium held in Boston, sponsored by the Serials Section, Committee to Study Serials Standards, drew seventy-seven attendees and featured five speakers. Moderator Robert Wolven (Columbia University) opened the afternoon program with a discussion of the relationship between standards and innovation. He called for participants to “be inventive and flexible in our use of existing standards, and to watch for ways in which new standards can help meet the needs for exchanging and managing new kinds of data.” Drawing attention to the CONSER Summit that took place in March 2004, Wolven explained that the complexity of the problems we face as information organizers and providers require a lot of information to solve. We can attempt to avoid problems in the first place through “prompt, accurate communication of this information among several parties—publishers, subscription agents, serials management companies, library system vendors, and libraries” by broadening participation as well as awareness of the work done to develop, apply and use standards.

Diane Hillmann (Cornell University) opened with a brief discussion of the evolution of standards development. She brought attention to the MARC21 Format for Holdings. She questioned how an established standard with a solid infrastructure could be met with resistance rather than enthusiasm towards its implementation. Hillmann considered key reasons for hesitating to implement a standard, perhaps because of its complexity or because of a lack of understanding about its potential applications. Using the MARC21 Holdings format standard as a talking point, she emphasized that the solution for removing hesitation is to establish common goals. These shared goals permit communication, whether by individuals or machines, and the results are collaborative, shared solutions such as those shown in the work of CONSER, specifically the program to share title publication history. Building on the idea of shared solutions, she introduced the concept of a “super record,” a “possible solution to the FRBR ‘work’ level for serials.” By defining information through the use of standards, data can be shared with multiple purposes and be used for multiple outcomes. For additional information about the super record concept, see An Approach to Serials with FRBR in Mind by Hillman and Frieda Rosenberg.

Regina Reynolds (National Serials Data Program, Library of Congress) began her presentation with a visual demonstration about what standards do for us: that they enable interoperability and long-term compatibility through identifiable components. Reynolds drew a parallel example demonstrating industrialized interoperability in the form of sewing machines and their related component parts. Using standardized expectations, a bobbin made in 2005 can still be used on a machine built in 1905. Interoperability is defined as “the ability of two or more systems or components to exchange information and to use the information that has been exchanged.” [IEEE 90] Focusing on the International Standard Serials Number (ISSN), Reynolds spoke about current innovations being considered as the ISSN standard is vetted against the needs of contemporary information markets. Identification was the “original, basic function of the ISSN.” Reynolds presented three possible levels for ISSN identification: the title level, middle level and the product level. At the title level, an ISSN would be assigned to allow clustering of multiple formats; for example, one title being identified for which both print and online versions of the same content are available. To this end, Reynolds presented a new concept called the tISSN, or ‘title level’ ISSN. Referencing identification requirements being explored in information design projects such as Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records (FRBR), she encouraged the audience to explore broadly what types of unique identifiers are required.

Reynolds further examined the complexity of title level identification issues. She then presented a brief overview of the “Info” Uniform Resource Identifier (URI), focusing on the possible application of the ISSN as an embedded object, a foundation upon which more specific identifiers can be built. Using the ISSN in this manner “avoids having to invent a totally new standard and demonstrates ISSN convergence with emerging standards and usage.” Product level identification assigns an ISSN at more specific levels of granularity, and this concept is being explored with the international European Article Numbering (EAN) association. At the middle level, a separate ISSN is assigned to print titles independent of their iterations in other formats; the middle level is the current level of identification applied by the ISSN standard. She ended her remarks with an overview of the ISSN revision timetable and implored the audience to contribute directly to the dialogue and to follow the developments of the ISO Working Group 5: ISSN revision.

Ted Fons (Innovative Interfaces, Inc.) discussed aspects of evolving standards affecting the future of serials in the electronic resource era. Linking functional transactions involving information exchanges with the variety of options developed to meet specific needs, Fons shed light on the challenges facing serials information management. Touching on library functions ranging from serials claiming to system migrations, he consistently found problems stemming from either a lack of standardization of the exchanged data, or a failure in a standard’s implementation. Solutions are available that meet these problems, including the formation of standards development groups such as the NISO/EDItEUR Joint Working Party (JWP) and documentation of such as is found in the NISO whitepaper, “ The Exchange of Serials Subscription Information” by Ed Jones. The tasks given to the JWP are: 1) to “Propose enhancements to ONIX for Serials to support exchange of serials subscription information,” and 2) to “Conduct pilot projects involving publishers, intermediaries, and libraries to demo ONIX for Serials as an exchange format for serials subscription information.” Fons focused on the ONIX for Serials work, specifically three new standards developed to describe specific aspects of serials metadata: Serials Online Holdings (SOH), Serial Products and Subscriptions (SPS), and Serial Release Notification (SRN). Fons closed by shedding light on several successful pilots of new standards, and he drew attention to new initiatives such as Project Counter and the use of Extensible Markup Language (XML) to enhance information exchanges.

John Espley (VTLS, Inc.) focused on the vendor’s perspective regarding standards and their implementation and application in the systems environment. Espley began with a brief overview of two newer projects: FRBR and electronic resource management systems. Adding to Hillmann’s discussion of the “super record,” Espley demonstrated examples of FRBR representations as presented by VTLS. Espley expounded on the aspects of systems development that adhere to standards, whether those standards are developed fully (for example, MARC21) or are currently emerging (the Digital Library Federation [DLF]’s Electronic Resource Management Initiative Deliverables) . He explained that emerging standards such as the DLF’s provide good problem definitions and roadmaps that systems developers can examine and learn from. This collaborative process supports further development of evolving ideas and contributes directly to the acceptance and establishment of standards on their way to codification.