My family and I, every single one of us a nerd, used to routinely watch the television series, “Big Bang Theory” (‘BBT’). In BBT, the character of theoretical physicist Sheldon Cooper (played by Jim Parsons) had a small recurring segment called “Fun with Flags,” in which the socially awkward Dr. Cooper attempted to share his enthusiasm for a topic which many (most, I bet) other people would consider obscure – the ins & outs and prominent characteristics of national banners. You know, vexillology; Old Glory, the Union Jack and all that.
Don’t get me wrong: Flags ought to be considered interesting, both as artifacts representing history and as representation of the ideals of national states. This segment from the television show came to mind again for me recently when I sat myself down to a short course of study about various standards, forcing me to think about the whole topic in a more detailed and organized way than I previously had occasion to do.
Note: At present, I am at present mostly focused on technical and engineering standards. But we should bear in mind that there are formal, published standards across a broad swathe of domains, including materials science and food safety…
For more than 100 years (from 1901 in the UK; since 1918 in the US), technical standards have been understood as formalized statements, developed and maintained by a given community of interest, towards “standardizing” products and processes synthesized in the physical world. This makes intuitive sense, even to us lay people. Because of the industrial revolution, and the globalization of the economy that followed, parts made all over the world have to fit together, and the things made from those parts have to work. Disparate individuals working on a complex project together (even if they are located all over the world) need to have an agreed set of expectations about what each of the others is going to do, and avoid spending precious time resolving baseline issues that anyone could have seen coming but instead working off what I will call “a common set of predicates” (although “formal shared framework” might also do) laid by published standards —so that their work product comes together in the end.
Back in “Sheldon” mode for a moment—On an intuitive level, we all already know what a standard is, although we don’t tend to think about them once they are established. “Can I get Wifi here?” you might ask, going into a restaurant. Wi-Fi is a standard, as is Bluetooth, which you may be using in your care. (Most everything in your car, from the tires to the upholstery and the seat belts, complies with some standards.) There are standards for microwave ovens and for building fire protections. Although we are not normally aware of it, the domain of standards is at work all around us, just like the FM and AM radio frequencies, as we operate in our daily lives as consumers and inhabitants of the modern world.
IEEE’s “Innovation at Work” blog offers this helpful description of standards:
“Standards are published documents that establish specifications and procedures designed to ensure the reliability of the materials, products, methods, and/or services people use every day. In engineering and technology industries, technical standards establish uniform engineering or technical criteria, methods, processes and practices developed through an accredited consensus process.”
IEEE (at another of its sites) also discusses the role of Standards Development Organizations (SDOs) in the standards universe:
“The process of developing a standard is typically facilitated by a Standards Development Organization (SDO), which adheres to fair and equitable processes that ensure the highest quality outputs and reinforce the market relevance of standards. SDOs such as IEEE, IEC, ISO, and others offer time-tested platforms, rules, governance, methodologies and even facilitation services that objectively address the standards development lifecycle, and help facilitate the development, distribution and maintenance of standards. While the goals of each SDO are essentially the same, each SDO applies its own rules, processes, terminology to the standards development process.”
Once one enters into it, this cosmos of standards I am describing turns out to be both vast and intricate. Just to highlight a few links to check out: the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), as well as the International Standards Organization (ISO), each play unique and valuable roles; so, too, does the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in the US, (and analogous national/government organizations throughout the world).
Why is CCC addressing standards in Velocity of Content? For some time now, we’ve offered licensing and content services for R&D- heavy companies, such as those in pharma/life sciences, chemical, food and agriculture, energy, and engineering, all of whom — in one way or another rely — on high-quality published standards to consistently deliver value to their customers. These include information technology standards, software and IT standards, and proprietary standards. As library staffing levels decline, more is expected of the content workflow software users work with, especially in a remote/hybrid environment. These organizations have asked CCC to integrate the workflow for scholarly journals and standards in one user experience.
At the same time, a number of SDOs have approached CCC to facilitate discovery of their standards in new markets, but in a way that protects their intellectual property. We’ve also helped a growing number of them build and expand internal applications to improve publication workflows.
Today, dozens of SDOs are enrolled in our RightFind document delivery service and Annual Copyright License for Business, which means our research customers see not only journal articles that meet their search criteria, but also standards publications, in a way that allows them to adhere to their company’s IP protection guidance while protecting the copyright rights of the SDOs. Creating solutions together is our approach; check out this recording of a recent forum we hosted, “Workflow of the Future: The Role of Standards.”
In future posts, I’ll share what I learn about the world of standards, including how SDOs and their publications support research and engineering; how standards are created, improved and updated; changing user expectations for accessing and using standards, and how the various committees and subgroups work together to keep the world safer, cleaner, and better for all of us.