Taxing the new

In preparing for a meeting recently hosted by the International Federation of Library Associations, I came across a post that reasonably argued for unfettered access to the tools required to implement the Resource Description and Access (RDA) standard.

The post’s author notes:

“Each year, I find myself needing to consult a half dozen or so ISO standards documents and each year, I find myself paying a few hundred dollars per document just for the privilege of reading these standards documents… Yes, the RDA vocabularies are open (if you can find them), but as a developer, they are essentially useless without the standards documents that give them meaning.”

There’s a natural tension in standards work. Even when standards are created and refined by volunteers, it takes money to convene working groups, disseminate working drafts and support the development process. But standards are less likely to be adopted when users have to pay to see or understand them.

There are alternatives. A comment (number 6) on the RDA post led me to look at the approach taken by the National Information Standards Organization (NISO). Its policy favors open access to standards information:

“NISO standards are available at no cost because of the organizations that support NISO as Voting Members or are members of NISO's Library Standards Alliance. You are invited to join us! By supporting NISO you ensure that the standards process stays strong and is responsive to your needs.”

Not charging for standards information means that NISO has to do other things to raise revenues. In addition to membership dues, it hosts a robust calendar of events (I’ve participated in a couple). Even with this revenue pressure, NISO tries to make all of its events affordable, so that a wide range of people and organizations can participate.

It can be hard for industry groups and trade associations to balance the need to fund operations with the desire to distribute beneficial information broadly. Useful data, a category that extends beyond just standards, always has a value for a given audience.

Access to things like RDA, though, really should be unfettered. Otherwise, we’re arguing for the old standard while taxing the new.

About Brian O'Leary

Founder and principal of Magellan Media Consulting, Brian O’Leary helps enterprises with media and publishing components capitalize on the power of content. A veteran of more than 30 years in the publishing industry and a prolific content producer himself, Brian leverages the breadth and depth of his experience to deliver innovative content solutions.