For the third consecutive year, the NISO Plus conference provided what its name only hints at. Held virtually over 3 days, Feb. 15–17, 2022, it delivered an informative and thought-provoking multinational survey of the roles that collaboration, conversation, and standardization play in our constantly changing worldwide information environment.
Global Conversations–Global Connections
This year’s conference theme—like last year’s—was Global Conversations–Global Connections. In his opening remarks on Feb. 15, NISO executive director Todd Carpenter emphasized the link from conversations to connections. He oriented the audience toward “active” sharing and away from “passive” learning, asserting that every voice should be heard. He urged attendees to adopt a results orientation, considering how the ideas being shared could be put into practice and especially what role NISO might play. Participants seemed to take these principles to heart, and the sheer diversity of these participants demonstrated the conference’s global reach. This year’s total attendance—more than 630—was down from last year, but diversity was up. Attendees represented 28 countries, and 28% were from outside the U.S.
Immediately following Carpenter’s welcoming remarks, author and scholar Siva Vaidhyanathan delivered the opening keynote, “Welcome to the Metaverse: The Profound Consequences of a Science-Fiction Vision.” Vaidhyanathan, who has long sounded warnings about Big Tech in speeches, articles, and books, including Copyrights and Copywrongs: The Rise of Intellectual Property and How it Threatens Creativity (2001) and The Googlization of Everything—and Why We Should Worry (2011), warned of the ambitions of technology and social media companies to develop and monetize the emerging cyberworld, adding cryptocurrencies to virtual and augmented reality in order to dominate it.
The second day’s plenary featured the announcement of two award winners—Laurie Kaplan of ProQuest, who won the Ann Marie Cunningham Service Award, and Oliver Pesch of EBSCO Information Services, who won the NISO Fellow award—the naming of 13 recipients of NISO Scholarships (more about that later), and the annual Miles Conrad Lecture. This year’s lecturer was Patricia Flatley Brennan, director of the U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM). Brennan’s remarks, titled “The Role of a Library in a World of Unstructured Data,” focused on NLM’s mission and strategy, celebrated its accomplishments, and delineated its current initiatives and challenges.
The last day’s program was enriched by two dramatically different keynotes. First came “Collaborative Society Needs Institutional Support,” given by Dariusz Jemielniak, professor of management at Kozminski University in Poland. He pointed out that prominent companies in the so-called sharing economy actually inhibit true sharing. People use Airbnb to rent out apartments they’ve bought as investments, but they don’t share their spare bedrooms, for one example. Uber’s ubiquitous taxi service inhibits people from asking a friend for a ride to the airport, for another. Jemielniak went on to explore the nature of true sharing and the factors that make real, sustained, technology-mediated collaboration possible. He presented examples in which outdated legal, regulatory, and institutional structures have hampered new modes of positive collaboration and concluded with a plea for the development of “ways in which the collaborative society initiatives can receive proper support in the areas that they will never be really good at: certification, auditing, [and] legal support. …”
The concluding keynote was “Research Infrastructure for the Pluriverse,” delivered by Katharina Ruckstuhl, associate dean and senior research fellow at the University of Otago Business School. Ruckstuhl, who is a member of the Maori Ngai Tahu tribe, began by reciting a Maori creation story, which led into a discussion of the colonization of cyberspace, replicating the colonization of the planet. She argued for the application of the FAIR (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, Reusable) and CARE (Collective Benefit, Authority to Control, Responsibility, Ethics) principles (#BeFAIRandCARE) to create a cyber environment in which Indigenous knowledge plays a role and diverse approaches to organizing knowledge and defining the relationship of people to the physical world can all be included.
NISO’s Scholarship Program, now in its third year, is another element of the organization’s global influence. Scholars are awarded a free registration to the NISO Plus conference, along with free and reduced registration rates for other NISO programs and the opportunity to participate in the organization’s committees and working groups. With 13 Scholars added this year, 40 members of underrepresented groups have participated. This year’s awardees came from eight different countries, with seven from outside the U.S. Several of last year’s awardees participated in a session in which they reacted to questions (chosen by themselves) about their experiences during the past year. Not surprisingly, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the need to combat misinformation were common themes. Sharon Whitfield, of Rider University in New Jersey, summed up a common perspective on the pandemic, saying that it “has really made my physical world much smaller. However, it’s really increased my virtual or online world tenfold.”
In between plenary sessions, 40 wide-ranging, 75-minute sessions made up the bulk of the program. Here are summaries of a few.
A panel on multilingual scholarly communication, made up of publishing experts from the Netherlands, India, and Canada, reminded English speakers to be aware of content published in other languages. Jasmin Lange, chief publishing officer at Dutch publisher Brill, noted that her company has issued works in a variety of languages and character sets since its founding in the 17th century, and today, English-language works make up only 63% of its output. Harini Calamur, head of Impact Science, reminded the audience that the dominance of English is a recent phenomenon: Albert Einstein published his first four papers in German, and Marie Curie published in French. Jessica Clark, project coordinator at Coalition Publica, surveyed barriers to publishing in languages other than English, as well as current initiatives to improve multilingualism.
Speakers on the role of AI in scholarly knowledge creation expressed a consensus view that it is a valuable tool, but is most useful as an aid and time-saver that’s subject to human review, not as an independent production strategy. Independent software engineer and librarian Andromeda Yelton reported on several interesting applications, including the use of computer vision to identify possible matches of the same person in multiple photos in a collection of photos of Black life in Pittsburgh in the first half of the 20th century, taken by Charles “Teenie” Harris.
Three sessions were devoted to progress reports on NISO working groups and initiatives. Four initiatives arising from last year’s conference were included among the 11 projects: the Interoperable System of Controlled Digital Lending; Communication of Retractions, Removals, and Expressions of Concern (CORREC); Integrating Publisher and Repository Workflows to Improve Research Data-Article Links; and NISO’s Leadership in Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility.
Several speakers and session leaders bemoaned the inability to convene a physical conference and expressed hope that next year’s would be in person. There’s a risk in that, though. The NISO Plus conference ran well. Scheduling was adapted to multiple time zones, and nobody was jet-lagged. Connections with speakers all over the world appeared to work seamlessly. Technical glitches, when they happened, were dealt with effectively. Both synchronous and asynchronous dialogue was supported, although not always used as heavily as one might like. Everything was recorded, so programs were available for review afterward. And the most important point is that this virtual event was a truly diverse, global conference. The challenge for any future in-person conference will be to sustain that diversity and the other benefits of the virtual event and not simply to return to the old normal.