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Luminary Lectures @ Your Library

No Longer Under Our Control: The Nature and Role of Standards in the 21st Century Library

William Moen - December 3, 2003

Libraries have prospered because they developed and adopted of a wide range of standards, guidelines, and community practices to serve their needs. Broadly speaking, standards reflect vital community agreements on problems and their solution. The networked environment, however, is changing the context and use of standards in libraries. Librarians no longer create and define the terms, concepts, standards, and technologies that drive library services and practices.

This lecture examines the nature and role of standards for the emerging 21st century library. Given the dynamic character of the networked environment, when are standards appropriate and how can they be developed in a manner consistent with the volatility of information technologies and changing library services? What are the roles and responsibilities of standards developing organizations, technology vendors, content creators, and librarians for standards? Do local practices of libraries threaten standards-based resource sharing and resource access technologies? Can local needs be balanced with broader library community responsibilities, and how do standards affect this balance? The speaker's assumption is that adherence to standards has never been more critical, yet his implementation experience with Z39.50 and MARC suggests that the commitment to national and international standards by librarians, technology vendors, and content creators are often an example of good intentions rather than actual practice. This standards disconnect threatens the emerging 21st century library's ability to deliver fundamental services in appropriate ways to their users.

About the Speaker

Dr. William Moen is a Fellow in the Texas Center for Digital Knowledge, and an Associate Professor in the School of Library and Information Sciences, University of North Texas. His Ph.D. is from Syracuse University where he wrote his dissertation on the development of the Z39.50 information retrieval protocol standard. He teaches courses on information organization, metadata and networked information retrieval, and Z39.50. His research program includes the organization of networked resources; distributed searching and networked information retrieval; interoperability testing; and the development and implementation of technical standards.

From November 2001 through August 2003, Dr. Moen was principal investigator for a project funded by the Texas State Library and Archives Commission to develop a standards-based virtual library. The primary focus of the project was to is to define, plan, and assist in implementation of a Resource Discovery Service for the Library of Texas. He has served as the chair of the standards committee for the National information Standards Organization to develop the American National Standard Z39.50 Profile for Library Applications. The Institute of Museum and Library Services awarded him a National Leadership Grant for a multi-year project to establish a Z39.50 interoperability testbed.