Letter from the Executive Director (August 2019)

As I write this, I’m headed back from a family beach vacation, back to the “real world” of standards, technology, and information sharing after a summer getaway. While the kids splashed away in the water, I had a few luxurious days of digging my toes in the sand, listening to the rolling waves, and re-reading a great book, American Gods by Neil Gaiman. My schedule, the wide range of things I need to stay abreast of throughout the year, and the general hectic pace of life limits my reading for pleasure. While visiting a shop along the trip, the proprietor was amazed that my daughter sat in the corner reading while we talked. “You just don’t see kids doing that anymore,” he commented. This isn’t just an anecdotal issue; hard data about reading statistics of the general population, adult reading (and subsequent data continues this trend), and children’s behavior tell a similar story. Sadly, too few Americans find leisure time to just sit and read for pleasure. It seems that the ubiquity of screens, our ever connected world, and the presence of other distractions has pushed reading down on the priority list.

Libraries play an important role in combating the summer doldrums, particularly for children. While school is out and attention is turned to other activities, libraries support a variety of summer break educational activities. Not every child can get away to the beach on a family vacation. Not every family can support the book-a-week pace my daughter is burning through with her favorite book series. And while some publishers argue that for “every book circulated, is a sale lost” (which is demonstrably false, by the way, as libraries can actually have a positive impact on retail sales), I personally can point to the several books from the series we’ve picked up at local independent bookstores on our trip while we’re away from our local library, as an argument against their theory. What turned my daughter on to the series wasn’t a trip to a bookstore. It wasn’t perusing Amazon’s website. It was the school library. It was her friends, who also use the library. And yes, although we didn’t purchase the entire 15-book series, we did purchase at least four books so far this year, which also happens to be about the median number of books the average American purchased all of last year.

Libraries create readers and foster a love of reading and learning, which is ever more important in our society today. If we set forth barriers to reading for children, however young, it won’t be a difficult decision for them to turn to their phones and turn on YouTube, a game, or some other media. Kids have many other potential distractions, and ones that provide more immediate gratification and are often less mentally taxing. While there may be a short-term financial gain in imposing limits on library circulation, the longer-term impact may be less obvious and more damaging.

To support telling the story of libraries and their work, an effort that NISO has become engaged in is the Chief Officers of State Library Agencies (COSLA) Measures that Matter Initiative and the formation of a successor coalition, the Public Library Data Alliance. This was announced at the American Library Association (ALA) Annual Conference in June and during a webinar in July. This effort will seek to tell the stories of library successes through improvements in the data collection and metrics that the library community gather and report. Libraries impact their communities in a variety of ways, beyond summer reading support and children’s programming. From supporting economic development, employment and entrepreneurship support, to community engagement and adult education, libraries are supporting local communities in numerous ways. Partnering with a number of library associations, ALA, Urban Libraries Council, Association for Rural and Small Libraries, the Public Library Association, COSLA, along with NISO, the PLDA will advance public library data gathering and use that aligns with community needs. It will provide thought leadership, propose strategic actions, and create a communications infrastructure for the field to identify and capture data on new metrics that more fully describe modern library services. Some of this builds on existing work, such as NISO’s Z39.7 Data Dictionary, the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) Public Library Survey, the PLDS conducted by ALA/PLA and various state and local data collection efforts. As the organization advances and becomes more formalized, additional information will be shared via NISO and other library organizational channels. If you’re interested, you can sign up to receive updates on the initiative.

I hope each of you is enjoying your own book by the ocean, on a mountain top, relaxing pool-side, or wherever your summer vacation may take you. At NISO, now that our vacations are over, we’re busy finishing up the details on some big announcements next month. As an early tease, keep February 23-26, 2020 open on your calendars!


Todd Carpenter
Executive Director, NISO