Meet the Public Library Data Alliance: Todd Carpenter

Meet the Public Library Data Alliance: Todd Carpenter

For the past 14 years, Todd Carpenter has served as Executive Director of the National Information Standards Organization (NISO), a U.S.-based non-profit association that develops and maintains standards for the creation, management, and effective interchange of information. He has served on the boards of the Baltimore County Public Library, the Society for Scholarly Publishing, the Free Ebook Foundation, is a member of the inaugural ALA Policy Corps, and will serve as the PLDA’s secretariat.

I was a part of the Measures That Matter implementation group that developed the ideas behind the Public Library Data Alliance. I was invited to participate in the implementation stage, not as a statistics expert but from the perspective of my experience in consensus-building across the community. NISO as an entity is a neutral third party. When people are developing standards and best practices, there are many competing interests (privacy vs. advertising is an extreme example) that need to be reconciled. Even within the space of library assessment, for example, the academic libraries have one perspective and the public libraries have different interests and concerns.

Our vision was to create a confederation of interested parties with NISO serving as secretariat to keep the lights on, convene the meetings, and develop a process for conflict resolution. Our job is not to say what the PLDA will be, but to offer a framework on how to proceed. That could be technical standards, common vocabulary or survey tools, or a repository of data, best practices or benchmarks. There is a broad expanse of what the PLDA could be, and we’ll leave it up to the initial participants to define what it should become. NISO’s role is to support whatever that will be. It could grow significantly and we’d help support its growth, because a community success is also our success.

The story of libraries and data is changing; gone are the days of simply counting how many items are on a library’s shelves. In the internet age, what counts as your collection? If you’re offering health education, job training, or maker spaces, that isn’t easily measured by counting the number of computers you have. We need to match library assessment with our activities and our collective goals.

It’s really important for the larger library community to get behind the PLDA — there are 15 members of the Alliance but we’re going to need everyone to engage, adopt, and participate in our activities, and push for resources. If it’s just the 15 of us, we’re not going to accomplish our goals. We need the buy-in from the broader community to drive this initiative, which is at its core about telling the story of library success.