by Tom Gilson (Associate Editor, Against the Grain)
and Katina Strauch (Editor, Against the Grain)
ATG: How did the idea of the merger of NISO and NFAIS take shape? What role did the leadership of NISO play? How about the leadership of NFAIS? What is the proposed timeline for implementation?
DM: The NFAIS Board began serious discussions about possible alternative organizational structures approximately two years ago. Although the annual conference was highly rated by those who attended, participation had been declining. We were concerned about our limited ability to have impact. NFAIS Board members began investigating possible merger opportunities and having confidential conversations with a few of them.
TC: The former President of the NFAIS Board, Eric Swensen (formerly at Elsevier), approached me in the summer of 2018 to discuss ways that our two organizations might partner. After some initial conversations, an Exploratory Committee was formed to consider whether and in what shape a union of the two organizations might be beneficial to both communities. The group reviewed the mission, programming, finances, staffing and governance of both associations to assess the feasibility and sense of pursuing a partnership. After this thorough due diligence process, the group recommended we pursue a merger.
The recommendation was unanimously approved by both Boards of Directors in January and was brought to the NFAIS members for a vote in February. This measure passed with the support of 84% of the NFAIS members, with no votes in opposition. We expect the merger with NISO to be completed by July 1, 2019.
ATG: From your individual perspectives, what was the strongest rationale for combining the two organizations? What tipped the balance for you?
DM: NISO seemed the best option for a merger because our missions are similar, we both serve the publishing, library, and technology communities, and our members are approximately 50% overlapping. In our discussions, we realized that NFAIS is a great convening organization; NISO has the infrastructure to carry out the ideas that emerge in the convening sessions. Together, both would be stronger.
TC: From my perspective, the greatest opportunity that will develop through bringing the two organizations together will be the combination of thought leadership with the practicality of bringing those ideas to fruition. As Deanna mentioned with NFAIS’ tradition of bringing together leaders in our community, many great ideas have germinated. Marrying those ideas with the in-the-weeds implementation focus that has been NISO’s strength will create an engine for advancing the community. By bringing together the resources of the two entities, we will also have the capacity to advance those ideas and initiatives.
ATG: What benefits and opportunities does the merger afford the members of both organizations? How else will the merger impact current NISO and NFAIS members? Have any concerns or reservations been expressed?
DM: We believe the greatest benefit is that the merged organization will have a broader reach and a greater impact on the information communities. NISO will be able to use the convening function of NFAIS that it does not currently have. NFAIS members will be able to work on specific problems throughout the year. The educational opportunities for all members will be more numerous and better targeted to identified needs of the membership.
TC: An Implementation Committee has been organized and is exploring ways to streamline our existing educational programs and benefits. Part of that process will be reviewing — and hopefully expanding — the benefits that we provide to members. In the short term, NISO and NFAIS programs will continue as planned, with expanded benefits being announced this fall. In addition, as with every merger, we see there being opportunities to rationalize operations and find ways to be more efficient. We plan to use these savings to reduce the financial burden on those organizations that currently participate in both organizations.
Feedback on the merger has been overwhelmingly positive. As noted more than 80% of the NFAIS community supported the merger, with no opposition. NISO members also have expressed their support and there haven’t been any objections raised to moving forward.
ATG: How does the merger affect the current mission / goals of NISO and NFAIS looking ahead? What will the governance structure, staffing, and leadership look like? What will the new organization be called? Will the fee or membership structure change?
TC: The missions of the two organizations are quite similar, with both being focused on improving the creation, discovery and distribution of content, albeit with slightly different methods to achieve those aims. Those methods are and will continue to be complimentary. In practice, the work of bringing people together, which had been NFAIS’ strength, and the work of developing standards and best practices, which has been NISO’s strength, will both continue. Because of the overlap of our two memberships, these goals and the community we serve will remain constant.
DM: NFAIS will be merged into NISO, and Todd will become the CEO of the new organization. The staff functions of program planning and marketing will continue within NISO, but the current staff of NFAIS will not be moving to NISO. The governance structure of both organizations is remarkably similar. In the new organization, the Board will be expanded to 15 members, eight of which will be from NISO, seven from NFAIS.
Membership fees for organizations that now belong to both NISO and NFAIS are expected to go down. The Implementation Committee made up of four representatives from each organization is working through the business model for the new NISO and will be communicating with all members about the new dues structure.
ATG: How will current independent activities like the NFAIS Humanities Roundtable and the highly thought of Miles Conrad Memorial Lectures be affected? How will NISO’s standards development and training operation be impacted?
DM: We were delighted to see NISO’s enthusiasm for these programs that are so important to us — the Humanities Round Table, the Miles Conrad Memorial Lectures, and the NFAIS Honorary Fellows program. All of these will continue in their current form within NISO.
TC: Those NFAIS programs that have a long and meaningful tradition in our community will be honored and continued. What was interesting from my perspective participating in the Humanities Roundtable in DC in March was the focus by several of the speakers on the need for common methods and approaches to make the creation and distribution of digital humanities projects. Standards, efficiency in content creation, and community best practices were the focus of several of the speakers at that event — a pleasant, if unplanned coincidence given the timing of the announcement.
The process of developing community consensus will remain unchanged and the NISO standards development activities will continue unchanged moving forward. We do anticipate a growth in the pace of activities as a result of the thought leadership ideas, such as those brought up during the Humanities Roundtable event.
ATG: One of the stated goals of the merger is to enable the newly formed organization to better serve the information community. How will the merger enhance current services? Do you envision any new services or programs evolving from the merger? More specifically, how do you see libraries and publishers being impacted?
TC: Whenever an organization goes through a change, such as this combination, it provides a catalyst for review of the positioning and role of its programs and activities. Both organizations have strong offerings, but there is duplication and areas where improvement is possible. With technology playing such an important role in how content is created, distributed, managed, discovered and used, it is critical that the staff in libraries and publishers be aware and understand changes in this constantly morphing landscape. We have been experimenting with approaches to educating the community and these efforts will continue to adapt our approaches to suit the changing needs for skills development among our members.
DM: Both organizations take considerable pride in serving as a place where publishers, librarians, and technologists can have meaningful conversations and collaboratively solve problems. All organizations, no matter how small, have significant operating costs. By consolidating staff and eliminating redundancy, more resources can go toward solving problems and developing programs rather than organizational overhead. More resources can be directed toward educational programs and marketing than either organization could manage on its own, so members will be better served.
ATG: According to the merger Q&A website, the purpose of the merger is about “maximizing the contribution and impact we have.” What does that mean for members of NISO? How will it play out for members of NFAIS?
DM: NFAIS has been a significant player in the information community. We identified emerging topics, brought influential speakers to our conference, and hosted forward-looking educational programs. Yet, with a very small staff and a limited budget, we did not have the capacity to move from ideas to action. We believe that the new NISO will have the scope and scale to combine ideas with follow-up action.
TC: I constantly repeat that were it not for the contributions of the many volunteers who participate in our work, very little would be accomplished at NISO. This is equally true within NFAIS, as it is with most every non-profit organization. Through this merger, we expect more organizations and their staffs will be engaged in the efforts we advance, be they standards, or thought leadership initiatives.
One of the distinguishing characteristics of NISO is the explicit union of library, publisher and supplier communities for the purpose of consensus development. Expanding the circle of organizations engaged in those conversations, which this merger will do, will benefit the entire ecosystem. NFAIS has historically had strengths in elements of the community, such as with government agencies that will be welcome additions to the NISO processes. The larger the pool of participants and the larger set of use cases against which those ideas are tested, the more likely those results will serve the broadest possible community.
Of course, this organization doesn’t happen of its own accord. Through consolidation of activities, we will be able to focus resources to speed development and deployment of the work we do.
Tom is originally from Brooklyn N.Y but has spent his entire professional career in South Carolina, most recently as Head of Reference Services at the College of Charleston. As part of the Against the Grain and Charleston Conference team, he serves as the associate editor of the print ATG as well as the co-editor of the webpage. Tom’s conference duties include coordinating the Penthouse Suite interviews as well as the conference poster sessions.
He received his MLS from the University of Buffalo, SUNY and a second master’s in public administration from the College of Charleston and the Univ. of South Carolina. His wife Carol and he live in downtown Charleston and she is an artist and a tour guide offering historic walking tours of the city.