Thursday, March 24, 2005

Standards vs. Specifications

At lunch today with a fellow consultant, the conversation wove from knowledge management to the retention of e-documents, then to the legal ramifications, and to digitization and then finally to standards. We had both been privy to viewing a draft standard nearly two years ago. Each of us had spent a different amount of time viewing it (..there are indeed only so many hours in the day...) and had different opinions of the document. The standard has not been formally published, although we know that the draft has been used by some.

As I drove back to the office, I began to wonder who should be writing standards for digitization. Is there one group that can do this? Is it too much work (and responsibility) to lay in one group's hands? It would be wonderful if a reputable group could come out with a standards document (or likely a series of documents) that covered every aspect of creating, describing and preserving digital assets (from various source materials), but it is unlikely that one group could do that.

Is there an alternative? Yes, have a reputable group (e.g., NARA) review specifications that have been published for specific digitization projects and give them a seal of approval. The group could even write comments, so that anyone would know why they approved of that specification. The group would give its seal of approval to different specifications for different materials and might choose to approve of several specifications that covered the same type of materials, if there were a legitimate reason to do so. New projects then looking for "standards" could search for and locate approved specifications that they could review, learn from and use.

A group that decided to create and bestow a seal of approval would need to dedicate time and resources to find and review specifications. The group would probably bring on board consultants and industry experts who could give their views and comments born out of their experiences with digitization. The group and those that work on reviewing the specifications would need to be seen as top notch, reputable, and worth trusting.

If this were done, would the specifications then be cast in concrete? Yes and no (at least that's my hope). Technology continues to change and what we know continues to change. I would hope then that the specifications would be allowed to evolve in a way that readers would know what had been added/changed since the seal of approval was given.

Wait...aren't there specifications that we all point to as being good? What about those? Yes, they are good and wouldn't it be great if an organization like the National Archives, Library of Congress, UNESCO, AIIM gave them a formal stamp of approval? Yup.

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