With Gratitude for the NISO Ann Marie Cunningham Service Award

Posted on     3 minute read

During the inaugural NISO Plus meeting at the end of February, I was surprised and proud to receive the Ann Marie Cunningham Service award. Todd Carpenter, NISO’s executive director, let me know by tweet as I was not able to attend the conference.
Pictured in that tweet is my co-recipient, Christine Stohn, who serves NISO with me as the co-chair of the Information Delivery and Interchange Topic Committee. This got me thinking about what NISO has meant to me. As I think back on it, my activity in NISO spans at least four employers and many hours of standard working group meetings, committee meetings, presentations, and ballot reviews.

Picture of the award plaque
NISO Ann Marie Cunningham Service Award

I did not know Ms Cunningham, the award’s namesake. My first job started when she was the NFAIS executive director in the early 1990s, and I hadn’t been active in the profession yet. I read her brief biography on the NISO website:

The Ann Marie Cunningham Service award was established in 1994 to honor NFAIS members who routinely went above and beyond the normal call of duty to serve the organization. It is named after Ann Marie Cunningham who, while working with abstracting and information services such as Biological Abstracts and the Institute for Scientific Information (both now part of NISO-member Clarivate Analytics), worked tirelessly as an dedicated NFAIS volunteer. She ultimately served as the NFAIS Executive Director from 1991 to 1994 when she died unexpectedly. NISO is pleased to continue to present this award to honor a NISO volunteer who has shown the same sort of commitment to serving our organization.

As I searched the internet for her name, I came across the proceedings of the 1993 NFAIS meeting, in which Ms Cunningham wrote the introduction with Wendy Wicks. These first sentences from some of the paragraphs of that introduction are as true today as they were then:

In an era of rapidly expanding network access, time and distance no longer separate people from information.

Much has been said about the global promise of the Internet and the emerging concept of linking information highways, to some people, “free” ways.

What many in the networking community, however, seem to take for granted is the availability of vital information flowing on these high-speed links.

I wonder what Ms Cunningham of 1993 would think of the information landscape today? Hypertext linking has certainly taken off, if not taken over, the networked information landscape. How that interconnectedness has improved with the adaptation of print-oriented standards and the creation of new standards that match the native capabilities of the network. In just one corner of that space, we have the adoption of PDF as a faithful print replica and HTML as a common tool for displaying information. In another corner, MARC has morphed into a communication format that far exceeds its original purpose of encoding catalog cards; we have an explosion of purpose-built metadata schemas and always the challenge of finding common ground in tools like Dublin Core and Schema.org. We’ve seen several generations of tools and protocols for encoding, distributing, and combining data in new ways to reach users. And still we strive to make it better…to more easily deliver a paper to its reader—a dataset to its next experimenter—an idea to be built upon by the next generation.

It is that communal effort to make a better common space for ideas that drives me forward. To work in a community at the intersection of libraries, publishers, and service providers is an exciting and fulfilling place to be. I’m grateful to my employers that have given me the ability to participate while bringing the benefits of that connectedness to my organizations.

I was not able to be at NISO Plus to accept the award in person, but I was so happy to be handed it by Jason Griffey of NISO about a week later during the Code4lib conference in Pittsburgh. What made that even more special was to learn that Jason created it on his own 3D printer. Thank you to the new NFAIS-joined-with-NISO community for honoring me with this service award.