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National Information Standards Organization (NISO) records

 Collection 0113-MDHC

The National Information Standards Organization (NISO) was founded in 1939 as the Z39 Committee which was responsible for developing standards which affect various aspects of librarianship, documentation, publishing practice, and information science; in 1984 the organization changed its name to National Information Standards Organization Z39. The collection contains the organization's operating records, committee files, publications, and audio-visual materials documenting the administration, responsibilities, and achievements of NISO.


  • 1949-1990
  • Majority of material found within 1949-1986

Use and Access to Collection

This collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopies or digital surrogates may be provided in accordance with Special Collections and University Archives duplication policy.

Copyright resides with the creators of the documents or their heirs unless otherwise specified. It is the researcher's responsibility to secure permission to publish materials from the appropriate copyright holder.

Archival materials may contain materials with sensitive or confidential information that is protected under federal and/or state right to privacy laws or other regulations. While we make a good faith effort to identify and remove such materials, some may be missed during our processing. If a researcher finds sensitive personal information in a collection, please bring it to the attention of the reading room staff.


58.00 Linear Feet

Scope and Content of Collection

The National Information Standards Organization (Z39) records span the period 1949 to 1990. The collection consists of correspondence; brochures; newsletters; minutes; committee reports; committee files on standards development at the national and international levels; drafts of standards; published standards; budgets; bylaws; and membership lists. The records contain committee files for almost every standard published or revised by Z39 since 1950. Files also exist for committees whose work, for sundry reasons, never reached the voting stage. Various Z39 administrative committees, including the Program, Finance, Publicity and International Committees, are also represented in the collection. In addition, correspondence from the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) regarding international standards and files from committees working on international standards can be found in the records.

A large group of the United States' most influential library, information and publishing professionals number amongst the correspondents in this collection. The chairmen and executive directors of Z39 (see Appendix A) are the chief correspondents, but others represented include Henriette Avram, Marguerite Von Geyer, Sally McCallum and Joseph Howard.

Documentation of particular interest includes files on the standardization of data elements to assist in the automation of bilbiographic records (Z39.2); files on compiling library/publishing statistics (Z39.7, Z39.8, Z39.39, Z39.40); and files on the development and implementation of the International Standard Book Number (Z39.21) and the International Standard Serial Number (Z39.9). A subject index of standards and their respective standard numbers is included as Appendix B.

Administrative History

Formal standarization work in librarianship began as early as 1935. In that year Z29.1-1935, a standard relating to the arrangement of periodicals was produced under the chairmanship of Miss Carolyn F. Ulrich of the New York Public Library. In 1937, the International Standards Association (ISA) invited the American Standards Association (ASA) to participate in the work of an international committee on documentation under the authority of ISA. With prompting from various library associations, ASA appointed Miss Ulrich to represent ASA on ISA's Committee 46 on Documentation. This action led the various library associations to petition ASA to organize a committee on library standards. Approval for such a committee was granted in June 1939. Its scope was limited to "Standards for [library] concepts, definitions, terminology, letters and signs, practices, methods, supplies and equipment." The American Library Association (ALA) accepted sponsorship on June 22, 1939, and the committee became known as Z39. The first meeting of Z39 was held in New York in 1940, and Robert Downs, then Librarian at New York University, was elected chairman. Z39 suffered sundry setbacks during its early years, notably the suspension of the work of ISA during World War II, and from 1943 to 1951, Z39 remained relatively inactive.

Z39 was resurrected in 1951, when the Council on National Library Associations (CNLA) assumed sponsorship of Z39. Lack of a consistent source of income hampered the Committee from implementing any large scale program of action. Verner W. Clapp was elected chairman, and four standards subcommittees were organized: Abbreviations for Periodicals, Cyrillic Transliteration, Layout of Periodicals, and Library Statistics. Under Clapp, the committee's scope was also broadened to include standards dealing with the "preparation and utilization of documents."

During the mid-1950s, Z39's progress was slow; new committees were organized or reconstituted, but most were inactive. Much of the stability the organization enjoys today can be attributed to the work of Robert Kingery, who became chairman of Z39 in 1958, and Burton Atkinson, Director of the Office of Science Information at the National Science Foundation (NSF), during the late 1950s. These men, with the assistance of Verner W. Clapp, worked out the details of Z39's first funding grant from the NSF. Kingery also appointed Marguerite Von Geyer as administrative associate for Z39, thus establishing a "secretariat" at the New York Public Library where Kingery initiated a strong program of standards development. At a May 1962 meeting, the CNLA allowed Z39 to seek its own funds. Subsequently Z39 received grants of varying amounts from the NSF and the Council on Library Resources (CLR).

In December, 1959, Z39 took the initiative in a drive to create a new ASA Sectional Committee, which became Z85, Library Equipment and Supplies; the new Committee came into existence on March 21, 1960. Also in March of 1960, Z39 authorized its International Subcommittee, composed of all subcommitte chairmen, to take responsibility for international actions that were referred to Z39 from the International Organization for Standardization (ISO).

In February 1965 Kingery and Von Geyer resigned their Z39 positions. Anne Richter, vice-chairman since 1958, agreed to act as chairman until April 10, 1965. By this date, Dr. Jerrold Orne of the University of North Carolina Libraries had been appointed chariman. Under his leadership Z39's title and scope were broadened. Its title became [Committee on] "Standardization in the Field of Library Work, Documentation, and Related Publishing Practice." The scope was broadened to include "those aspects of publishing that effect library methods and use."

In March 1977, the National Commission on Libraries and Information Science (NCLIS) appointed a task force to review Z39's activities and to make recommendations about its future. This committee met four times, and its final report, released in 1978, was titled "American National Standard Committee Z39: Recommended Future Directions." The task force was stimulated by concerns that Z39 "should be expanded to be more representative of the entire information community."

Many of the NCLIS report recommendations were implemented. The task force recommended that Z39's name be changed to "Standardization in the Field of Information Transfer, Library Activities, and Related Publishing Practices"; it was actually changed to "Library and Information Sciences and Related Publishing Practices." The scope statement was changed to reflect its evolving involvement in the "information" world. The task force also recommended that a master plan be developed which would prioritize the Committee's standard development. The report recommended that CNLA remain the secretariat, but suggested that Z39's officers be elected by the representatives of the member organizations. The task force also recommended that a full-time staff be hired which would include a professional to carry out the policies and plans on a day-today basis, and a full-time secretary. It also suggested that the secretariat should move quickly towards a broader funding base.

Jerrold Orne retired in 1978. Under his leadership, Z39 achieved recognition as a strong standards developing committee, and concomittantly it earned the increasing support of its constituency. James Wood, who had served as the American Chemical Society's representative to Z39 for twenty years, became Z39's first elected chairman. Also in 1978, Robert Frase was hired as the Committee's first executive director, and the Z39 office was moved from Chapel Hill, North Carolina, to the National Bureau of Standards in Gaithersburg, Marland, where it is still located. Under Wood and Frase, the Committee adopted a new set of bylaws, created a publicity committee, revived the sluggish program and fiance committees, and initiated a graduated membership fee.

Robert Frase retired as Z39's executive director in 1982 and was replaced by Patricia R. Harris. During her first two eyars at Z39, a number of changes were made in the organization. The Committee revised its bylaws again; applied for ANSI accreditation as an independent standars developing organization; and requested 501 (c) (3) not-for-profit status from the Internal Revenue Service. These activities were all realized, and the Committee changed its name to the National Information Standards Organization (NISO). Today, NISO is a vigorous standards developing entity. It has developed and maintains over fifty voluntary technical standards relating to the library, information and publishing fields.


This series is divided into six series.

Series 1
Subcommittee Files of Approved Z39 Standards
Series 2
Subcommittee Files of Unapproved Drafts
Series 3
Z39 General Administration
Series 4
Series 5
International Organization for Standardization
Series 6
American National Standards Institute

Custodial History and Acquisition Information

The National Information Standards Organization donated their archives to the University of Maryland Libraries in June 1986.

Related Material

The National Information Standards Organization has donated additional materials to the University of Maryland Libraries since the creation of this guide in 1990. Please contact the curator for more information and inventories to later accessions.

Separated Materials

Two videotapes have been transferred to the University of Maryland Nonprint Media Center.

Processing Information

Six series have been created from the records of NISO (Z39). Duplicates have been discarded. All paper clips and rubber bands have been removed. Documents have been removed from binders, clips, and unstable folders and placed in acid-free folders and boxes. Two videotapes have been transferred to the University of Maryland Nonprint Media Center.

Guide to the National Information Standards Organization (NISO) records
Processed by Jonathan Jeffrey.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Library Details

Part of the Special Collections and University Archives

University of Maryland Libraries
Hornbake Library
4130 Campus Drive
College Park Maryland 20742