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Research Guides

The what? why? & where? of Standards

What are standards?

A standard is a document that establishes a rule or measure (either minimum or optimum) for quality or level of performance. A standard can be produced and/or adopted by national standards organizations, professional associations or societies, international standards organizations, or private companies. For a good tutorial about standards: "ANSI Course "Why Standards Matter".

Where do standards come from?

Professional associations (e.g. ASCE, ASME, IEEE, and SAE), trade organizations, and governments create and produce standards. Standards are produced nationally and internationally. In the United States, the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) coordinates many standards producing organizations.

International standards are produced by organizations such as the ISO (International Organization for Standardization) and the IEC (International Electrotechnical Commission). Engineers frequently encounter standards from other countries such as Germany (DIN), Japan (JIS), or the UK (BSI).

How do I know which standard I need?

There are many search tools on the internet to assist you in locating standards in your area of study. Some of these are listed on the page "Search for Standards."

Why are Standards so expensive?

Standards developing organizations rely on the revenues of the sale of standards to fund the standards writing process. This process can be lengthy and expensive. When you pay for a standard, you not only pay for the paper it is printed on, but for the cost of creating the information on the paper.

Why are standards so important?

They impact nearly every aspect of our lives - even the clothes we wear and the characteristics of our dogs are affected by standards. And standards enhance technology by ensuring that parts fit together. You could design a flash drive that doesn't fit into the standard USB port, but why would you? Who would buy it?

If you're interested in reading more about the importance of standards, take a look at these websites:

What is the scope of our Standards Collection?

Most of the standards we have are ANSI approved.  For details about specific standards in our collection, please consult our standards database at

Please note that the standard in the Libary may NOT be the most current edition of the standard. Check for that information at the IHS Standards Store or on the particular standard's developer website.

Can I check out standards from your library?

Our standards collection is for Library Use Only. You are welcome to come in any time our library is open to use the collection. Be advised that all standards are copyright protected and cover-to-cover copying violates the copyright law. For this reason standards are normally not lent via interlibrary loan.

How do I get the full-text?

Here at the UW we have access to the online full-text of  two major collections of standards: IEEE Standards, (UW Restricted ) and ASTM Standards, (UW Restricted). The rest of our standards are available in hard copy, primarily located in the Engineering Library.