According to IEEE, "Standards are published documents that establish specifications and procedures designed to maximize the reliability of the materials, products, methods, and/or services people use every day. Standards address a range of issues, including but not limited to various protocols to help maximize product functionality and compatibility, facilitate interoperability and support consumer safety and public health."
Standards can help simplify product development, allow for the comparison of products, ensure consistency, and improve safety.
Standards are produced by a variety of organizations, including scientific and professional associations, industry and trade organizations and governments. National bodies, such as the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), coordinate standards within a country, and international organizations, especially the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), coordinate standards across different countries. These national and international coordinating organizations typically do not make standards but often add legitimacy to a standard that makes it more likely that the standard is accepted and adopted. Not all standards go through the formal processes that ANSI and the ISO require, though.
Because standards are produced by so many different organizations, finding standards often involves first determining if a standard (or more than one standard) exists that applies in a particular situation, what organization produces the standard, and (often) what the standard number is.
The work involved in producing standards can be expensive. Although some standards are available for free, often standards can be expensive (e.g. hundreds of dollars for a thirty page document). Morris Library carries ASTM and IEEE standards as well as some others. The library can supply some standards by interlibrary loan, depending on availability and price.