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What We Learned: NFAIS, 26-28 February 2012, Philadelphia, PA

Posted by on March 27th, 2012 Posted in: All Posts

This article will be the first in a series of “What We Learned” articles where staff from the NN/LM SE/A write about conferences they’ve attended, sharing insights and experiences with the SE/A Region.

From February 26-28, 2012, MJ Tooey, Dale Prince, and Andrew Youngkin of the NN/LM SE/A attended the 2012 Annual Conference of the National Federation of Advanced Information Services (NFAIS) in Philadelphia. The theme of the conference was “Born of Disruption: An Emerging New Normal for the Information Landscape.” Topics included big data curation, the latest data from Pew, the effect new technologies have had upon publishing and libraries, cloud computing, and transformational technologies such as HTML5 and the semantic web. Following are MJ’s, Dale’s, and Andrew’s impressions of the conference.

M.J. Tooey

The point of attending the NFAIS conference was to feed my need to be a sponge. So often we go to meetings and our time is taken up with committee meetings, obligations, “have to do’s.”  Sometimes, I like to go to meetings, be relatively anonymous, and not have to do anything but soak up trends and disruptive information. I then revel in turning the ideas over in my head. And this was an excellent meeting for that!  The top 10 things I learned at NFAIS were:

  1. There is great synergy across the trend cosmos. Recently I have seen great synergy from NFAIS to Horizon to my trend reading. The synergies? Data as a hot topic. Learning analytics. Mobiles and tablets (about 50% of the people in the room at NFAIS who were using devices had tablets). Open everything (access, source, data). The Internet of Things!
  2. “The new normal is rarely built by the old normal.” John Wilbanks, Senior Fellow, Marion Ewing Kauffman Foundation.
  3. We need to train an entire new profession of data curators. John Wilbanks sees that as an opportunity for community colleges and librarians. Jim Neal from Columbia sees is as a role for librarians.
  4. John Wilbanks also feels we should use open data to determine embargos – a data-driven open access policy?
  5. What is tweckle? Heckling someone on Twitter.
  6. Lee Rainie of the Pew Internet and American Life Project makes me smile with all his cool statistics. He considers Pew a “Fact Tank.” Some statistics and facts?
    • 80% of Internet users use broadband enabling people to become content creators (bloggers, Twitter, personal web sites, tagging).
    • Mobile subscribers have more connected devices than there are people in the U.S.
    • 50% of all adults use social networking.
    • His new reality?
      1. People shift between platforms easily depending what they need to do.
      2. Influence is moving from organizations to networks and new experts.
      3. Attention zones have changed – continuous partial attention to media. It’s hard to get off the grid. Info-snacking!
      4. New information divides are emerging based on tech literacies.
      5. Plan for the future based on uncertainty – what do we do best? What is our commodity? Who are our natural allies?
  1. View The Nano Song if you are at all confused by nanotechnology.
  2. Taliesin Benyon (or Talie as we call him) of Wolfram Alpha astounded everyone in the room with his presentation on computational knowledge. I can’t even begin to describe the visualizations and the way it manipulates data. There’s that data stuff again!
  3. Lee Dirks of Microsoft Academic Search showed how next generation scholarly discovery could look. Microsoft has developed a free API for non-commercial research use only. There are graphic representations of impact, author and institution profiles, and other interesting ways to manipulate publication data. I searched myself – I have no impact on anything. Feeling much humbler now.
  4. Hung LeHong of Gartner Research spoke of Gartner’s Hype Cycle: Technology Trigger>Peak of Inflated Expectations>Trough of Disillusionment>Slope of Enlightenment>Plateau of Productivity. Don’t we live through that cycle every day? He also spoke about the Internet of Things where everything will be connected to the Internet – cars, chairs, television (imagine a device hearing what you are watching on tv and sending the commercials to your iPad), mirrors that can become iPads, plants that tweet you when they need to be watered, streams of information being deliver to students and faculty based on what they are doing.

Bonus take: The most sobering thing I heard was from the final keynote speaker, Joseph Esposito, who has worked in and with the publishing industry for years. One of the points in his talk entitled, “Predicting the Present,” was for publishers to bypass the librarians and go to direct consumer marketing. There’s no money in libraries with their declining budgets so even though it requires investments in IT, it is the only area where there is potential for growth.

Like I said, this conference made me think.


Dale Prince

After this conference NFAIS strikes me as one of those well-kept secrets that I wish I had known about sooner. I was greatly impressed by the caliber of the speakers they had lined up for this relatively small group of participants: Lee Rainie from Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project; Taliesin Benyon from Wolfram Alpha; and Thomson Nguy from Amazon’s Web Services. Of course MJ and Andrew will probably find others more impressive, but these are the projects that spark my imagination. Without Wolfram Alpha, Siri on the iPhone would be just another voice recognition application that misunderstands what you say. Pew is essential to anyone applying for a technology grant, and cloud computing is the future of functional services, even for libraries.

Sadly, Neither Benyon’s nor Nguy’s slides are available on the NFAIS site (see below to the link to the program and slides), but Lee Rainie’s are. I think that Rainie’s talk was, in some ways, the highlight of the program, not necessarily because it was more important than the others, but because it established a baseline for what the new normal is. It’s what Pew is best at: telling you who is doing what on the internet and how they do it. But other speakers addressed, directly, some matters concerning medical libraries, particularly scientific collaboration and data management. The opening speaker, John Wilbanks, Senior Fellow, Marion Ewing Kauffman Foundation (his slides are available) said that data publication was not the answer to our problems—there’s just too much of it. It must, instead, be standardized and he suggested that an entirely new professional class of data curators needed to be trained. And John Kunze, Associate Director, University of California Curation Center, California Digital Library, presented the idea of a “data paper,” a structured coversheet that links to archived artifacts with information such as title, date, authors, abstract and persistent identifiers that provide just enough data to permit basic exposure and discovery.

Because two others will be adding their impressions, and I want to avoid TLDR (Too Long, Didn’t Read) comments. I will cut off my impressions there.

Andrew Youngkin

For me, the 2012 NFAIS conference provided an excellent balance of both the practical and the theoretical. I was able to come away with some specific tools, trends, and applications that could be quickly and easily put to use. I also gained some valuable ‘big picture’ perspective—what I’d call my 10,000 foot view on the most significant trends and emerging technologies poised to alter, influence and, yes,—disrupt the information landscape as we know it.

First, the big picture stuff. The main theme of the conference was what will be (or has already become) the ‘new normal’ of the information landscape. Many of the speakers touched on the increasing importance of linked, open data—both in the private and public sectors and across industries—specifically publishing, academia, and science. (Some technologies I noted were OpenPhacts and Public Library of Science (PLOS)). I was also struck by the phrase ‘ubiquitous computing,’ or the idea that the computer (in any/all forms) should effortlessly extend your consciousness and create a feeling of calmness for users. A great insight into what many users desire and what technology design ought to encompass. Another big trend, one which we’ve been seeing, and will continue to see take effect, is that of ‘the untetheredness of mobile’ as one speaker phrased it. With advances in mobile computing and acceptance of handheld devices among users (often multiple devices), faster, cheaper, and more efficient wireless Internet access, and the ever developing possibilities of cloud computing and geo…well,.. geo-everything, users have been and will continue to be less restricted in how, when, and where they access and use information.

With regard to the more specific—there were many trends, topics, and unique resources I found very exciting. Cloud computing applications such as Evernote, Dropbox, and Pandora were some of the favorites mentioned. Another speaker talked about the Internet of Things—a term used to describe the connectedness of more ordinary objects, giving an example that even the most mundane of objects—a chair—could theoretically be connected to the Internet at a relatively low expense—to capture interesting data about that chair’s use, it’s location, even its physical health (time to replace?), providing data to support high level serious functions like inventory supply management and event planning. Screens and sensors will start becoming more commonplace—screens being integrated into car dashboards and bathroom mirrors, while sensors can be built into pill bottles to track drug consumption or into flower pots to regulate the hydration needs of your household Ficus. Computing and data will increasingly be used for predictive analysis—from discovering people’s potential purchasing habits to regulating driving habits to set insurance premiums. There will also be a significant uptick in technologies versed in media recognition and augmented reality—applications that will convert the language of a street sign (Word Lens) or provide song/artist information upon ‘hearing’ music (Shazam) or assessing the popularity of a place or things at a particular geographic position—or the interests of people in a particular place based on what sorts of things they’re taking pictures of (Crowd Optic).

The program and accompanying slides can be found at


Here is the link to an edited, article version of the presentation given by Joe Esposito that MJ mentions above: Predicting the Present, via The Scholarly Kitchen. The slides and text of the presentation are on the NFAIS site.

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