NFAIS, the association for organizations that aggregate, organize, and facilitate access to information, is holding its 47th annual event this week. The 2005 NFAIS Annual Conference is scheduled for Feb. 27 to March 1, 2005, at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Philadelphia. This year's conference focuses on "the differences and commonalities in the search and retrieval behavior of information professionals/librarians and desktop searchers, and the implications for data providers and librarians who must offer products and services that will meet the needs and expectations of these diverse user groups." It is entitled Whose Mind is it Anyway? Identifying and Meeting Diverse User Needs in the Ongoing Battle for Mindshare. As NFAIS president-elect Lucian Parziale stated: "The Battle for Mindshare has begun, but we must have a more in-depth knowledge of the needs of information seekers in order to win that battle."
While the event is geared to traditional information aggregators—the members of NFAIS' nearly 50 organizations (with some members-only events scheduled)—the conference does draw others from the information industry (that NFAIS would like to have as members) and some information users. The topics, especially this year, would certainly appeal to librarians and information professionals. I touched base with a few industry folks to get their take on this.
Miriam Drake, professor emerita of Georgia Institute of Technology, who is speaking on the search and retrieval expectations in academe, commented: "The members of NFAIS provide increasingly important services to the information community. NFAIS consistently offers valuable member services and excellent programs."
One independent information broker who regularly attends the NFAIS conference is Stephanie Ardito. She offered the following comments on the event: "I've been a member of NFAIS since the early 1980s, first as an employee of ISI, and for the past 15 years, as the owner of an information business. I maintain the membership in the organization not as an aggregator of content, but as a librarian who wishes to stay current with the challenges faced by database producers. The annual conference is an opportunity to hear about new and upcoming content developments, pricing, competition, and legal issues.
"In recent years, I've been pleased to see the conference embracing more outside speakers from the Internet community. Hearing the NFAIS members' perspectives on how Web content influences their own business decisions is important, as the viewpoints provide a better understanding of how the ‘traditional' databases are constructed. And, there's no question that the one-on-one contact is invaluable, allowing attendees to question content policies or to provide feedback on specific databases."
Notably, this year's keynote address will be given by Cathy Gordon, director of business development at Google. Publishing consultant Judy Luther explained: "Gordon … will provide insights into the Google culture and how Google both supports and challenges libraries and publishers to reach a broader audience. Understanding the users' work flow enables publishers to design systems and services that save the individual time and the organization money. Examples from Thomson Scientific and others [will] provide case studies in how to deliver content in a context that meets a need in the market. NFAIS applies their historical perspective on search to the relevant questions on how to develop information services into Web-based tools that support users in new ways."
ITI's Don Hawkins, who has reported on several NFAIS events as a seasoned industry observer, provided the following perspectives: "I have always enjoyed NFAIS meetings very much. They are very well organized, and they attract between 100 and 200 attendees. There is only one ‘track' and there are lots of opportunities for networking. Many of the attendees are executives of their organizations, and it's good to be able to interact with them personally. The speakers are also of good quality, and the topics addressed are generally those of current interest.
"Of special interest to me is the Miles Conrad Lecture, established in honor of the organizer and first president of NFAIS, G. Miles Conrad, director of BIOSIS. To be invited to give the lecture is the highest honor that NFAIS can bestow on someone, and the lecturers are usually visionaries or executives of information organizations, as well as having long experience in the industry. They also are usually very active in NFAIS (former presidents, etc.). Last year's lecture by John Regazzi of Elsevier was very memorable, and it has been published in at least two journals. The previous year's lecture was by Kurt Molholm of DTIC [Defense Technical Information Center]. Both of these talks were outstanding and illuminated many of the issues facing the industry today. This year's lecture will be given by James McGinty, vice chairman of Cambridge Information Group. Jim has also had many years of experience in the information industry.
"This year's NFAIS meeting is typical in that it has speakers representing a variety of areas. Given Google's prominence with its recent announcements of Google Scholar and Google Print, I am especially eager to hear the opening keynote by Cathy Gordon. Most of the following sessions address the different search behaviors of information professionals and end users, which continues a theme that began in the last year or so and is important to a wide spectrum of database developers, search service vendors, and others."
Information Today, Inc. editors will be blogging the event (http://www.infotodayblog.com). The blog team for "Live from NFAIS" will be Marydee Ojala, editor of ONLINE magazine, and Dick Kaser, ITI's V.P. of content and a past executive director of NFAIS. They will be blogging live from the sessions and reporting on the industry buzz picked up in the halls at the social affairs. Here's an enticement for our readers who are users of information products: Be a fly on the wall when the aggregators meet to discuss their views of you.