Sunday, May 20, 2012

NGS 2012 in the Rear View Mirror

I really like the idea of conferences.  I do.  What's not to like?  The chance to meet with others who share (and understand) your passion, listen to dozens of first class speakers on a dozens of interesting topics, check out all the interesting new products in a vendor hall, get special access to local museums or all sounds so good.

But, once I'm there...I'm reminded of all the reasons I don't like conferences.  The lousy and expensive food.  The uncomfortable chairs.  Sitting cheek by jowl in a lecture room and getting antsy from the heat, the lousy chair, and the elbow of the guy sitting next to me who doesn't seem to understand the idea of personal space.  Standing in lines.  But mostly, feeling like you're back in high school and there's an in-crowd and everyone else, and you are, of course, an everyone else.  The in-crowd was having insightful conversations and catching up with friends; everyone else was passively consuming lectures and drifting through the exhibit hall.

Some random specifics:

The FamilySearch blogger dinner.  Very cool -- a chance to meet other bloggers, meet some of the folks at FamilySearch, and hear about what they're up to.  It was a bit surreal to try to have a dinner conversation with someone who was guarding himself because he was "talking to the press" but I enjoyed hearing about how NARA is working on preserving the ocean of digital data being created every day.  Even walking back to the hotel was cool because I chatted with Cheri Daniels of Pastology.  This is what the conference experience is supposed to be like...and it was a very in-crowd, invitation-only thing that came from having a blog.

Any conference session that was being recorded.  Annoying.  If the session was being recorded, someone made an announcement that the audience was supposed to hold all questions until the end.  In a few sessions, this was disregarded, but mostly it was pretty chilling.  One speaker even announced that she was going to just read a few slides at us so the content would get into the recording.  I know that the recordings are useful to those who can't go to the conference, or who can't be in two sessions at once, but I didn't drive 12 hours and spend a fortune to sit quietly and not get to interact with the speakers.

And what's so bad about just holding questions to the end?  In practice, that meant no questions.  The speakers had apparently been told to get out to let the next speaker set up, so they were reluctant to take questions after the official time was up.  And the audience, having figured out that many of the sessions were either crowded or full, was practically running from one room to the next to stand in line for a seat.

The exhibit hall.  Mixed.  The FamilySearch, and 1940 Census booths had very helpful staffers, things to talk about, and were very welcoming. The ladies at the Oklahoma Genealogy Society made me wish I had relatives down there so I could do some research at their library. On the other hand, I had the misfortune to try to visit the booth of a software product I use while Dick Eastman was standing in the aisle; the guy working the booth was so desperate to be cool with Dick that I, apparently, didn't exist.  At a couple of other booths I visited, the staffers didn't even have the Dick Eastman excuse but still couldn't seem to figure out how to talk to me except to answer direct questions as briefly as possible.

The evening at the Cincinnati History Museum.  Awesome.  An amazing building.  Private access to the museum.  Good food and an interesting talk.  A real highlight of the week for me.  I hear the Slavery museum was really good, too, but I was so tired that night I collapsed in bed about 7pm.

Thomas Jones and Elizabeth Shown Mills. I made a point of going to one talk by each of them; I'd have gone to more, but people were getting turned away and I thought it would be selfish.  Mixed.  Both are excellent speakers, with very interesting things to present, but I went away a bit unsatisfied.  Partly because these were being recorded, so there was very little give and take with the audience.  Partly because they were presenting big ideas in little bites (ESM had clearly designed her talks to be a series on the FAN club, so going to just one was only giving you part of the story; this would have been awesome if there had been any realistic way to attend all of them.)  Partly because I'll never have the patience to work that hard to solve a genealogy problem <grin.>

Am I glad I went?  Yes.  Do I think I got more bang for my buck from the research half of my trip?  Yes.  Will I go again?  Maybe.  Should I be looking into the week-long genealogy institutes and guided research trips for the depth and personal touch I appear to want?  Definitely!


  1. Thanks for your honest appraisal, Julia.

    I think that many conference goers share your feelings. I especially remember being wedged in between two super-sized gentlemen at Rootstech - I have never spent such an uncomfortable hour.

  2. Very interesting and honest review of the conference. I had not thought about the give and take that cannot occur when recording going on. Something to think about. I have had the experience you mentioned of "cool kids" and there certainly needs to be more of an effort to include new people. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    1. I don't know if the question is one of newness or just whether there are soooo many people that there needs to be a way to provide smaller group experiences in a systematic way. Perhaps have an area in the exhibit hall set for theme discussions -- on Thursday people who want to talk about military records can hang out with speakers and exhibitors with expertise on the topic, and on Friday the theme will be German research. Something partly structured, so it isn't an in-crowd thing, but also informal and comfortable. Maybe I'm dreaming and you just can't provide that level of contact for each of 2100 people?