Monday, May 14, 2012

NGS2012 Reflections: Part 1 "Firsts"

It goes without saying that last week's National Genealogical Society Conference in Cincinnati was filled to the brim with exhausting fun. Most of us are trying to recover from the sheer exhaustion it produced, but while we rest and recover, our minds are still processing the wonderful experiences we will be sharing over the next several months. I plan on interspersing my regular posting with several parts of conference analysis as a way to convey my impressions and review of the proceedings. For this first part, I will cover my impression of "firsts": things I encountered for the first time with this particular conference, and how they influenced my overall conference experience. While this was not my first NGS conference, there were many new experiences for me that I have decided to share.

First time as an "official blogger": We have heard that anyone who "registered" or asked to be an official blogger was awarded the designation, but I kind of liked that open door selection. I think it was a great way to give more exposure to up and coming bloggers out there - who naturally have different views and opinions. Let me clarify that anyone awarded this designation was only given three things: an official blogger logo for their web site, an official blogger ribbon for their attendee badge, and use of the Media Center inside the exhibit hall. For some other conferences, official bloggers can be given complimentary registration, among other perks. I was delighted over all the little perks with this designation and used the Media Center on more than one occasion, but I was surprised over the lack of activity at this Media Center. At RootsTech, this center is in the middle of the room with lots of activity and a bit of fanfare. With this year's NGS, the Media Center was empty except for the tables with power strips. There was no one to monitor who went in to use it. In fact, I was using it heavily one morning when I was interrupted by a couple of people who walked in the side and just sat around chatting very loudly, and then eating their lunch, instead of using the Center for its true purpose. I gathered from the comment, "oh, so this is where you apparently get to do stuff", that they had no idea what purpose was behind the existence of this space. I am thinking the "official blogger" designation may not have been well thought-out, and maybe was a last minute addition. But, as I walked around talking to other "official bloggers", we all agreed that taking time to post anything while attending is extremely difficult - especially if you attend all of the extra evening events. You would literally have to skip sessions, or an evening event, or stay up incredibly late in order to finish one post per day. I managed one post as I was arriving, and one post while I was there. The rest will follow in the coming weeks!

First time as a speaker:
I have spoken at other conferences/venues, but not at a national conference, until now. This was interesting. I found the process to be very clean and straightforward. Syllabus was turned in months ahead of time, and preparation was not very different from other presentations I have had to give. I did have a bit of extra stress to contend with, but once I started talking, things went pretty smoothly. By the end, I had talked to so many wonderful people, and made so many new connections that I quickly declared this a hugely rewarding experience! One improvement I would suggest, proving projectors for the speakers. I found the task of bringing my own projector to be awkward and difficult. Especially when there was a set group of cords and cart already in place, assuming you had a projector that would fit these connections. Yes, I did, but I knew others with older and newer equipment who did not fare as well in this area. On the other hand, I understand how costly it would be for the NGS to ship in laptops or projectors to supply all of the sessions - perhaps this is an element that the venue could provide?

First time as an insider, or in some cases, VIP:
Prior to the conference, I was invited to many extra events/dinners and sessions that were often labeled "VIP". I was a bit uncomfortable with this label, but the information shared at these events was invaluable. They were very future focused, and I felt like I was privileged to hear in what future directions some of the major vendors were heading. It was also a wonderful place to meet new people!

First time attending the paid lunches:
I went ahead and splurged for some of the paid lunches, and besides some really lovely meals, the conversations and interactions with those at the table were priceless experiences! I loved this, and will try to pay for more in the future. I highly recommend these as ways to meet new genealogists and learn new insights!

First time at Librarians Day:
This day-long, pre-conference event was nicely tailored to librarians who serve genealogists. I loved this focus and learned so much from the speakers. I also met so many librarians who encountered the same challenges everyday. Although, a couple of the speaking topics chosen were a bit too broad on the historical level, and even a repeat of what was going to be covered in the main conference. I would have liked to have heard more library focused material.

First time close to home:
This was the first time I attended a national conference in my backyard, and indeed, in my home town. I grew up in Cincinnati, yet despite having left there almost 20 years ago, it was still familiar enough to take a layer off of the stress levels normally felt when travelling to a foreign city. I still live close enough to drive back and forth from my home for many of the nights - reducing even more stress.

Although, I will be blunt about Cincinnati. I have a love/hate relationship with the Queen City and this conference did not alter that relationship at all. A few reasons why my opinion of Cincinnati did not change:

Dirty - After travelling to other cities for different conferences, I was even more aware of Cincinnati's lack of overall cleanliness and state of disintegration - which was an impression I heard from outside visitors as well. Everything seemed to be such a hodgepodge of disrepair and faded, old elements interspersed with some new attempts at change. The convention center was nice, spacious, and somewhat up-to-date on the inside, but I heard more than one person complaining about the lack of elevators in convenient places, ice cold session rooms and parking nightmares.

Garages from hell: I started this conference by parking in the sixth street garage that can be seen from the windows of the conference room concourse. The garage was old and narrow, but the skywalk seemed ok. However, once I could see the outside state of the garage from the windows which revealed almost completely rusted out joints, I was embarrassed. The thing looked like it could crumble at any moment - what an ugly view from the convention hall windows! So, then I moved to the Hyatt garage on fifth street after the sixth had filled up - boy did things get even worse! The outside looked fine, but the inside - wow - only one out of the two elevators would actually go to all of the floors! I felt like I was in a carnival/ twilight zone elevator - if I pressed 4, I landed at 5. If I pressed 3, I landed at 6. I finally gave up, got out, and used the other elevator. Oh - and if you try to leave the  garage after a certain time, you are trapped! No automated way to pay when leaving, and the attendants are gone.

Skywalks: One of my favorite parts of downtown Cincinnati, but these have deteriorated to the point of wondering whether the rusted parts will sustain the weight of the people. Oh, and these too shut down at 10PM unless you are a guest at one of the hotels. I thought part of the skywalk concept was to have a safe mode of walking in the evening - not so if you walk after 10. To get where I needed to go, I had to walk out on the sidewalk and dodge the aggressive homeless that were waiting just outside the door - aggressive, as in, chasing after you! Seriously? Police anyone?

Good things: I still LOVE the Netherland Plaza. That thing is still incredibly stunning and dripping in historical atmosphere. The food is stellar as well! Arts are strong in Cincy, and easily accessible. Things to do along the river, baseball and shopping/eating (even if the best eating/shopping is on the Kentucky side). Airport is nicely done and easy to use. And of course: Skyline, Graeter's and LaRosa's!

Well, that's it for Part I.....stay tuned for the next segment....



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