Monday, February 24, 2014

RootsTech 2014: Reflections

What a week! RootsTech 2014 is now in the history books and most of us are home, processing what we learned. This was my third on-site attendance and I found it to be my favorite so far. Although, you might be surprised as to why this one was my favorite (I will outline my reasons below.) I had hoped to blog about my experiences each day as I did at FGS, but I chose to focus on my new role as a speaker at RootsTech. Since official blogging is a closed list, and not something to be joined, I gave myself a break. After all, I would rather have a polished presentation after getting plenty of sleep instead of staying up and blogging each day, contributing to my overall exhaustion. I admire those who do blog officially for RootsTech (let alone those who speak AND blog - oy vey!) takes a huge commitment and a ton of energy! For those who were not able to attend, the syllabus material is still online for you to download, plus streamed sessions are available on the main's not too late for you to join in the fun. At the bottom of this post, I will give you a tid-bit of news on how you can experience more RootsTech action in Central Kentucky on March 8th!

My central reasons for this RootsTech being my favorite are: space and flow of the event! Kudos to the organizers for moving the conference to the larger end of the Salt Palace! I never once felt overwhelmed with the crowd. The rooms were all within an easy walk or escalator ride, and seating was adequate for most of the sessions. I found some overcrowding in the ballrooms, but not nearly as bad as in previous years. The exhibit hall was PERFECT. I hope they never change a thing. Again, no crowding, flow was great. Demo hall was fantastic: sea of comfy couches and chairs which was perfect for just relaxing when needed, plus never breaking your stride in learning! The addition of the soft drink bar and popcorn stand were also very welcome. I am not a big soft drink kinda gal, but when my energy level started dropping in between meals and sessions, a small sugary drink went a long way to help me push further. Plus, it served to take the edge off. Exhibit halls are notorious for their high energy levels.
Session-wise, I still find RootsTech a tad disappointing, but simply from a personal standpoint. I still wish there were more advanced user classes. Although, I will confess that I did not pay to attend any of the advanced workshops - perhaps that would help, but I cringe at having to pay for more after the cost of getting to Utah in the first place! There are plenty of intro-level user classes and developer courses, but the experienced user is often overlooked at RootsTech, and, sadly, this has not changed. But again, this is a personal preference....I'm not sure about the percentage in this area. Is there a decent number of genealogists on my personal level of tech use? I know many genea-buddies who are, but I'm not sure about the number nationally. So, the sessions offered may be more in-line with the widest audience possible. This does not mean that I didn't get anything out of the sessions...on the contrary, I still got a lot of wonderful information!

One way RootsTech compensates for the lack of hardcore user sessions is by asking hard questions and encouraging dialogue that follows those questions. I attended more than one session that addressed serious tech issues within the genealogical community, and I valued the honesty of the speakers/panel, as well as that of the audience. Did we solve the issues that have plagued us for almost two decades? No, but dialogue is the first step in overcoming our challenges as a field.

Transition was also a theme I encountered this year, which is long overdue really. Our technology is changing at a rapid rate and it was refreshing to see the genealogy technologies changing as well....still somewhat slowly...but changing nonetheless. The cloud has finally made full headway into our tech field and was well represented.

I also found it amusing that one main cry among experts this year was "Read the TOS!" (Terms of Service) How many software agreements have we by-passed only to check the appropriate box that allowed the download to continue? I know I'm guilty after so many years of software changes and applications. We hastily do this out of the common assumption that only lawyers can understand it anyway - our experts would beg to differ, and reminded everyone that we have no one to blame but ourselves when it comes to tech companies over stretching their reach. One would think that this is a fairly basic message, meant for tech users from the past - but our increasing rate change dictates we pay more attention to the TOS - more now than ever!
Another issue rearing its head this year was the addition of PERSI to the FindMyPast repertoire. As a valuable resource well known to librarians, this is an interesting development. In our library, we currently subscribe to the older version of PERSI (last updated in 2009) as a part of Heritage Quest, distributed by EBSCO. The new version of PERSI is directed by the Allen County Public Library, where it originated, but will still be locked behind the subscription wall of FindMyPast. As of yet, they do not have a library subscription level to allow us access, but it is said to be in the works. I will weigh in more on this resource if that development comes to fruition.
Another genea-buddy: Jen Baldwin of FindMyPast & #genchat!
I could keep this post going indefinitely with all the goodies absorbed at this year's conference, but I know you all have lives to get back to! A couple of other favorite moments: Tweeting and the conference app were grand this year as was the live streaming portion offered - more to choose from this year. I was so busy that I didn't get to follow ANY of the blogging, but I hope to catch up with some leisure reading over the next weeks. My Mom got to attend with me this year, and even though she only came along to hear me speak, she came away from her sessions with a smile and a favorable vote "Wow, those classes were fun! I really enjoyed them!" Big thanks to the conference organizers who provided a lovely 'Getting Started Track' for low cost - it really allows everyone on a budget to experience RootsTech! She wants to come along next year to attend the full conference and dig deeper into the library! I think we have a new convert!
Mom and I just after my session on Friday!
BTW, as a side note...speaking at RootsTech was a  new experience for me, but a wonderful one! My session, about crowdsourcing events, was chosen as one of the 43 recorded sessions that will be available at the 600 Family History Fairs to be held worldwide over the next year. If you hear of a Fair in your area, keep an eye out for my session! KHS is hosting a RootsTech Family History Fair in two weeks on March 8th. I will post more about our upcoming free event in the next few days!



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