11 December 2011

Don't boycott RootsTech 2012

Last night I lay in bed thinking about all the controversy surrounding RootsTech and booksellers. I was itching to write about it. I did comment on FaceBook several times last night but kept feeling like I wanted to say more. When I began to see the comments about boycotting RootsTech I decided to comment further right here.

Am I registered for RootsTech? Yes. Will I still be attending? Yes. Am I unhappy about the book dealers not being there? To a point. RootsTech can set its own parameters but apply them equally. Do I like the way this has all been handled? Nope. I am in favor of RootsTech. RootsTech and its parent, FamilySearch, are important to the family history community. We need them. They need "us" too. In today's social media (tech!) world news both good and bad spreads quickly and takes interesting twists and turns.

I was not at RootsTech last February but have read first-hand accounts and talked with many people about the wonderful experience they had. When the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy changed the dates to be closer to RT I decided that I might stay for RT. At another genealogy conference I was urged by several FamilySearch employees to sign up for RT and I did. I am looking forward to it.

Recent first-hand reports from some of our field's important book dealers dismayed me. Some have told about being strongly encouraged to sign up for booth space at the 2012 RootsTech. They did and recently were informed they were not being provided the space. Huh? They were told (quoting from Leland Meitzler's own blog):
RootsTech exhibit hall is for technically related products and services. We are purposefully not accepting applications from genealogical studies, book publishers, book resellers or arts and crafts dealers.
Please call to discuss if you like.
Gordon Clarke
RootsTech Exhibit Hall Coordinator"
I am not sure what "genealogical studies" means but then checked the RootsTech website and found this description:
"Don’t miss the Expo Hall where you can experience high-tech product demos in the Demo Theater, as well as relevant and exciting genealogy and technology exhibitors. You can also explore the Family History Library mini-lab, RootsTech Playground game area, get some refreshment and take advantage of networking opportunities."

I was more confused. Then I looked at the map of the Hall and found hotels, genealogical societies, and other entities that really don't seem to fit in this hall the way it was described to the rejection note book sellers have received. Were those organizations told they could not bring any of their book inventory to sell or could not take book orders? Hmmmmm. I have stayed in both of the hotel vendors in Salt Lake City and like them both but just can't figure out their tech connection. By the way, many of our genealogy booksellers also sell CDs, flash drives, and tech equipment. Why are organizations or businesses that promote professional genealogists for hire OK for the Hall? They must be relevant genealogy exhibitors but book sellers are not?

I think it's more that they are letting in other organizations and businesses that are not strictly tech. There is a double standard.

I have chaired large genealogy related conferences and know that there are a few things said, written, planned, or done that we wish we could take back or had done differently. I hope RootsTech does as it now says on its FaceBook page and revisits how this was handled. Why encourage and then take away? Why not apply the guidelines the same to all vendors? Why lump our devoted booksellers with arts and craft dealers? How many of the booksellers have been ramping up inventory for RT, made hotel, shipping, airline, and other other arrangements? Ouch. Do the speakers who are authors know they won't be available in the Expo Hall? Speakers are not paid for this event nor is their travel covered. They do it at their own expense and I am guessing some of them hoped to sell some books. 

It's their conference and they can make whatever guidelines they want, but apply them equally. And inform the people you are encouraging to vend or attend that you are changing your mind. Now, let's support RootsTech and encourage the organizers to think this through and let's all get along. I have been so pleased that most comments I have read online have been civil but also pointed. Let's play nice and keep RootsTech alive. See you there in February!

More on the subject: (Many others have blogged about this, too! Just search on RootsTech and limit your search to the past day or so.)
I know many of the speakers and am even a member and volunteer with some of the organizations already listed in the Expo Hall. I will be there to support them. Now I better get back to compiling the syllabus material for my course at the Salt Lake Institute - this material is a mix of websites, online books, and even many printed books.

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