|Sari Signorelli at the SU booth|
The American Library Association Midwinter Conference was held in Boston on Jan. 8-12. The conference attracted 6,941 attendees and 3,879 exhibitors for a total of 10,820. Among the booths was one from Syracuse University and I worked the booth on Saturday and Sunday. Working an exhibit booth provides a very different point of view of a conference, especially when thinking about who comes into the Exhibit Hall.
Exhibitors comprise one of the economic engines behind most conferences. Exhibitors come with the aim of talking with conference participants about their products and services. At ALA, there are many publishers in the Exhibit Hall, who attract attention because they are giving away books and having author signings. The rest of the exhibitors hope that people will seek them out or perhaps find them because they are wandering the Exhibit Hall. Since many of the people who attend Midwinter are leaders (and thus people who have influence), it is hoped that they will come to the Exhibit Hall and be willing to truly engage with the products and services. However, at Midwinter, the Exhibit Hall had some quiet periods and it was clear that not all 10,000 people came into it. I suspect that the leaders were tied up by meetings, while others may have not heard the sirens song. Still I did talk to some librarians from New Hampshire, who had specifically come to the Exhibit Hall on a day-trip. Were exhibitors saddened by the foot traffic? Yes, some were. Hopefully, ALA - and other conferences - can find ways of getting people into the hall, so that exhibitors stay engaged.
While I'm thinking about the conference, kudos to ALA for its work to provide an inclusive atmosphere. ALA has a code of conduct, which was highly visible. They had a New Mother's Room and gender neutral restrooms. Signage said that every room has seating reserved for those who use mobility devices (like a wheelchair). Buses were available to take people between ALA venues, which was greatly appreciated. With over 10,000 people in attendance, some events were not in the convention center and many people were in hotels that were not within walking distance of the convention center (or each other).
Finally, because of the size of the conference, it is a time to get together with colleagues whom you might see infrequently. Why attend a conference? One of the answers truly is "to maintain my professional network." Thanks to Brent Mai, Paul Signorelli and others for the conversations and the assurance that I would not lose weight while in Boston!
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