Somebody’s Gotta Stay Home
By Jeff Salter
It’s kinda lonely here at Four Foxes and a Hound. At least three of the foxes are in NYC this week for the 31st annual RWA Conference, which ends tomorrow (Friday).
They’ve joined some 2000 other writers, authors, editors, agents, publishers, and whoevers in the biggest annual get-together you can imagine. At least I can partly envision it. I’m not able to attend, so I’ll have to use my imagination.
For most of my 30 years in librarianship, I went to Louisiana’s annual library conference, which would draw anywhere from 800 to 1200 library folks (depending on which city hosted it). I also attended at least five national conferences of the American Library Association, including two in Dallas, one in New Orleans, one in Atlanta, and one in Philadelphia. [In fact, this past weekend (June 23-28) has been the 135th ALA Conference (in New Orleans again).]
Here’s what I remember about library conferences:
Walking. Lots and lots of walking (and standing). The best conferences were those with everything in a single huge complex, but some of the host cities did not have such facilities and required you to travel here for this and there for that … and yonder for whatever. Much of that travel was on foot. As each conference day would end, my back would be killing me and my legs felt like lead. And, believe me: I always wore ‘sensible’ shoes. Ha.
Talking. Lots and lots of talking. I’m a great listener, but after a concentrated amount of listening to so many folks with so much to say … my brain would feel slightly numb. I’m not so much of a talker, really. Oh, I can be glib (occasionally) and charming (briefly) if I need to be, but actually I’m an introvert at heart … and talking is something I use to communicate when it’s necessary. I don’t talk simply because I enjoy hearing my own voice. But I know many folks like that … and some of them never shut up. [I don’t fault them, however, any more than I’d fault someone with freckles. They were likely born that way.] Some talkers are actually quite interesting in their ceaseless broadcasts and you can learn things from interesting people. But some, unfortunately, are just habitual talkers — you won’t necessarily learn much from them but they can become great characters in your next novel. It’s overload for me to spend many consecutive LONG days with several people who chat for recreation.
Exhibits. I don’t know what RWA Conference exhibits would be like, but since they certainly involve BOOKS, I guess some of the booths and vendors would be similar to those I so often visited in library-land. Publishers, wholesalers, literary organizations — many would be the same perhaps. But library furnishings, fixtures and equipment; theft detection systems; automation systems; bookmobiles — I guess those won’t be at RWA 31 NYC.
Freebies. Every librarian I’ve ever known has loved getting freebies … and the bigger the conference, the more and better freebies. Sure, some were just cheap bookmarks or trinkets. But some exhibitors gave away ARC books, colorful posters, quality knick-knacks, and other stuff I can’t recall any more. I always carried business cards because nearly every booth offered chances to win a grand prize. Some of those prizes were not so ‘grand’ and I knew getting my card was useful to most exhibitors because it added to their mailing list. [Some of these years were PRE-Internet, folks, when vendors actually mailed catalogs and flyers to get you to buy stuff from them.]
Friends. The best thing about annual library conferences was seeing friends and colleagues. [I had known some of these folks since grad school and (unfortunately) encountered many of them only at the annual conference.] Another great thing was meeting new folks. Some were ‘new’ in the sense that they were just entering the profession (and that state organization). But some were new because they’d recently gotten jobs which brought them to our state from somewhere else.
Eating. I never had such expensive and ‘fancy’ meals as when I was in some other conference city. Except for the national conferences, there were always ‘locals’ whom I knew and who usually had an automobile … and we’d hit the popular restaurants. Rich, rich food. Expensive, rich food. Fortunately, for most of my years in librarianship, the library I worked for paid for my transportation, room, and meals. [I’ll bet most of you attending RWA 31 NYC are there on your own checkbook and credit card. For the ghastly costs of airport ‘limo’, intra-city cabs, multi-course meals in fancy restaurants (where you need reservations) — I feel for you. Sincerely.] Had those trips not been funded by my employer, I would not have been able to attend most of them.
Speakers. I loved seeing/hearing/meeting celebrated authors. I’d be hard-pressed to list all the ones I experienced. But a couple of names will likely be recognizable: James Michener, Larry McMurtry, Robin Cook, Clyde Edgerton, John Berendt, Robert Cormier, W.P. Kinsella, and many others.
Meetings, sessions, workshops. These were my least favorite events at conference. Most were WAY too long. There’s nothing interesting enough for me to suffer through three hours of it! A few were interesting or useful, but many were just deadly tedious. When the planners didn’t guess correctly the number of people interested in a particular topic, I sometimes found myself sitting on the floor in the back of that assigned space. [Don’t like to sit on the floor anymore.] When I went to conferences toward the end of my library career, I focused more on exhibits and people … and skipped most of the ‘meetings’.
So my library conferences were concentrated periods of several days, in a different city, with lots of walking, too much talking (for me), interesting exhibits and exhibitors, freebies, friends, celebrities, meetings, and rich food. I always left a conference so exhausted I could barely stand it … but I was nearly always glad I’d attended. I always brought home dirty clothes, numerous souvenirs, and – especially in the early years when my kids were still young – I’d bring my wife and children souvenir tee shirts from whichever host city.
So, to my colleagues at RWA 31 NYC — is that about what you’re experiencing this week? If so, you’ll come home exhausted, with clothes to wash, souvenirs to sort through, business cards from colleagues and vendors … and several extra pounds.
If y’all see anybody I know, give ‘em a big hug for me.