[Note: this post is heavy on opinion but I believe it to be a fair and accurate piece on the current controversy related to the RootsTech and book vendors. I am a RootsTech Official Blogger which, one might think, puts me in a precarious position. Actually, not so. My acceptance of RootsTech's offer did not come with a pair of blinders or a gag, if I remember correctly. My duty is to be fair, as truthful as possible, and to work in moving the genealogy community to providing the best genealogy events and services possible.]
I got my start in genealogy over 20 years ago when my mother handed me a copy of my family’s genealogy printed in 1916 by George W. Putman. It was one of only 100 copies privately published. I have a copy and one is in the Library of Congress. And, ironically, one is also in digital format as part of FamilySearch’s Family History Archives.
By now many of us in the genealogy community have heard about a recent decision by RootsTech to not allow certain types of vendors – mainly book sellers – to purchase space in the RootsTech 2012 Expo Hall. I was in Salt Lake City last week teaching classes for the Salt Lake Christmas Tour when notification was sent out to several vendors, including Tour sponsor Family Roots Publishing Company, that book sellers were not welcome at RootsTech.
The term “banned” has been used by that isn’t quite accurate if you look at the map of the RootsTech 2012 Expo Hall (opens in PDF). It appears there is a selective process going on in (which certainly is within RootsTech’s rights) but one which does not make sense to me.
What’s Going On – My Opinion
Here is what I believe is going on with the current situation:
- Certain vendors who have been actively courted by RootsTech as exhibitors have now been told (less than two months before the event) that they will not be afforded the opportunity of a vendor booth at RootsTech 2012.
- The target seems to be book sellers such as Family Roots Publishing Company who has a proven track record of genealogy conference participation as well as community participation.
- There is a lively discussion in social media especially on Facebook. See the RootsTech Facebook page here and you’ll get a glimpse at the community reaction.
- RootsTech should be afforded sufficient time to respond to the community and has begun to do so already. This is only fair. But when you take a group of people passionate about both books and genealogy and you make a swift decision such as this, you have to expect an equally swift reaction.
- I can see the vision that RootsTech has: one where a genealogy conference is focused more on technology and genealogy. But what isn’t being honored here is the balance beam that every vendor and event should be walking right now: between a population of loyal consumers rooted in a variety of learning methodologies and a group of potential consumers who are new to genealogy yet bring a wealth of technology skills and different learning methodologies with them.
- Now is not the time for radical decisions. We need shepherds not sycophants. We need someone to steer us towards these new ways of consuming learning materials, not someone to tell us how wonderful these new methods are and then leave us to our own devices to figure it out.
So why all the fuss? I think that at least here in the United States, there is a raw nerve that companies and institutions keep touching – like an electric fence – and despite previous examples, lessons aren’t being learned.
The raw nerve: don’t pull the rug out from under someone, play fair and don’t screw the little guy. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should do something.
Is the online genealogy community being fair through its blog postings, Facebook and other social media? I think so. FamilySearch is a company as far as many of us are concerned. And they are learning the realities of working in a 24/7 online world.
The reaction has been swift and constant since Saturday morning. RootsTech would have been better to send out the notice on a Monday morning when they could monitor and respond to any reaction. Instead, many vendors received their notice on Friday.
Is it unfair to hold FamilySearch to a certain standard, perhaps the same as Ancestry.com and other for-profit vendors? Not at all. Sometimes I have to realize I live, work and breathe in a bit of a “genealogy industry vacuum” and must keep in mind how the general public new to family history must view actions of the genealogy community.
I’ve seen this “homespun” approach too many times in genealogy and if the genealogy industry and community are to expand and grow in the 21st century, we need to get away from this mentality. Going “corporate” doesn’t mean going “cold” in my opinion. It means that there is a certain service level expectation especially from consumers and community participants.
There are many positives coming out of the “chatter” in social media: good, constructive conversation not just about how to manage and run genealogy events, but what the public wants from these events, as well as the role of books and the printed word in the genealogy community.
“This too shall pass,” as my Mother would say. But sometimes things pass like a kidney stone and with great pain. We may not all come out better for it in the end, but hopefully we will learn and grow from the experience.
I believe this is a misstep by RootsTech and one which most of us believe should and will be remedied. We all make mistakes – some are more obvious and glaring than others – but all mistakes offer opportunity for remedies, reflection and learning.
A vision can’t be instituted at the last minute especially when you’ve already actively courted participants who’ve made plans to attend and be a part of an important opportunity like RootsTech. Save it for RootsTech 2013.
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Disclosure: I have been designated as a RootsTech Official Blogger as well as a RootsTech Speaker which entitles me to certain perks including free registration and more. Please seeDisclosure Statements for more information on my material connection with RootsTech, FamilySearch and other genealogy vendors.
©2011, copyright Thomas MacEntee