17 July 2013

Wisdom Wednesday - Things I Wish My Mom Had Told Me to Pack

So, you've decided to go to FGS2013 and it’s the first time you've attended a Conference. You’re excited and nervous all at the same time, right? The sessions for this year’s conference are full of incredible resources, and the fact that it’s moments away from the amazing Allen County Public Library makes it the next best thing to going to Salt Lake City.

Then it hits you: what in the Sam Hill do I pack? Is there something I should or shouldn't bring? How do I know what to have with me and what to leave at home? Well, speaking as an Archivist, I think I’m uniquely qualified to help you out. I don’t have the gift of working in one of those fancy, well funded Archives, nuh huh. Nope, I’m a consultant and often work with clients who are just starting their Archives, or re-starting their Archives. They’re underfunded and often in places no one wants to actually go. So, the places I work are either stifling hot or Nanook of the North cold. There's no supplies, no technology to speak of so, like I said…uniquely qualified.

Here’s my Top 10 ‘Must Haves’ for any conference:

#1 – A great top layer sweater or jacket. I like the kind that is wrinkle resistant so I can just throw it in my bag (see #2) when (not if, when) I don’t need it. It’s also great to have one with just in case you’re sitting in your seat with perspiration on your brow while the friend (or soon to be friend) sitting next to you has chattering teeth. Not that that would ever happen. Heh.

#2 – A soft sided shoulder bag, like a canvas bag or yoga tote. I thought a purse would be a good idea, but then I found that I was collecting business/calling cards, stuff from vendors, and various and sundry other items. Add to that the technology stuff I lug around and suddenly a purse wasn't enough. And there wasn't room for my sweater. There's only so much room when sitting in conference room chairs, so having the soft sided bag allows you to put it either under the chair in front of you or at your feet. Also, please be a conscientious conference goer and don't place your materials on the seat next to you; the person who sits there could be a cousin! 

#3 – A refillable water bottle. You wouldn't believe how dry it gets in some of those convention centers. And why pay a couple of bucks a pop for bottled water when you can (usually) refill a water bottle for free?  Fits in your bag too, no problem.

#4 – A note pad and pencil. Don’t own one anymore? You might want to pick one up just for this occasion. I have a cool ‘journal’ style book that I take whenever I go on personal research trips and to conferences. Not only can I keep notes when my technology doesn't work (see #6), but it’s a great little ‘keepsake’ to look back at the conferences and research facilities I've gone to and what I've found there.

#5 – Comfy shoes. While some of us are style hounds, that doesn't mean we don’t want to be comfortable. There is an incredible amount of walking that’s done at conferences, as well as a lot of standing. Heck, just the Vendor Hall alone can take a couple hours of your time without realizing it and by the time you do sit down, your feet and legs are saying, ‘Enough’s enough!’

#6 – Chargers and/or batteries for technology.  Let’s face it, there’s never enough power. Depending on what technology you’re using (laptop, tablet, mobile phone or combination of these) you want to make sure that you have enough power. I generally do a test a week or so before I go to find out just how long my stuff will run on a single charge. That helps me know what I need to carry for backup power. You can’t be certain that electrical outlets will be available at the conference site; often they aren't, or if they are, there’s a line waiting to get at them. 

#7 – Business or calling cards. Yes, this ‘old-fashioned’ tool is alive and well. Don’t have the money for fancy ones or don’t think you’ll use them? Oh, think again! I bought 100 cards for NGS because several people suggested it would be a really good idea. Guess what? It was a REALLY good idea. Even if it’s just your name and email address (you could also add Surnames to increase your chances of a cousin connection), they save time and effort when it comes to exchanging information. I collected at least 3 dozen cards while I was there and gave away probably twice that many. And, I had plenty of people contact me, so I know it works!

#8 – Clif Bars. With all the early sessions, dashing around between sessions, squeezing in a little research (or blogging) and the late nights hanging with geneacquaintences, eating habits can really take a hit. So, be sure to pack a few energy bars for when you don’t have time to grab breakfast or lunch. You can’t concentrate if you’re hungry and trust me, you’re gonna NEED all your synapses firing on all cylinders.

#9 – Flash drive or portable hard drive. This is the greatest step that technology has made; portable hard drives in the 1 terabyte size for around $60! Mine has ALL my files (with the exception of financial information) on it, and it’s partitioned so I can keep my personal material separate from my genealogy material and client material. The best part? It’s USB compatible, so I can plug it into any USB port (including those awesome microfilm machines at ACPL!) and download to it directly. What’s more, there’s no way that I’ll ever fill it up, so I don’t have to worry about space. (Note: the minute that I get home, I back up the portable hard drive to a separate hard drive I have to ensure I don’t lose anything when there’s a technology failure. Note if…when…).

#10 – An open mind. That’s right; this is really one of the most important things to pack when going to any Conference. Things are going to go wrong. Travel plans get befuddled, the Library is going to be just nuts, and the morning after you didn't get enough sleep there’s always that ONE person who’s one of those ‘shiny happy people’ in the morning that you just want to…well, you get my point. You’ll also have your brain crammed full of more information than you think it can possibly hold, meet so many cool genea-peeps and  hopefully eat some great local food (if you haven’t heard me talk about O’Donnell’s Pub then I know you've never read my blog before. Go there. Just GO.) So, keep your mind open and let the experience happen. You’re gonna love it!

See you all in a bit more than a month! Yowza!!


  1. Great ideas, I am attending the GRIP week long meeting in Pittsburgh. I have been practicing (via webinars) how to take note on the computer and hopefully I will not need to take notes with pen and pencil.

    I hope this will work out for me, I am using Word.

  2. Very nice, especially #10! I have that one for sure, and I've even been to O'Donnell's pub before. Got my trusty laptop which carries a long charge, and love to take notes on it! The laptop briefcase is my bag. Have everything else except the business cards. Hm. Maybe I'll just make a stack of post-its with my emails. I do understand about the electrical outlets -- that's like at airports, they have one outlet for every waiting room full of people. This conference will be a lot of fun!

  3. Thanks Claudia and Mariann! I'm glad this list was helpful for you both. :-)


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