It has been mentioned to me, on more than one occasion by more than one person, “I never thought I’d see you work for a vendor!” Well, yes. I have thought the same thing myself. Life is a rich tapestry of surprises, I guess.
Before we get too far into this, I probably should mention that my employer is not a vendor, but rather a consortium of over 170 law schools and other members that “advances global legal education through computer technology, employs research, collaboration, and leadership to assist a diverse audience in the effective use of this technology in legal education, and promotes access to justice through the use of computer technology.” (That’s the CALI mission statement, by the way.) We do create products for our members, true. But we give them away. To the members. Who have to pay for a membership.
Listen. It’s confusing, I know. I thought CALI was a vendor, albeit a non-profit one, until my first day of work and I got the consortium of law schools speech. I’m not going to argue semantics, least of all with the person that signs my paycheck. So if you ask me about working for a vendor, that’s okay…but it’s technically not true. I really only bring this point up because it does slightly inform the rest of this blog post.
I’m saving up discussing the main part of my job duties for “Library Day in the Life” week later on this month, but I thought I’d write separately about the one job duty that I was dreading the most when I took this job….working conference exhibit halls. Or as I like to ironically refer to it, “being a booth bunny.” I say ironically, because if you’ve ever been to a conference/convention exhibit hall, especially one that caters to people that have more money than librarians (e.g. ABA Tech Show), you would see that many companies hire booth minders that (a) ooze personal charm and (b) are very conventionally attractive. I mean, I’m not hideous, but I don’t really fall into either one of those categories.
If you’ve been around here for awhile, Gentle Reader, you know I have a somewhat complicated relationship with vendors and swag. When I was a practicing librarian, I always felt that exhibit halls had almost a of reek of desperation about them…coming from the booth minders who – if you made the mistake of making eye contact – would pounce on you and try to get you to sign up for something as well as from the frenzied swag hoarders who would go booth to booth collecting pencils and tchotchkes until you just wanted to shake them and yell, ‘SHOW SOME DAMN DIGNITY. IT’S JUST A PEN, FOR CHRISSAKES.” (And yes, I was one of those people once, I must admit.) I pretty much avoided exhibit halls altogether by the end of my tenure.
So, to say I was dreading this duty was putting it mildly really. I don’t schmooze well. I’m pretty introverted. (And I know it probably seems like I beat this dead horse in every blog post, but I really hate the idea that someone is going to think I’m mean or rude or don’t like them when in all likelihood I really am just not up to talking to someone right then.) I think most swag is a waste of materials and money. I hated the idea of being a ‘sales’ person. Really, when I see it written out here, I do wonder why I ever agreed to do this in the first place.
It is with much surprise and relief that I can report that I actually really like being a booth bunny. Really, really like it.
In many ways, I have it easy because CALI *is* a consortium of law schools (and other related entities) and pretty much every law school in the country is already a member. So while it is amusing to think of my mild-mannered boss in a Glengarry Glen Ross scenario with him yelling at us pre-conference to sign up more members and, like, throwing a coffee cup at Elmer‘s head or something as he storms off, that’s not really how things are at CALI. We aim to keep our members happy. We’d love to sign up more members, but the ones that we could sign up would either pay nothing (government libraries) or a ridiculously cheap membership rate (law firms, foreign law schools, etc.)
I found that in many ways, booth bunny-ing is not that different from being a librarian. I was basically telling people, “Here’s stuff you already pay for. Let me show you how to use it and/or how it could make your life more awesome.” So it scratched that itch I have been feeling since I left librarianship. Not completely, but it was fun to be back in the training/explaining mode for a brief period.
The other happy surprise was how much fun it was to talk to people. You know how at conferences you run into someone in the hall between sessions and you chit chat and then move on or grab a cup of coffee or dinner and these discussion often end up being the best part of the conference? That’s what I spent most of my time doing! And I didn’t even have to move! I just stayed in my booth the entire time and a steady parade of friends and acquaintances streamed by and basically kept me entertained all day. (And when there were no “customers”, I talked with my co-workers, who are also a highly entertaining group of people.) I just wish we had couches or bean bag chairs to hang out on.
As for swag, yes we give some out at our booth, but you don’t have to listen to a presentation or sign up for a newsletter to get it. My inner environmentalist does worry about the waste, but CALI has a long standing tradition of giving out swag that is aimed at the kids left at home while their parents are at a conference, so I like to think it’s well loved and used swag. This year, in honor of our own interlocking plastic building block themed conference this year, we have a build-your-own Lego minifig station and other Lego items scattered around the booth. I wasn’t sure if people would like it, but it turned out to be a pretty popular and successful giveaway. And, as I also learned, there’s a bit of swag-swapping amongst vendors, so we were popular with the other exhibitors as well.
I can’t say I love everything about Booth Bunny-ing…business travel isn’t as fun or glamorous as I thought it would be when I was growing up and prayed fervently for a job that would let me travel and standing around in cute shoes makes for one tired bunny by the end of the day. But it’s not horrible and actually quite enjoyable. Now that I survived my first major conference (AALS) as a booth bunny, I feel like I’ve unlocked another achievement on my way to figuring out this new gig.