Networking under the influence

“Keep your eyes on the road, your hands upon the wheel.” – Roadhouse Blues, The Doors.

The ever thought provoking Nina De Jesus (aka. @satifice) blogged yesterday about the culture of drinking at conferences. Some of you who have hung out with me before may be surprised to find that I (mostly) agree with Nina. Full disclosure: I like me a drink (or several), but have always tried my best to not mix professionally related events and excess booze (stop laughing, librarians with whom I’ve indulged … I said I try).

I’ve never found library conferences to be too drinky-drinky, but perhaps that’s all perspective. Nina refers to tech conferences and groups of drunk white guys. I’ve been exposed to my fair share of drunk white guys, but not normally at library conferences. What really got me thinking was the point about feeling an obligation to explain abstinence. As a drinker who experienced pregnancy, I totally get that. But it also made me reflect on my own behaviour. Have I made others feel uncomfortable when I offer them an alcoholic beverage when they didn’t want one? I certainly hope not. I’d like to think that I would never press the point, but I’m grateful for having had the chance to reflect and will say with confidence now that a drinker should never make a non-drinker feel like the odd man out. Asking repeatedly if someone wants a drink is just kind of boorish. There’s being hospitable, and then there’s being an asshole.

Now, from the conference planning perspective, I’ve got thoughts. As an acquisitions librarian, I’m the recipient of a fair amount of dinner invitations at conference time. They’ve always made me feel slightly conflicted, especially when I was a newbie. They are usually at pretty nice restaurants where the waiters are freely pouring many bottles of wine. It takes persistence to ask them to leave your glass alone. You can end up getting loaded pretty quickly in that scenario if you aren’t super careful. I’ve got more experience now, and feel more comfortable in my role and with my reps/colleagues/higher-ups who also attend these dinners, but I feel for the inexperienced librarian who finds themselves at a class restaurant who may not be comfortable with booze.

Which is why I was thrilled to receive a breakfast invitation from YBP Library Services at OLA this year. Instead of a fancy dinner, YBP treated their clients to a nice hot breakfast at the conference site. A presentation was delivered by the team informing us on developments underway and a general update on how they were doing with new service implementations. I learned a fair amount and was able to ask questions of a panel of varied experts. It was a refreshing change and I got a lot more out if it than I would have at a dinner – I suspect it was the same for YBP.  There’s no such thing as a free dinner; we must not forget that “free” drinks and food come from the vendor’s bottom line. I’m not so naive to think that I will influence the state of vendor/client relations when it comes to the long history of wining and dining with this here little blog post, but this is my way of saying I’d rather not pay more for your services in exchange for a fancy dinner or big open bar party.

I also like the idea of providing alternative events at conferences, even for just one night instead of the traditional all-conference receptions. They are expensive and are possibly quite exclusionary for some. Organizing sign ups for various dinners or non-drinking focused events (bowling, mini-putt, board game coffee houses, etc. etc.) could be a great way for those who want to abstain find each other. It doesn’t cost the conference a thing and could be a way to reach a population we didn’t know we were missing. The folks who want to head to the pub will probably still head to the pub (me likely included – mama takes her breaks when she can get them), but for those who want options, we should do our best to provide them.

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