During my career in academic publishing I’ve attended numerous conferences. As a marketing person I’ve rarely had the pleasure of attending a session or hearing a paper, instead my view has always been from behind a table loaded with books. I’ve met some of the world’s leading doctors, scientists, musicologists and historians at these events, but always with about a meter of books between us.
There have been some memorable moments: the leading American surgeon who asked me three times where his book was, when a pile of them stood right in front of him (should he really be operating with eyesight like that?); the Romanian paediatrician who told me that our policy of reducing the price of our books in Eastern Europe had saved children’s lives (we both got a bit tearful at that point); and the chemistry book exhibition I set up in Bratislava the day that the borders to Austria were thrown open – after an hour of my own company I closed it up and went off to celebrate the end of the totalitarian state with the organiser.
Two of the things I most admire and enjoy in life are curiosity and enthusiasm, and these you encounter in spades at an academic conference. Never ask delegates what they’re working on if you were about to visit the bathroom and unless you really do want to know. Earlier this year at a medieval conference someone told me that once a month he liked to get together with some friends, get in a few beers and settle down to an evening of translating early Nordic texts. Then, after a pause which a stand-up comedian would envy, added, “Sometimes for a change we switch to modern Icelandic.”
Well you would, wouldn’t you?
For another view of the conference crowd, see my colleague Rosemary Shojaie’s blog post here.