My biggest surprise at NERGC wasn't the New England cold spring wind, it was weather inside the conference Exhibit Hall.
Instead of the blast of noise, competing colors and graphics, and milling shoppers that I've grown to expect at SCGS Jamboree, NGS, or FHExpos, the NERGC Exhibit Hall more closely resembled a rare books show at a local university. The carpeting helped.
The foyer area outside the hall was lined with tables staffed by volunteers from local genealogical and historical societies. It made me wish I had Massachusetts roots... hey, maybe I do! Just inside the door of the Exhibit Hall, the first vendor offered books and maps, as did the sellers to the left and around the corner. It was wonderful. Used books, new books, reprints, pamphlets, maps, ephemera, digital editions on cd. A browser's delight.
Around the corner, I found NEGHS staffing an extensive book selection. Across the way Bruce Buzbee explained the features of RootsMagic. A few tables away, Old Maps showed their wares next to Legacy FamilyTree software. Interspersed, I found tables offering books from NGS, the Rhode Island Historical Association, APG, and other societies.
There were no microphones.
Of course, it wasn't exactly quiet in the hall, but the buzz was a very reasonable din. I actually stood back to look at the room and finally figured out what was missing. It was the mega-commercial vendors that make a large and loud presence. They just weren't there. Of course, if Ancestry.com or FamilySearch knew that NERGC attendance was nearly 900, more than double their last event, perhaps they would have made a bid for space, As it was, I liked it just fine.
The fact that so many commercial vendors were not present, also meant that the session offerings did not include multiple sessions on product-specific topics typically presented by vendor representatives. This is not a good-or-bad thing. Just different. Instead many of these slots were filled by professional genealogists speaking to their areas of expertise. Most of these professionals did not have a product to sell, such as a book or software, so presumably their only renumeration was the speaker's fees and potential for future clients.
This was a real difference in focus for the event. I have enjoyed learning about new software and how to search online subscription sites at other conferences, but I also enjoyed the wide breadth of specialized research topics on offer at NERGC. After all, I can pick up tech tips via Webinar, screencast, and online tutorial, but how often can I hear the wit and wisdom of Paul Milner, Josh Taylor, Laura Prescott or Cherry Bamberg?