Some books should be read slowly. They command the attention required of valuable content, but demand the balance necessary to apply the brakes on readers so enthused with the subject matter that they race through the chapters. That's how it's been this month for me, reading Priya Parker's The Art of Gathering.
Granted, I read a good portion of the book while flying halfway across the continent. I'm still reading. Thankfully, I realized the need to slow down and absorb the material. Parker's subtitle—How we Meet and Why it Matters—embodies my call to action for the upcoming months and year, and I need to pay attention to the book's content for the sake of my own meetings.
This year has been my first year serving as president of our local genealogical society. While the year has gone well, I haven't lost sight of just how we could be, if we were a forward-thinking, innovative group. I want to push my gatherings in that direction toward further organizational development.
And so, I read slowly. Even now, after a month of reading the Parker book, I'm only on page 169 of 294—yes, I include the endnotes; I read those. I go back and reread portions of the book, absorbing every last whiff of the essence of the possibilities Parker has instilled in her pages.
I'm not reading those pages merely for application to generic meetings; I have a certain set of gatherings in mind. It wouldn't be hard to guess, having read the posts on this blog, that my focus is on the gatherings of our local genealogical organization—and that guess, if it were yours, would be entirely accurate. I want to re-imagine genealogical societies, especially the local ones, to see what next level we can step up to. I'm enthused to consider those possibilities—more to the point, to see them become a productive reality.
With that mindset, I was so heartened to see, the other day, a post by Canadian blogger Gail Dever in her blog, Genealogy à la carte. In that post, she asserts, "Genealogical society members and directors should watch these videos" of presentations given at the North Texas Genealogical Society Summit. Her main reason for that assertion: in her experience, boards of directors of local genealogical societies are struggling more with survival issues than they are with the type of growth issues enjoyed by organizations which pro-actively engage in strategic planning.
Gail's post pointed to three tools as an antidote for such ailing organizations:
- The YouTube video of the North Texas event with speaker David Rencher of FamilySearch, addressing "Future Vision for Genealogical Societies."
- The booklet put together by David Rencher and Ed Donakey, Society Management—Now and Into the Future.
- Handouts and videos from the rest of those pertinent proceedings of the North Texas Summit.
The need for genealogical societies to re-envision themselves in a new century with a new call to action is real. Those societies which are satisfied to hold the line with their status quo will find themselves moving backwards at length. If our wish is, as Gail put it, to thrive, we need to explore the possibilities of where we could be, say, in five years—and then articulate that in a solid, workable plan.
Society meetings are not for the mere purpose of "doing it" because that's the way we've always done it. With an entire world open to us of possibilities that can transpire in well-planned gatherings, as Priya Parker puts it in The Art of Gathering, we need to take our responsibility seriously of exploring the science and art of constructing events that not only meet the needs of our members (and the greater community context in which they gather) but exceed them in a compelling—even delighting—manner.