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Twitter screenshot of twittergate searchTweeting at academic conferences
I’ve been following the “#twittergate” debate about tweeting at academic conferences (blogged about here by Tressie McMillan Cottom, here by Steve Kolwich and storified here) and have been reading through Ernesto Priego’s ‘10 rules of thumb‘ from the Guardian’s Higher Education network website (and they are a good list of guidelines), and wondering about how that relates to the live-tweeting that goes on at the professional events that I go to, which are mainly library-related, or educational technology related.

Library and technology conferences
It is one of the things I’ve found most notable of the HE library sector, and that is the amount of social media activity, particularly twitter but also things like lanyrd that surrounds these type of events.  It is something that I think adds to the value of those events but I know that there are some people who find that it is distracting.  I’ve been at conferences where the organisers have displayed conference tweets on screen live (twitterwall or tweetwall) but after a while taken them down during the conference.  One of the benefits of tweeting is that is does allow interaction and sharing with people who aren’t at the conference or event, which sometimes throws up interesting stuff, but I wonder whether there’s an element of resentment almost, from people who are attending towards people who aren’t attending getting to ‘share’ in some aspects of the conference?

I think that in some ways library and technology conferences are quite different in nature to academic conferences, even if they are ‘academic’ library conferences or about technology as it applies to the HE sector.  Many of the comments in #twittergate seemed to me to be about academics talking at conferences about their latest research at a stage prior to formal publication.  Academic library and technology conferences also have people talking about work they have been doing, often in advance of publication of that work.

But I think there’s a critical difference, and that is at least partly about academic reputation, and academics having a more pressing need to build and maintain their reputation, for reasons like REF, and for progression reasons.  As much of this is still based around ‘traditional’ notions of publication in formal channels as evidence of scholarship rather than the concepts of digital scholarship as described by experts such as Martin Weller  For librarians this is generally much less of a priority although not I suppose entirely absent.  As a librarian you’re not dependent on your publication record and it may be that simply speaking at the event is sufficiently ‘reputation-enhancing’.

I think there’s also another factor in that in most cases at a library conference you are looking to share your work or results widely.  Not just with a narrow group of experts who can almost act as part of a ‘peer review’ (although I think there is an element of that at play for librarians too).  At the stage that you want to talk about something at a conference it is part of your ‘dissemination’ plan more often than not.  Tweeting your presentation is a good way of pushing knowledge about it out to a wider audience, and it seems like most people speaking at these type of events buy in to that idea.

When not to tweet
I think that the nearest equivalent to academic conferences in the library world may be those project groups and discussions that take place as part of sector wide projects, Steering Groups, Collaboration Groups etc where I’m always more mindful that the discussions aren’t in the public domain and shouldn’t be tweeted.

One thing, though, does amuse me, which is the term ‘live-tweet’.  I know it is meant to parallel ‘live-blogging’.  But I tend to wonder, well, what other type of tweeting is there?

Wifi connectionOne of the things I noticed when going to the very first event I went to after joining an academic library was the remarkable amount of connectivity that is needed by people attending the event.  Almost everyone had a laptop or netbook, and was taking notes, checking their email or browsing the web.   So it makes wifi connectivity at conferences and events a really critical factor.  As I’ve been to more events at a number of different institutional venues over the last couple of years I’ve started to notice that there are quite a few different approaches that are being taken.  And that seems interesting as I’m presuming that most institutions are users of JANET and therefore would need to comply with  the same Acceptable Usage Policy but institutionally come up with different solutions.

So far I’ve come across five different types:

  • Type A
    Offer a separate named conference wifi service and provide you with the wifi access key, either in the conference/seminar materials or on posters/flipcharts etc.  All participants are using the same network and access key.
  • Type B
    Have a separate wifi service for each meeting room and make the access key available at the meeting.  All participants in that meeting use the same network and access key.
  • Type C
    Offer Eduroam and nothing else.  You can only get network access if you are from another HE institution and have already set up Eduroam on your device.
  • Type D
    Use the standard institutional wifi network but provide, on request, an individual wifi access code, often by preprinting them on a sheet with details of the acceptable usage policy.  Attendees have an individual access code but no record is kept of who has which code.
  • Type E
    Provide a specific conference wifi network. Attendees can sign up for an individual wifi access key that generally works for the day.

I’m sure there may be other models out there but I find it is interesting that there is so much institutional variation for something that is vital for any venue that hosts meetings with people from outside that institution.  And with institutions perhaps looking at conferences and seminars as a way of drawing in some extra income, then having a robust, reliable and easy-to-use wifi network for guests at your event is pretty much essential.

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July 2020

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