Tweeting at #HLG2014

HLG Nursing Bulletin Vol 34 (2)

Sam Burgess (@samanthaclare)
Head Librarian
Great Western Hospital
Marlborough Road
SN3 6BB  

The Health Libraries Group conference was not merely the first conference I had attended in a long time; it was also the first conference that I was able to tweet at. (The two are not unconnected – I don’t think that Twitter existed when I last went to a conference!)

I doubt that there are many of you that don’t know what Twitter is now, but just in case you don’t; it’s a platform for sharing snippets of information ranging from what you had for breakfast right through to the breaking news of the day.

In any case, the conference was most enjoyable with many interesting speakers, not forgetting the opportunity to greet old friends again and find new ones.  Other people have (or will) cover the conference in detail elsewhere so I won’t go in to great detail about individual sessions or plenaries, what I do want to do is give you a flavour of what it is like to be a tweeter at a conference.

The most important thing to a tweeter, of course, is the availability of Wi-Fi! So as soon as I had registered my attendance at the Oxford Examination Schools I made sure that I was given access to the guest Wi-Fi___33, it was certainly no surprise to see that the paperwork for individual logins was disappearing very quickly into the hands of conference attendees – people clearly like their technology to be connected no matter where they are.

@gehlibrary #HLG2014 Mauger Public Health England Knowledge Strategy can only be delivered with health librarians.  

After the first of many coffees and teas was drunk, we all settled down for the opening plenary given by Annie Mauger on ‘building our professional value’ (which was a strong theme throughout the conference) and I got out my iPad to begin tweeting. As I was sitting in the front row in order to facilitate my need to lip-read the speakers as I am deaf, I did feel slightly uncomfortable not to be focusing directly on the speaker at all times, in that it didn’t feel that I was devoting all of my attention to her as I would normally do.  You may well ask how I could combine lip-reading and tweeting at the same time, and I do acknowledge that I did miss things occasionally, but in fact I think that I was actually more focused on capturing the key points rather than becoming fatigued with the concentration it takes to lip-read constantly.

I also felt that as I had deliberately set out to tweet as much as I could during the conference that it was important for me to focus on key points and statements that struck me as interesting, important, or intriguing!  In essence, there was an unseen audience that was relying on me (amongst others) to impart what I could of the conference; and yet, there was also a participative audience consisting of those tweeters that were actually at the conference and were contributing to the conversation.

I am quite sure that it was a bit disconcerting for the speakers to see so many people with their heads down looking at a variety of mobile devices (I don’t think that I saw even one laptop, unless it was on a conference stand!).  I do wonder what the speakers thought of that, knowing that people were either simply compiling notes or were perhaps tweeting their words as soon as they were spoken.  I don’t know if it has a direct impact on presentations, perhaps it didn’t.  I am aware that at some conferences there is a projection of live tweets on a nearby screen – I did ask whether that would happen at #HLG2014 but was told that financial constraints prohibited it.  But it would have been rather fun to see live tweeting available for all to see, although it is quite possible that although it may have engendered more twitter conversations, it would likely have quite changed the tone of the conference as people may have ended up focusing on the live tweets instead of the speaker, and would probably require some flexibility on the part of the speaker to respond to any comments there and then.

There were a few problems with live tweeting at a conference, the first being that perennial problem of the Wi-Fi___33 signal dropping out here and there.  Whether it was volume of people accessing the system at the same time or the amount of information being downloaded I do not know; I only know that I had a few frustrating moments when the signal failed or required me to re-enter my guest password over and over.  The other issue is that it is all very well tweeting whilst listening to a speaker but when asked to take part in group work then the mobile technology has to be put to one side or you risk looking very rude indeed.

However, there are benefits to tweeting at a conference in that I felt quite connected to the other conference attendees, albeit only if they were tweeters too.  I certainly had at least two or three people approach me because they realised who I was on twitter and they want to have a chat.  In addition to which, because I am deaf, I do not hear the incidental conversation going on around and so am unable to join in the conversations that attract my attention, but I can do that on twitter, and I very much enjoy doing so.

So, would I do it again?  The answer is an emphatic yes, most definitely.  But I would perhaps try to make more connections with people and actually have a twitter (or ‘real life’) conversation instead of merely repeating what is being presented as I did feel that most people were doing just that instead of engaging with fellow tweeters and discussing the highlights of a presentation.  That said, I acknowledge that this is difficult to do when trying to listen to the speaker too, perhaps it is just beyond human abilities to have several conversations going on at the same time.  Given the opportunity I would probably try and take the time to contact people after the event to encourage people to clarify or expand on what they meant and build professional connections that way.

Unfortunately, it is not always easy to identify who a tweeter might be as profile photographs are not always simple headshots, so while I might have liked to spot someone over coffee and chat, it was very difficult to seek out those people.  In any case, it was a great conference, both to attend and to tweet from, particularly as sometimes a tweet would bring a bit of humour into a dry lecture, if only for those looking at twitter at the time! I learnt much and look forward to tweeting at the next conference I attend, or at least looking out for tweets coming from conferences that I cannot attend as it is a great way of staying up to date whilst waiting for those conference reports to be published. Perhaps the next official conference report publication may even include a twitter transcript, or at the very least highlights? 

If you are interested in a few statistics you can find out more from where you can also see the full list of tweets coming from #HLG2014 – you just might find something of interest in amongst the almost 2,500 tweets that were produced!

According to Symplur the top ten tweeters were: (I’ve included one of their tweets for interest):

@samanthaclare 233 tweets (sorry to say that I am guilty of over tweeting!)

@tomroper 189 tweets (Tom Roper is Clinical Librarian at Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals)

@imrana_g 166 tweets (Imrana Ghumra is Head of Knowledge and Library Services at South London Healthcare NHS Trust)

@hammerslibrary 110 tweets (Phillip Barlow, Senior Library Assistant at Imperial College London)

@ciliphlg 95 tweets (Official HLG CILIP twitter account)

@western4uk 77 tweets (Kieran Lamb is Head of Evidence Services at Cheshire and Merseyside Commissioning Support Unit)

@gilliansiddall 75 tweets (Gillian Siddall is Academic Librarian at the University of Northampton)

@gehlibrary 73 tweets (William Harvey Library at George Eliot Hospital NHS Trust)

@lisaburscheidt 72 tweets (Lisa Burscheidt is Assistant Librarian at North East London NHS Foundation Trust)

@amyclareroberts 66 tweets (Amy Roberts is Outreach Services Librarian at Warrington and Halton Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust)

Finally, if you have never tried tweeting before, it is an excellent way of making contact with colleagues – as you can see from the above list library staff at all levels like to tweet!   It is also a quick and easy way of collating snippets of conference detail for following up later.

With one final tweet that demonstrates the bane of all conference attendees….

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