by Christine Anne George
Over the weekend, I noticed a post on Twitter about the ACRL conference and dum-dums. Having particularly fond memories of those little lollypops from my childhood, I wondered how some ACRL panel worked them into a presentation. Perhaps they were audience pick-me-ups 45 minutes into the presentation. Or maybe they were rewards for a good question/comment. When I saw a second tweet, I realized that there was nothing sweet about that particular situation. Drama was brewing and in the worst possible way.
Before I begin, a few disclaimers. I know only what I’ve been able to find on Twitter (including an apology) and from a blog post written by the woman who had posted the offending slide to Twitter. I’m an armchair quarterback here and I fully own that. But even with all of that, I tried to write another post but couldn’t get this one off my mind, so into the now quieted fray I go.
To start off, referring to students as dum-dums is an obvious no-no. It shouldn’t have been done in writing and it shouldn’t have been displayed before an audience at a national conference. To adapt Olivia Nuzzi’s quote for the situation: dance like no one is watching; present as if your slides may one day appear on Twitter. The presenter made a mistake, but she wasn’t the only one. I don’t take criticizing other librarians lightly, especially when it’s one outside of my field and I’m an outsider looking in at the situation. That being said, yes, that slide should never had been presented, but someone who has a comment about the slide in question or word choice in general should have raised their hand and made a comment then and there when there could have been a dialogue. One professional should offer that courtesy to another. It’s basic civility.
It feels less so at AALL, but at some other professional conferences I’ve attended, it’s seems like there’s an entirely separate conference occurring simultaneously on Twitter. It’s one of the reasons why I joined Twitter in the first place. Professional FOMO. It’s beyond stressful and frankly exhausting to be physically present and scrolling through Twitter trying to follow what’s going on there. More than that though, there’s an unfortunate disconnect. Comments made on Twitter would have benefited discussions happening in real time. Why just share something on Twitter and not out loud?
But I can tell you that, as a presenter, I am no fan of those who opt to tweet and not speak. Presenters don’t have the option of splitting their attention between the people in front of them and the Twitterverse. Things that could be clarified or general misunderstandings that could have been resolved aren’t. Instead, the presenter can look at tweets later and try to chime in, but, in some cases, it’s as useless as running to catch up to a train that left the station an hour ago. Of course, that’s just the benign comments and questions. Let’s not fail to acknowledge the trolls. The people who sit in a session and never speak a word, but make snarky or downright mean comments from the safe distance of Twitter. I have been trolled while presenting and it’s terrible. There’s no real opportunity to defend yourself or your work. And, unless you are following the conference hashtag (should they decide to use it) closely, or know someone else who is, you won’t even know about the tweet.
You have to be so careful when presenting. Whatever you say, whatever you show, will live on whether you want it to or not. Get people to vet things. Check and double check. That is a huge takeaway from dum-dum-gate. However it is not the only one. Do no tweet something that you are not going to be willing to stand up and say in front of a room of your colleagues and other professionals. Even if one of those colleagues erred in some way, tweeting instead of directly addressing it does not make you a whistleblowing savior—it makes you a troll.