top of page
  • Writer's pictureNatasha Casey

Covid & Conferences: What's Left to Blog About?

Updated: Jul 9, 2022

For several years now I’ve enjoyed the blog posts of many talented writers, thinkers, and teachers. Ian O’Byrne, Audrey Watters, H.J. DeWaard, Barbara Fister, Doug Belshaw, Maha Bali, Sherri Spelic and Laura Hilliger’s posts have provoked, challenged, and taught me much. Many of them even inspired me to blog (don’t blame them). But I never got into the swing of blogging regularly. I’d typically write something once in a while, mostly when I wanted to share my take on the fields of media and information literacy or advocate for collaborating across disciplines with my research partner Spencer Brayton.

But I haven’t felt like or had the bandwidth for writing much of anything during the past couple of years. The reasons are fairly obvious . . .

  • The state of the world

  • The pandemic (and living in an immunocompromised household)

  • The state of the world including the pandemic (and living in an immunocompromised household)

What could I possibly add that hasn’t already been said more eloquently by someone else? Also, the questions posed in this post “Is blogging a futile, self-afflicting, empty exercise” regularly resurface.

But I recently attended my first in-person media literacy conference since March 2020. That is a good reason to write something, surely? Get back up on the horse. The horse being the blog, as it were.

The conference was filled with people I wanted to chat and hang out with, friends and colleagues I’ve known for a while, and people whose work I admire and respect (that sounds like I don’t admire and respect the work of friends and colleagues but you know what I mean). I was really happy to see faces I’d only seen on a screen in several years. The panels, discussions and papers were thought provoking and provided the opportunity to think through various debates in the field as well as consider new works, approaches, and researchers. And I know how hard the conference organizers worked to make the event happen. So ultimately I rationalized my decision to attend the International Media Literacy Research Symposium this way:

  • This is the best option for tiptoeing back into conferences given its small size

  • We can drive to Wisconsin (not ready to get on a plane)

  • The weather will be decent, we can eat outside

  • Surely we all need to get back into it (what is “it” again?)

  • We can’t live in isolation forever

  • We’ll adjust those k-95s straps (maskacne be damned) and lose all feeling in the ears

And I’ll admit between the bouts of “ooh, too close” and “how many are in the room?, I’ll skip the drinks”, I enjoyed meeting new people, reconnecting with old ones, making small talk (enjoy is a stretch, who am I kidding?) and even hugging friends (and being Irish, obviously this is wildly out of character).

But I had, and continue to have, mixed feelings about attending the conference.

In the carefree times (not really) before the pandemic, climate crises, (term I recently came across while reading Maeve Higgins’ book) as well as a whole host of diversity, equity and inclusion issues were only mentioned in passing at conferences.

But before and after this one I am struggling to reconcile my in-personness with these issues and the obvious accompanying privilege.

In the “The Future of Conferences” the authors observe,

“Pre-pandemic, most conferences tended to adopt a standard structure with very little evolution or experimentation. In the future, we envisage a ‘mix and match’ model based on a library of solutions that can be adapted to the particular needs of each conference”.

They offer all kinds of 'mix and match' conference solutions. Well worth a read.

But perhaps Small Pond Science stated it most plainly,

“If your society is serious about diversity, equity, and inclusion, you need to keep having online conferences”.

The same article highlighted research by Matthew Skiles and colleagues who “investigated the impact of the switch to online scientific meetings in terms of diversity, equity, and inclusion” noting unsurprisingly, that attendance was generally higher, but especially so by women and LGBTQ+ scientists as well as international participants.

The week before the conference Angela Pashia shared a thoughtful piece on my social media feed titled “Conferences - The Five Stages of Grief” by Fobazi M. Ettarh who noted:

“How quickly all the promises made to “the vulnerable” at the beginning of COVID have been forgotten. By continuing to go to conferences that are only in-person, you encourage more conferences that are only in-person. And that is exclusionary to so many different people! It excludes not only disabled and chronically ill library workers, but any and all library workers who have disabled people in their lives!”

This post haunted me throughout the conference. And yes, I hear you, admittedly it didn’t stop me from attending.

So despite having an immunocompromised partner, I too have now contributed to this exclusionary system.

Making it somewhat blog worthy (maybe?).

Thanks for reading. If you fancy, share how you are navigating covid and conferences.

226 views4 comments

4 commentaires

Michael A. Spikes
Michael A. Spikes
14 juil. 2022

I appreciate you sharing your thoughts here Natasha! I agree that to encourage equitable practices for conferences, we should have a virtual/hybrid option for attendees to open them up to many more individuals.

I DO think that something we'll need to keep in mind is that virtual/hybrid conferences are very much in their infancy and as such, are full of unique challenges. These challenges, unfortunately are amplified since they haven't been tested well with large groups, and we all were forced into them due to the pandemic. This is largely due to the "jump" toward these innovations that we've had to make due to the pandemic. To put this into context, Roger's Diffusion of Innovation Theory (1962) is one (yes,…

25 juil. 2022
En réponse à

Thanks Mike for the engaging response. Hadn't thought about this issue in relation to the theory you cited. Wonder if you think we are still in the early adopter phase as far as hybrid conferences go?


11 juil. 2022

Fabulous points all around here, and yes, I have immunocompromised pals so have steered clear of most big events, and WELCOME the virtual accessibility both fiscally (plane/hotel trips make the in person stuff cost prohibitive for many) and physically. Still prefer face to face meet/greets for engagement but hope the virtual alternatives last long after transmission wanes. I think it's easy to forget that many indie sorts don't have large institutions paying their way to higher learning or prof it's imperative to keep an online 'value add' imo...

25 juil. 2022
En réponse à

Amy - appreciate your engagement. Important point about independent scholars/researchers/activists or just even the general public with an interest in attending such conferences etc. NC

bottom of page