Hacking, Making and Library-ating: A Week in the Trenches at SXSW 2013

A Library Box in its natural element at the Librarian Meetup. Photo Credit: Butch Lazorchak

A Library Box in its natural element at the Librarian Meetup. Photo Credit: Butch Lazorchak

South by Southwest is a marathon. Actually, it’s more like trying to sprint your way through a hot and dusty marathon populated with approximately 60,000 badge-wearing attendees across the Interactive, Film and Music conferences and numerous others in town to bask in the vibrations. In other words, it’s crazy, amazing and discombobulating all at the same time.

It is a great venue for getting exposed to new ideas, and this year the libraries, archives and museum communities (LAMs) made great strides in drawing attention to the work we do by engaging SXSW attendees with information, technology savvy and good humor while thinking outside the (Library)Box.

The #ideadrop house. Photo Credit: Butch Lazorchak

The #ideadrop house. Photo Credit: Butch Lazorchak

The outreach started with the work of ER&L and its partners (especially Bonnie and Sandy Tijerina and Christine Goetz) and their sponsorship of  the #ideadrop house. The Ideadrop house acted as a clubhouse for people to decompress a bit from the mania of the conference while also serving as a stimulating meeting place to share ideas about topics affecting LAMs (I spoke with Andrea Leonelli of Digital Music Trends at the house on sound preservation issues). They hosted a number of presentations over the course of the week, many of which were streamed live and recorded for later viewing.

Another shout-out goes to Andrea Davis, a Reference and Instruction Librarian at the Naval Postgraduate School who’s the brains and brawn behind the @sxswLAM account and who co-hosted a well-received SXSW interactive session on “Libraries: The Ultimate Playground,” which brought a diverse group of people together to think about the future of libraries.

Presenters at the “Can Crowdfunding Save Local Government Budgets?” Panel. Photo Credit: Butch Lazorchak

Presenters at the “Can Crowdfunding Save Local Government Budgets?” Panel. Photo Credit: Butch Lazorchak

Other excellent sessions included Culture Hack: Libraries & Museums Open for Making, Poetry in Motion: Sound Culture & Data Mining, the Pop Up Archive workshop on building an archive, as well as two panels we hosted, one for Interactive on “Why Digital Maps Can Reboot Cultural History” and one for Music on “Citizen Archivists and Cultural Memory.”

One of my favorite sessions was “Can Crowdfunding Save Local Government Budgets?,” an exploration of how governments are exploring ways to leverage crowdfunding initiatives to build community engagement and fund projects. Definitely an area for the digital stewardship community to strongly explore and I recommend a look at the work of panelist Rodrigo Davies from the MIT Center for Civic Media.

Shelves full of video games at the Briscoe Center UT Videogame Archive. Photo Credit: Butch Lazorchak

Shelves full of video games at the Briscoe Center UT Videogame Archive. Photo Credit: Butch Lazorchak

I took an afternoon during the week to make a trip up the hill to visit a couple of efforts at the University of Texas doing groundbreaking work in digital stewardship. First up was a trip to the Briscoe Center for American History and their video game archive. The Briscoe houses an amazing collection of artifacts in addition to being the archive of George “The Fat Man” Sanger, a legendary video game composer. Special thanks to Zach Vowell, Justin Kovar, Jessica Meyerson and the rest of the staff of the UT Video Game Archive who are down in the trenches figuring out how to get valuable information off of tangible media that is rapidly becoming obsolescent.

Next up was a jaunt across campus to the Harry Ransom Center. In addition to housing the first photograph, the Center is doing pioneering work on digital manuscript collections. I received a tour from Gabriela Redwine and Megan Barnard who took me deep into the depths of the center to see some of their amazing collections.

A Norman Mailer siting at the Harry Ransom Center. Photo Credit: Butch Lazorchak

A Norman Mailer siting at the Harry Ransom Center. Photo Credit: Butch Lazorchak

They’ve recently published an electronic book called “Born Digital: Guidance for Donors, Dealers, and Archival Repositories,” a guide that offers recommendations to help ensure the physical and intellectual well being of born-digital materials transferred from donors to archival repositories. The book represents the tip of the iceberg on the interesting work they’re doing with digital forensics and providing archival access to digital materials (Redwine also sits on the professional experts panel for the BitCurator project).

Finally, one of the most interesting and thought-provoking things I saw at the conference was the film “Downloaded.” The movie tracks the rise and fall of the Napster software tool (which also happens to provide a capsule history of peer-to-peer file sharing on the internet) and provides a thoughtful look back at that tumultuous time and explores issues that still vex the digital community to this day.

Lots more pictures on our Facebook page! Did you go to SXSW? Tell us some of your favorite things in the comments section.

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