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#sxswLAM: Libraries, Archives and Museums in an Interactive World

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SXSWi Crowds by Flickr user jenniferconley
SXSWi Crowds by Flickr user jenniferconley

In the midst of the South By Southwest Interactive Conference, I daydream about a time (ideally in the not-so-distant future) when librarians, archivists and museum professionals (LAMs) rule the world.

Delusional talk you might say, spoken by someone with more than a little self-interest in ultimate LAM domination. But the halls of SXSWi are full of conversations about “big data,” “cloud computing,” “web usability,” “search and access” and a host of other subjects that are squarely in the domain of today’s information professionals.

So what’s holding us back? Well, there are certainly stereotypes about LAMs that refuse to die.

I hope the professional organizations make it a serious priority to market the profession in a way that truly reflects the skills of its current practitioners to counteract the stereotype. But the truth is we’ll reinvent the profession by exploding those stereotypes one successful interaction at a time.

This is already happening in big ways. According to the 2006 Archival Census and Educational Needs Survey (A*Census), a “reported 61% of new hires within libraries belonging to the Association of Research Libraries were systems librarians and technologists.” These are new professionals comfortable with contemporary technology while remaining true to the service mission traditionally held by LAMs. Those numbers have almost certainly grown in the interim.

And changes have also happened because “library-type” jobs are in demand outside the confines of libraries themselves under titles like Digital Repository Manager, Data Curator, User Experience Designer, Emergent Technologies Librarian, Director of Digital Strategy, Open Source Evangelist and many more.

sxswlam web site screenshotHere at SXSWi the LAMs are self-organizing and finding ways to network and build community (you can follow some of the activity this week at #sxswLAM on Twitter). NDIIPP participated in the Digital Immortals: Preserving Life Beyond Death session yesterday, and I’ll be holding a mentor session tomorrow (still time to sign up!).

It isn’t only happening at SXSW, of course. Information resources like Hack Library School and In the Library With a Lead Pipe are the conversation centers where what it means to be a contemporary information professional are hashed out.

The National Digital Stewardship Alliance is deeply engaged with these issues.

For example, the NDSA just launched a Curator page on a well-known micro-financing web site to bring attention to interesting LAM projects and to encourage the community to explore micro-financing for projects that can’t get support elsewhere.

The NDSA is also engaging with the wider technical community through initiatives like the Google Summer of Code. NDIIPP and NDSA members have supported numerous projects that leverage contemporary technologies, such as the Open States smartphone app to access digital legislative data and the Duraspace effort to develop and improve open technologies that provide long-term, durable access to digital assets.

Do the folks at SXSWi know there are LAMs in their midst? Lions, more like it.


  1. Sadly, it can take many decades to change a stereotype about a profession. Unfortunately the media don’t help by consistently portraying information professionals in stereotypical roles.

    I recently came across a classic example from the recent Star Wars films

    The only exception that comes to mind is The Mummy film from 1999

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