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Why South By Southwest is Important for Libraries, Archives and Museums

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SXSW Interactive 2011 by user LynetteRadio on Flickr
SXSW Interactive 2011 by user LynetteRadio on Flickr

Digital information professionals are converging on Austin, TX this week for the 26th annual South By Southwest conference and libraries, archives and museums will be there in force.

Why is it important that LAMs have a strong presence at SXSW?

Once you siphon off the (often overwhelming) branding and marketing noise, the value of SXSW as a community of people who believe technology can help make the world a better place and who are actively trying to do so becomes clear.

While big technology startups get a lot of the attention at SXSW, most of the conference is made up of smaller-scale conversations featuring non-profits, academics, government agencies and the private sector on an incredible range of technical topics. The shared interest in technical innovation helps to break down the silos and provides numerous opportunities for engagement and learning.

More than ever, LAMs are engaged with widely important digital information management issues, many of which are represented by panels or discussions: location and information privacy; K-12/STEM education; reimagining the physical spaces and activities of libraries; online education and (of course) digital stewardship (more about this in a little bit).

It’s one thing to attend panels and participate on the edges; it’s quite another to drive conversations and be active participants. LAMs can occasionally isolate themselves in their own communities, but SXSW forces LAMs out of that comfort zone and puts them in contact with like-minded people who might not have the exact same perspective as LAMs but have shared interests and are looking to solve some of the same problems.

And this year, more than ever, LAMs are actively creating opportunities to spread out and engage with the wider community.

A LibraryBox captured in the wild!
A LibraryBox captured in the wild!

One of the most successful efforts is the #ideadrop house sponsored by the Electronic Resources and Libraries conference (their annual conference will follow SXSW in Austin this year). The Ideadrop house will serve as a stimulating meeting place to share ideas about topics affecting LAMs during SXSW and to provide a space to serendipitous ideas happen.

They’re hosting speakers all week long (free for anyone) in addition to publicizing and supporting SXSW-related events (follow the #sxswLAM hashtag  or for up-to-the-minute info).

Additionally, there are efforts to distribute Little Free Libraries and LibraryBoxes around Austin during the festival; the Pop Up Archive is hosting a workshop (#Archives) to teach participants how to install free software for archives, create or import records, organize collections, and seamlessly upload files to cloud storage (RSVP required for badge holders but there are still a few spaces available) ; and there’s a meet up specifically for librarians (other LAMs welcome, I’m sure!).

Citizen Archivists and Cultural Memory
Citizen Archivists and Cultural Memory

We’ll be participating in two panels. The first, Why Digital Maps Can Reboot Cultural History (#mapcult), on Sunday March 10 will feature a discussion on building contemporary, cutting-edge tools and projects that leverage open source technologies while bringing attention to the importance of preserving our digital geographic cultural heritage for the long-term benefit of commerce, entertainment and history.

The second, Citizen Archivists and Cultural Memory (#citizarch), on Wednesday March 13, brings together a trio of independent record labels who are in some ways the “first responders of history.” They’ll talk about their labels and collections; discuss ways to sustain musical collections over time for history, profit or just for the thrill of it; and inspire others with compelling stories that demonstrate the value of preserving musical memories.

This is an exciting time to be a LAM and a great year to be heading to SXSW!

If you know of other LAM events happening during SXSW 2013 let us know in the comments.

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