A Report on SXSW 2013 1

Interactive LED public art at Republic Square Park

Interactive LED public art at Republic Square Park.

In this post, dh+lib Editor Zach Coble (Gettysburg College) shares his experience as a librarian at South By Southwest.

What were librarians doing at South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive this year? In a nutshell, we were displaying the innovative ideas driving libraries today and busting outdated perceptions about what librarians do.

Butch Lazorchak (Library of Congress) kicked off the week with a great post on why libraries need to have a presence at South by Southwest. This was my second year at SXSW, and I can attest to Lazorchak’s argument that librarians need to attend both to spread word to people outside libraries about what we really do and to learn fresh ideas from these same people on how we can improve library services. Butch expanded on this idea in his session, Why Digital Maps Can Reboot Cultural History, noting that it’s important that cultural heritage organizations demonstrate that we are engaging current technology, and that we are not just following these conversations but, in many cases, driving them.

The Ideadrop house, sponsored by Electronic Resources & Libraries, ProQuest, and the Digital Library Federation (DLF), hosted sessions during the week from influential speakers within and outside the library world. As a salon-style gathering place, the Ideadrop house offered a place to recharge, catch a great speaker in informal space, and a home base for librarians in the midst of the SXSW chaos. All of the sessions were streamed and archived, so check them out (I’d recommend Alistair Croll’s and Henry Jenkins & Sam Ford’s).

In their session, Culture Hack: Libraries & Museums Open for Making, Emily Gore (DPLA), Sam Leon (Open Knowledge Foundation), Antoine Isaac (Europeana), and Rachel Frick (DLF) discussed sharing cultural heritage data. Providing open access to data – both data sets and metadata – is critical for fostering digital humanities projects because, as is often said in various ways, the best use of your data will come from someone outside your organization. Frick mentioned that in a linked data world, licensing metadata under a CC BY license simply doesn’t scale. Rather, CC0 licenses are preferable. Gore discussed her work at DPLA, which takes the stance that metadata cannot be copyrighted and requires content partners to share metadata under a CC0 license. Some organizations, however, are hesitant because of the level of intellectual work required for good metadata, and Gore has had to convince them that one of the ideas behind DPLA is that such work should be shared. This idea was exemplified by putting DPLA data sets on LibraryBoxes.

Image courtesy of DPLA.

Image courtesy of DPLA.

LibraryBoxes are an open source, portable digital file distribution tool based on inexpensive hardware. In other words, they are mobile libraries that anyone can tap into via wifi. Ten LibraryBoxes made it to Austin for SXSW (placed in pedicabs or carried around by librarians), and they were a hit. LibraryBox is a project started by Jason Griffey (University of Tennessee, Chattanooga), and the SXSW boxes were sponsored by EveryLibrary, DPLA, and individual donations. They featured content from a variety of places, including Unglue.itMIT Press, and DPLA. This was my favorite contribution from librarians to SXSW because it embodies the forward-thinking weaving of technology and content that we were aiming to display.

Are you interested in joining the growing number of librarians who attend SXSW? We are close to reaching a critical mass, and strength in numbers helps us to better shape the conversations taking place at SXSW. Plus, we need your help (and ideas) with all of the fun projects we do during the conference. Look for #sxswlam in most social media outlets (especially Facebook and Twitter). And be thinking about what you want to present in 2014 – submissions will be due in July!

Zach Coble

Zach is the Digital Scholarship Specialist at New York University.

One comment on “A Report on SXSW 2013

  1. Sam Ford Apr 1,2013 8:15 am

    Thanks for the recommendation of our IdeaDrop talk, Zach. It’s been a true pleasure to see the ideas from our new book project taken up by some key thinkers in the library space so quickly, and I’ve been learning a lot by reading through and thinking through the implications some of these folks are exploring. To that end, I recommend you check out Marc Crompton’s writing on the subject, starting here.

Comments are closed.