It’s no surprise when librarians turn up at the annual SXSW Interactive festival in Austin, Texas. But this year, it felt like a breakthrough. Librarians were everywhere—appearing on panels, leading core conversations with nonlibrary audiences, hosting receptions and meet-ups. Bonnie Tijerina of Harvard University, who also chairs ALA’s Office for Information Technology Policy Advisory Committee, popped up an idea lab in a rented house where people could drop in and talk about the future of libraries. The action was live streamed. “The subtext at SXSW is about new ideas, entrepreneurial spirit, and creativity,” Tijerina said. “There’s a feeling of power in that. I knew that if more librarians could tap into it, we could change the conversation among librarians.”
Public and academic librarians alike used the March 8–12 event to build relationships with the digerati gathered in Austin. They chatted with people at parties and on the streets about ways libraries can work with makers, gamers, hackers, bloggers, and start-ups. “I’ve tried to get a core conversation to happen for three years now, to get people talking about where libraries can meet emerging needs. This year, we made it happen,” beamed Andrea Davis, reference librarian at the Naval Postgraduate School. Davis rallied an energetic team of SXSW-bound librarians, using Facebook to plan months in advance.
Reflecting on the multitude of information technology ventures that make a splash at SXSW, Tijerina said, “If we could get that entrepreneurial feeling in the library community, we could move mountains. But we need to want that and take that. No one is going to hand it to us.” All told, it was a high-profile presence that exemplified the vitality of the library profession through its most valuable asset . . . passionate librarians.
PATRICIA MARTIN, founder and CEO of LitLamp Communications, was the first director of ALA’s Development Office. She has been attending SXSW Interactive since 2009. Photos by Patricia Martin