Librarians and Happenstance Voyagers, SXSW 2013 – Day 2 and 3 Recap

March 11, 2013

Wowza! SXSW is dazzling. I got to see one my favorite authors, Douglas Rushkoff, on Saturday. Rushkoff’s advice is to treat interactions with devices and online life as periodic dips into a rushing stream, with no need to capture or cling to all that’s happening. That advice applies beautifully to South By Southwest.

I’ve got a similar philosophy for my first SXSW: Be a voyager of happenstance, intent on enjoying the ride, whatever it may yield. Since arriving, I’ve added another component: Rest and recharge when you get tired or overstimulated. This past weekend was an amazing meld of learning, laughter, and great conversation, paired with long lines and a serial hunt for taxi cabs. There is no way to see, synthesize, or swallow even a large bite of everything that happens at this phenomenally dynamic experience. Nevertheless, I’m satiated, yet ready for more.

Before I get into my weekend recap, I want to give a shoutout for the Electronic Resources and Libraries (ER&L)/ProQuest Idea Drop House that’s been swinging simultaneously. I can’t wait to get the chance to head over there. Idea Drop is a living room salon–style conversation for thinkers from across Libraryland. You can follow the schedule and video of the running conversation online.

I kicked off Saturday at the Tim Ferriss meta-learning session, where we discovered tools for quickly learning anything. Ferriss, author of The Four Hour Chef: The Simple Path to Cooking Like a Pro, maintains that the notion that it takes a lifetime to master something is an utter myth.

Ferriss shared several provocative tools for learning anything quickly and dispelling the constant feeling that there aren’t enough hours in the day. I’m particularly enamored with his suggestion to learn by acting in ways that are opposite to the traditional syllabus/method. For example, Ferris became a world Tango finalist by learning the woman’s side of the dance technique first. He was a better partner by doing the opposite first and literally placing his feet in his dance partner’s shoes. I look forward to reading his book and applying his ideas to library service, education, and my own lifelong learning.

Next up, I saw Justin Rosenstein of Asana (a team task management tool), who’s probably best known for being the fellow who created the Facebook “like” button. Rosenstein urged the crowd to spread love and make life better for all—this is what I’m always saying libraries do, so naturally, I was happy as a clam.

Rosenstein did a beautiful, heart-opening job of calling for interconnectedness and universal love without straying into religious dogma. He noted that all over the tech world (and elsewhere), many are talking about and shifting from a “me” to a “we” perspective that embodies the age-old concepts of interconnection and loving-kindness. Rosenstein reminds us that this approach gathers momentum and acceptance the more we talk about it and spread the word.

He also made an assertion that’s on point for the passionate, service-minded folks of Libraryland. Remember to love and take care of yourself, too. Recharge. Say no if it’s going to over-deplete your energies or harm your personal life. You are part of the “we” and worthy of love, too. As RuPaul says, “How are you gonna love someone else, if you can’t love yourself?” Want to be a part of this “me to we” movement? Visit

Two duck tacos and a shuttle ride across the river later, I was nestled in a comfy seat enjoying a fabulous conversation with Colorado’s own Carson Block of Libraryland Tech and awaiting an unscripted conversation with writers Neil Gaiman (another one of my favorites) and Chuck Lorre. Now that was a thoroughly enjoyable ride! I’ll be looking for the video and in my opinion, you should too.

The unscripted conversation method is one I want to employ when it comes to speaking and sharing. Slides have their place, and so do panels with preset discussion questions, but the kismet that comes when two people talk openly on-the-fly about the things they have loved and learned is golden.

After a quick walk back across the river, it was time for Rushkoff. His latest is called Present Shock and the author did not disappoint. Do you find yourself responding to phantom phone vibrations and rechecking email or Facebook just a few minutes after you just did? You’re not alone. Rushkoff says we’ve come to a point where the “next big thing is the same old thing.” We’ve created a disjointed and anxious “faux now” that can render the feeling it just might be easier to shoot zombies in a post-apocalyptic world than deal with our current chaotic situation.

Rushkoff reminds us it’s okay to say no to posting every little update in our lives and to limit our online interactions in order to experience the enrichment of the face-to-face interactions as they actually happen in the moment. Rushkoff quit Facebook, and says he’s doing just fine without it. As mentioned above, we find balance and unexpected joys when we take a dip into the rushing stream of information without clinging to every drop that flows by. Take a break offline and create some slack in your life; it will all be there when you log back in.

Emerging from the Convention Center, I ran straight into a lovely contingent of the SXSW LAM crew, where I was handed a mobile Librarybox that offers free Wi-Fi, device chargers, and eBooks. I’ve been sharing the Librarybox love with SXSW attendees ever since. It’s a great conversation-starter with no catch, and it perfectly captures the giving-and-sharing foundation of librarianship.

Gaiman! Rushkoff! Watts! Heaven on earth!

I rounded out Saturday belly-laughing my way through the IFC comedy showcase with ALA’s Tina Coleman and Douglas County Libraries colleague Dana Dejong-Boots. Reggie Watts was performing, the third on my list of all-time favorites that I was fortunate enough to see on Saturday. (If you haven’t experienced Watts and you relish music and off-color humor, find him on YouTube or check out the Independent Film Channel’s Comedy Bang Bang.) From Bill Hicks to Maria Bamford, Louis C. K., and Watts, I’ve got a thing for comedians. I see them as saints of a sort—despite their normal human flaws—who alleviate suffering through laughter. We all need more comedy in our lives, don’t you think?

Sunday was all about libraries and SXSW LAM. I shared the Librarybox with many, handed out tattooes emblazoned with the international symbol for libraries, and helped out at a stellar experience orchestrated by Andrea Davis and Carson Block called “Libraries: The Ultimate Playground.” About 80 folks from realms outside Libraryland, as well as within the kingdom itself, arrived to play and experiment with the library ideal.

Anythink’s Stacie Ledden, San Francisco Public Library’s Mel Gooch, Cindy Fisher of the University of Texas at Austin, ALA’s Tina Coleman, Gettysburg (Pa.) College’s Zach Coble, Amy Buckland of McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, EveryLibrary’s John Chrastka, and many more (please forgive me for neglecting anyone) pulled off a playful, disruptive, and unexpected experience that broke up the “talking head” whose conversation/activity stations broke up the traditional conference model in surprising and delightful ways. It also included a sandbox—literally. I’ve got an urge to become really good at visual note-taking, and I did my best to capture the magic and wisdom flying all over the room. I discovered I need a lot of practice, but golly, it was fun.

Good times continued as I engaged in my favorite conversational topic (any and all things library) throughout the afternoon and evening with many smart and funny library lovers.

You’ll notice a theme throughout this post: Enjoy the ride, say no if it’s too much, delight in taking care of others and yourself. It’s a lesson I’m always learning, and have yet to master. With this in my mind, I am taking a sane pace to blogging about this conference. I chose a weekend recap in favor of sleep and experience. Two more long and wonderful days await me at SXSW. I’m turning off the blogger in me for a few days and going with the experience. I’ll recap the rest of my SXSW adventure while flying home to Denver. I look forward to catching up with you in a few days.

ASPEN WALKER is the manager of the Castle Pines and Lone Tree branches of Douglas County (Colo.) Libraries.