Rowdy Librarians at SXSWi: The Wrap Up

Posted Wednesday, March 21, 2012 - 14:42
#sxswLAM swag (Photo by Mona T. Brooks | )

Paul Vinelli (@pavinelli on Twitter) is one of many librarians that attended, presented, and innovated at the South by Southwest: Interactive Conference in Austin, Texas earlier this month. This year, a group of librarians and other information professionals organized to work together on programming and activities at the SxSWi conference and we’ve been happy to share the reports from the field. Read Paul's previous posts and follow along at the #sxswLAM Facebook page and Twitter feed. vinelli 

Last week, I had the opportunity to blog SXSW Interactive for the ALA.

For my final post, I sought out the impressions of others who participated in the conference. Some of these contributors had badges and some did not, but all offered fascinating insights. I’ve included their thoughts below.

Anne Slaughter
Virtual Services Manager at Oak Park Public Library (IL)
“SXSW Interactive is mind-blowing for a lot of reasons—and as a techie public librarian attending for the first time, I felt overwhelmingly that it was exactly the kind of professional development I should be doing, and doing lots more of. Whether I was at a keynote, a panel on user experience, or chatting with a group of email marketers at an Austin diner, there was a voice in the back of my head repeating: ‘There’s a place for libraries here. We need to be working in this space.’ On opening day Jane McGonigal gave a brilliant talk, ‘A Crash Course in Becoming SuperBetter,’ in which she talked about human potential, building resilience, and living your dreams—and how growth happens when people live through challenges. As librarians, we meet people in all their daily walks of life, and we are particularly there for people who are living through exceptional life circumstances. We help people endure their challenges and achieve their dreams. We’re insurance policies on resilience.

“On a more practical level (though I’m not saying living your dreams isn’t practical), SXSW draws an amazing slate of speakers and attendees from professions we need to be paying attention to. It’s not a library conference, and that’s one of its biggest selling points for librarians looking to put a finger on the leading edge and come back with relevant insights about what our community is expecting from technology, and what’s on the horizon.”

Anna Fidgeon
Graduate Student in School of Information, University of Texas at Austin
“One thing I learned at SXSW is how easy networking can be. Like many librarians-to-be, every time someone mentions the word networking, I get butterflies in my stomach and imagine smarmy business types trying to sell me on something. Ok, so a couple of free drinks helps (thanks, Librarian Drink-Up!), but some of the valuable conversations I had started with a simple ‘Where are you from?’ or even ‘I like your sweater.’ From there, you’ll usually find out you have some interests in common. No need to be nervous about meet-ups. In fact, take every opportunity you have!”

Jessamyn West
Community Technology Librarian at Randolph Technical Career Center (VT) Chief Operations Officer at Metafilter Network LLC
“I just liked getting to go to the stuff I’d normally go to and seeing librarians all over the place, interested in the same things that I was. It was really gratifying and exciting at the same time.”

Carson Block
Carson Block LLC
“Meeting and hanging with the next generation of library students. Our profession has an excellent future!”

Erin Anguish
Glacier Works
“It was my first-ever conference, so the whole experience was fairly mind-blowing. It’s hard to single out one part or another. I was particularly struck by the depth and variety of attendees, though: I’m from a four-person non-profit, and I found myself in a panel sitting next to the Communications Director for Vogue. How does that happen? I have no idea.”

Cathleen Ash
Library Media Teacher, Manor High School Library (TX)
“SXSW was as exciting and crazy as ever in 2012! In addition to presenting at both the Edu and Interactive, I really enjoyed spending the Saturday after my morning presentation taking my four students (who helped with tech, back-channels and questions) all over Austin and SXSW events. My students were able to see that yes, geeks ARE cool, and really know how to have fun! Even better, they met librarians and archivists and all manner of great folk in varying stages of work or academia. How awesome is that? I especially enjoyed meeting F2F all the people I’d been tweeting with . . . and continued to be amazed at the diversity of our profession . . . archivists, research librarians and all manner of great foci for each and every person.”

Danny Ramos
Graduate Student in School of Information, University of Texas at Austin
“The school library track is a beautiful opportunity to immerse myself in the wonderful world of information as it applies to teaching students how to be productive citizens and conscientious consumers. It also puts me in the ranks of a pretty homogenous group of professionals. While I absolutely love the friendship and professionalism shared with these women, it was lovely meeting a diverse pool of librarians. Our interests may only overlap over a small area of librarianship, but a passion for information can connect even the most polarized personalities.”

Arianne Thigpen
Reference/Serials Librarian at Concordia University (TX)
“Although I didn’t have an Interactive badge, I felt like I was there just by following several of my social media–savvy friends and colleagues’ comments about panels and events. You never realize how important tools like Twitter can be—it sounds corny, but it almost feels like you’re there. And it’s always fun and interesting to get a trusted friend’s spin on a hot-button issue.

“It was also insightful to talk with other information professionals at side events, happy hours, or just in passing. Although, as graduate students, we were always told that our degree can apply to an almost endless array of fields and career opportunities, I’m not sure you can really see it until you talk to others who have taken their degrees in new and exciting directions. From the traditional librarians and archivists, to data analysts, to social media entrepreneurs, to video game designers, the information degree is definitely a gateway to influencing all aspects of society.”

Meg Eastwood
Graduate Student in School of Information, University of Texas at Austin
“I venture down to my first-ever SXSW event on Monday morning, as my friend Helen has recommended a talk being given by her boss from the past summer, Jeff Pirtle—the Director of Archives & Collections at NBC Universal. At the door, I explain that the speaker thought there might be extra space for iSchool students. Since the talk is at the Paramount Theater, there is indeed room for me, and I spend an hour spellbound by photos of Universal’s archival collections. After the talk, I introduce myself to Mr. Pirtle, who is kind enough to give me an extra SXSW Film day pass.

“One of the things I do with my day pass is venture into the exhibit hall, where I chat with a few vendors. I seem to look too young to be of interest to many sales people, but I try a technique I discovered at an ALA Conference—avoid the crowded booths that are giving away free stuff, and look instead for booths where the exhibitor currently has no customers. They’re willing to chat with a student just to pass the time, and I feel like I learn a lot from these conversations!”

Cindy Fisher
“As librarians, we often talk about getting outside of our library bubble to expand our perspective in order to better serve our users. SXSWi provides a space to begin this collective brainstorm with people that create the tools we teach, ‘pollute’ the web with Search Engine Optimization keywords that make our (and our students’/users’) lives more complex, and think outside the box with no ‘we’ve done that already’ tag attached to a new idea. Do I sound jaded? Because I’m not. I’m stoked. Stoked that after explaining to a recent graduate of Code for America who worked for a SEO company how difficult it was for first-year students to know how to find and evaluate good information sources on the web, she stopped and said, ‘Huh, I’d never thought of it that way.’ Stoked that when I asked a businessman from Scotland to find a way to partner his product with his hometown library, he began thinking of ways (on the spot!) of doing so. And stoked that Tim O’Reilly was excited to get a temporary library tattoo on his tra—ahem, lower back, and then asked to be contacted when librarians had something they wanted his help with. Seriously? Yes, I wouldn’t lie. I abhor retractions the same as Ira Glass.

“We continually ask our users to ask us when we they have questions.SXSW Interactive taught me to flip that question 180 degrees and ask others what they can do for librarians.”

Andrea Davis
“This year was a big burst of so much synergy, luck, hard work, cat herding, and behind the scenes efforts than years past. I’m stupid proud of all the great things people pulled together this year to make a librar* presence known in the uber short-attention-span that is the ever-growing conference (25k+ paid attendees). There was a series of top-class library presenters who made waves in big media. There was high demand for the library tattoos and awesome promotion from library supporters. Good ideas flowed with lots of ‘next year, I want to do...’ and offers to collaborate with tech companies and thought leaders. It’s important to take a moment and appreciate what this grassroots ragtag group has accomplished, but not sit back too long and let the enthusiasm get stale. If we carry this momentum forward—there’s gonna be big things ahead in Austin in 2013. This is a big call out to anyone who is interested, curious, or already involved to jump in and get things moving forward (as well as capture the impact of what was created this year). Together we can #makeithappen!”


In 2011, I met professionals at SXSW Interactive who convinced me to pursue librarianship. In 2012, I discovered innovators who are progressively changing the field.

As I look to the future, I envision #sxswLAM extending its influence at the conference and beyond. Members of the community have already begun the debriefing process to determine how we can build on our momentum. I see us applying what we’ve learned to build a cohesive network and share replicable ideas.

On a local level, I’ve begun discussions with faculty at UT-Austin to design a course where we apply critical thinking and textual analysis to the original projects presented at SXSWi. There is so much to think about, and I believe we can directly incorporate lessons from South By into how we design academic curricula.

I am confident we will continue to collaborate across disciplines and geographic boundaries. SXSWi may be unique in its subject matter, but our passion for service is universal.

Paul Vinelli