Magazine article Information Today

What Librarians Can Learn from SXSW

Magazine article Information Today

What Librarians Can Learn from SXSW

Article excerpt

Everyone will tell you how overwhelming South by Southwest (SXSW) can be. It's easy to dismiss this as an exaggeration until you've actually set foot in the Austin Convention Center for the SXSW Interactive Festival. This year's event was held March 13-17 in Austin, Texas. With hundreds of sessions, more than 10 official venues, and plenty of meet-ups and special events, the SXSW experience is best compared to a trip to Walt Disney World: Be ready to walk everywhere, wait in long lines, and make peace with the fact that you can't possibly do everything.

Despite the crowds and numerous programming choices, plenty of activities can be accomplished in the 5 days of Interactive, during which technology companies and industry leaders show off the newest tech and trends. It's no wonder libraries, archives, and museums (LAM) are a growing presence at the conference. The lib*interactive group (, originally called sxswLAM, hosts its own meetups and rents a house to serve as its home base. There were 11 LAM-focused sessions in 2015, and someone at the EveryLibrary-sponsored meetup remarked that this year's event was the largest LAM gathering yet. Here are some highlights from conference sessions that LAM attendees could use to bring fresh ideas back to their institutions.

New Ways of Thinking About Data

Molly Bohmer (Cato Institute), Rebecca Williams (, Daniel Schuman (Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington), and Molly Schwartz (R Street Institute) were the panelists during the session Your Laws, Your Data: Making Government More Open. They celebrated recent developments in government transparency, including the transition to and the launch of the Congressional Data Coalition (congressional There's been momentum in both federal and local governments to create new policies around open data standards, said Williams.

Schwartz said that with the passage of the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act of 2014, the government is now more accountable for its spending. The panelists concluded that it is a transformational bill, but it's just one building block for creating more transparency. Bohmer suggested two ways to take a stand in favor of transparency: for people to make Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests and to get involved with Wikipedia, where there are projects in progress that would help transfer data automatically to the site. Schuman said calling local representatives and asking for congressional research reports will also promote open government. These government transparency issues are of interest to anyone in the information industry, and hearing experts' perspectives showed how far the U.S. government has come, and, yet, how much more needs to be done.

Are You Smarter Than Your Brain?: The Big Picture of Big Data was another session that dealt with the importance of having accessible data. Representing National Geographic Channel's new show The Big Picture, three panelists discussed how interpreted data can be a driving force behind storytelling. Kal Penn (an actor and formerly an associate director of the White House Office of Public Engagement), Lillian Pierson (founder of Data-Mania), and David Konschnik (an executive producer of The Big Picture) asked the audience to tweet about their home states, and they gathered the responses into a U.S. map showing that the majority of audience members came from Texas.

Although the session primarily served as a plug for The Big Picture, LAM representatives could take some of the approaches to data the panelists shared and use them to discover new ways to analyze their patrons and institutions. The panelists used maps to highlight demographic trends and patterns and showed clips from the show that featured infographics to display datasets.

Thinking About New Technologies

At the session Publishing Innovation: Next Century Reading, Booktrack's Jason Hovey and Wattpad's Ashleigh Gardner showed how their up-and-coming platforms exemplify a 21st-century approach to publishing. …

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