From SXSW: The Logistics

Computers, General Interest, Technology

This week, OIF Director Barbara Jones is blogging about her experiences at her first SXSW in Austin.

March 13, 2012

Doing SXSW for the first time is like doing Tough Mudder.  Well, maybe not that tough, but still . . . Lots of walking, running, and, this year, torrential rains and standing in mud for the Barbecue Crash Course.  Hours of lines, hours to register, not enough vans thus running late.  The whole city taxi dispatch system crashed.  I now understand all the blog posts about “survival” and finding time to eat.  I now carry an apple and energy bar.  At the Librarians’ Meetup we all acknowledged how much we take for granted about ALA’s well-executed conference

The participant numbers are up this year–you hear anywhere from 20-30,000 have been through SXSW so far.  By the end of the week for the Music Festival, they predict 100,000 descending on a relatively small city.  But what a great, “weird” city, as Austinites will proudly tell you.  Like New Orleans, the sound of live music is never far away.  One of the best indy bookstores on the planet–Bookpeople.

SXSW has three tracks and, thanks to my husband’s gift for my “milestone” birthday, we are here for all three–Interactive, Film, and Music.  The data map confirms my observation–the vast majority of attendees are 20-30 somethings.  Lots of entrepreneurial spirit, from Ireland to Iran to Latvia to Capetown.

And yes, lots of librarians.  Judging from the Meetup, a lot of Social Media Librarians and Webmeisters.

I was glad to have my talking points ready for all the van rides and line-standing.  People love my job title and what OIF does.  But they are shocked that books still get pulled off library shelves.  To these young Tech Warriors, it’s a waste of energy to censor.  After all, they can always find and get what they want.  But when they are reminded that some people can’t afford to buy their own books and really do depend on the library for their job hunting and Internet access, they are immediately sympathetic.  The conversations are one of the best parts here.  My husband and I got a van discussion started after the driver asked, “Hey, nerds, what’s up with Google anyway?”

And so my first post is really about a librarian attending a vast “happening” where I frequently must explain why I am here.  So I am quite serious that librarians need to be visible and verbal at this kind of conference.  One Rotterdam startup guy talked to me about how the librarian on their team is essential, but I don’t hear that often enough.  We really do need to attend our own professional meetings as an anchor, but we also need to get out and talk to the SXSW types about how privacy considerations are important for the success of their startups.  And to tell our Iranian colleagues (more in my next blog) that we can work together on anti-censorship strategies.

And, I have learned what I need for the next time–an I-Pad for those long lines.

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