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South by Southwest Interactive rocked my world

Image via Paul Vinelli
Image via Paul Vinelli

ALA OITP’s new Policy Revolution! initiative recently led me to the South by Southwest (SXSW) 2014 Interactive conference, along with an invitation to speak and opportunity to staff a busy SXSW library booth. The Policy Revolution! project expands and deepens ALA and library engagement with influential audiences to advance our work for the public good. So I felt vindicated that, when I returned to DC, I was entirely convinced SXSW is a key place for ALA and libraries to be outspoken and visible

Library and Entrepreneurial Partnerships

From keynote Edward Snowden to panelists who received less press coverage this year, we heard that tech start-ups need to consider information and technology policy issues. Even if “politics” is an ugly word to many, we were exhorted that tech firms had a responsibility, as well as self-interest, to not let others decide the future of the Internet, information access and security. In fact, it was a refrain at Innovation Policy Day: If you’re not at the table, you’re likely on the menu. The same is true for libraries and librarians.

Among the people at the table at SXSW were Janie Hermann from Princeton Public Library and Venu Moola, founder and CEO of Fleet Studio. They were there to “to preach the gospel of libraries supporting start-ups.” Moola approached the library after his call to create a Princeton Tech Meetup in Central New Jersey exceeded his expectations–and space at neighborhood coffee shops and bars. Over two years, the library has hosted 23 meet-ups and 12 special events, including connecting NJ entrepreneurs with the West Coast Lean Startup Conference via livestream. The meet-up now has more than 2,000 members, and is the second largest in the state. Princeton Public Library also is beginning to explore small-group co-working. Other librarians in the audience mentioned partnerships with SCORE, business consultants on staff at Pioneer Library System in Oklahoma, and available digital resources like ReferenceUSA.

One of the best things: it was the entrepreneurs in the room who said that libraries’ most important asset is our librarians. Wow! I wasn’t the only one who left the room a convert. An Austin entrepreneur and public library manager connected in the room and made plans for next steps. These are the kinds of advocates we need by our sides to amplify the value of libraries in our communities; and the kinds of partnerships we will foster as part of our Policy Revolution! We’d love to hear from other libraries working to connect with and support new business start-ups. Email us your story!

Library Policy and Technology

Larra Clark w/Tina Coleman at SXSW
Larra Clark w/Tina Coleman at SXSW

Policy and practice intersected at the Building the Future with Gigabit Apps session. Even among techies, Will Barkis, director of the Mozilla Gigabit Community Fund, noted that he is asked “what’s a gig good for?” He answered the question with real-life examples, including the software lending library launching through the Kansas City (Mo) Public Library. Other favorites on his list included: Cizzle, in which users can experience and modify 3D environments; PlanIT impact, in which people can participate in community decision-making with big data visualizations and 3D; and the more pedestrian, but important, aspect of file transfer and streaming for large files like radiology.

What could a library do with a Gig? This is an urgent question as we consider the future of the federal E-rate program, and ALA argues for the high-capacity broadband needed to meet community demand today and in coming years. Building gigabit capacity can not only enable innovation and new community partnerships, but also provide efficiencies as we “build once” and upgrade capacity as needed. Starting this week, ALA OITP will share lessons learned from “gigabit libraries” through research conducted by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

The policy conversations on tap were wide and deep, including privacy and security, copyright and fair use, and network neutrality, to name a few. It was my pleasure to participate in Innovation Policy Day, which brought many of these issues together in a full day of panels with speakers ranging from Gary Shapiro, president and CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association; Laurent Crenshaw, public policy manager of Yelp; to Rick Whitt, global head of public policy and government relations for Motorola Mobility. While the Internet of Things is still in relatively early stages, there is no doubt in my mind that the trend will roll over all of us (including library automation and public services) like a tsunami in coming years. The decisions the Federal Communications Commission makes in upcoming proceedings related to unlicensed spectrum, including TV White Space, will have long-term impacts for our economy and innovation.

Libraries need to be on the “ground floor” of these conversations with technology companies to influence policy perspectives, change perceptions of what’s possible through library partnerships, get a head start on emerging trends and build a bridge for engagement and adoption among our communities of users.

It was a great experience shared with many librarians like former OITP committee chair (and current committee member) Bonnie Tijerina, who co-hosted the #IDEA Drop House with her sister Sandy Tijerina, and ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom Director Barbara Jones (who’s also working up some blog posts detailing her impressions). We’re all going to keep talking and looking for ways to connect ALA, librarians and SXSW, so expect to hear more soon. Until then, check out American Libraries blog posts, like this one and this one, from other outstanding librarians on the (literal) scene.

And, finally, a big thanks to Innovative Interfaces for making the library booth at SXSWi possible!

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Larra Clark

Larra Clark is the deputy director of both the Public Library Association and Washington Office’s public policy team. Larra received her bachelor's degree in interdisciplinary studies from the University of Arizona and has a M.S. in Library and Information Science from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

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