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Gearing up for South by Southwest

“What the Future?” is not the usual interpretation of its acronym, but the question is at the heart of the upcoming South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive and EDU technology conferences.

Participant enthusiasm is evident in “Libraries: The Ultimate Playground,”one of the Core Conversations that have become a hallmark of SXSW.
Participant enthusiasm is evident in “Libraries: The Ultimate Playground,”one of the Core Conversations that have become a hallmark of SXSW.

One answer to this question for public libraries, entrepreneurs and our communities is “Co-working, Collaboration and Creation @ your library.” This also is the title of our SXSW panel (Sunday, March 15, 9:30 a.m.) which brings together ALA’s national perspective and research, a dynamic example from the District of Columbia Public Library’s Dream Lab, and one of the “lab” partners, MapStory.

Public libraries have always been places for “makers” to connect and collaborate, but HOW this is happening in libraries continues to shift and expand. Hundreds of libraries now support co-work and mobile work spaces, as well as hosting maker programming and resources—together leveraging tech and social networks, specialized content and staff, and convenient locations, according to new data from the national Digital Inclusion Survey.

DC Public Library LogoStarting in mid-2013, the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library in Washington D.C. embarked on a journey to transform itself into a place for residents of diverse backgrounds and interests to connect, learn and “make” ideas into working realities. The space is called the “Dream Lab,” and the library already has attracted more than 56 local entrepreneurial projects. One of these projects is MapStory, an online social cartographic platform that empowers anyone to map historical change over time using open data.

In exchange for membership in the Dream Lab, each project commits to offering one hour of programming per month to engage the public in their efforts and ideas—extending the social network and empowering the community in a transformative way.

Mapstory LogoThrough these collaborations, libraries serve as catalysts for learning and action, and help build a stronger knowledge economy more accessible to all people. I can’t wait to join Jon Marino and Nicholas Kerelchuk to talk about how we can build the future together with enterprising partners.

I’m also excited to again be part of a larger Libraries, Archives and Museums presence at SXSW. Together we believe that SXSW is a key forum for library professionals to position libraries and connect with other innovators and community connectors; pull ideas from other industries to feed our innovation at the intersection of science, technology, art, commerce and the public good; and to participate in emerging policy conversations directly relevant to our professional values. Check out the lib*interactive at SXSW guide to sessions here.

You can also catch school and public library folks presenting at EDU (March 9-12), including “Schools and Libraries: Rethinking Learning Together”, “Designing and Deploying for Adult Learners”, “Schools’ Vortex: Innovative Library Makerspaces”, and  “Connected Learning Networks in Austin.”

I hope I’ll see many of you there! If you can’t make it to SXSW, let me take your story with me. What is your library doing to support co-working, collaboration and/or creation? Comment here on the blog or email me directly at

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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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