Technology, inspiration and collaboration at SXSWi

The lib*interactive crew in Austin, Texas
The lib*interactive crew in Austin, Texas
The lib*interactive crew in Austin, Texas

Year after year, industries of all shapes and sizes from around the globe converge in Austin, Texas, for the annual South by Southwest Interactive festival (SXSWi). The festival, which combines innovative presentations, panels, showcases and more, also serves as a great opportunity for library representatives and advocates to converge, learn from one another and from outside industries. I attended this year’s SXSWi with lib*interactive, a passionate group of library professionals who organize and attend the festival to help fuel connections and ideas at the conference.

More than 10 library- and museum-inspired panels – including one by Anythink – helped highlight the importance of libraries on the national stage. As important as it was a space to position libraries front and center, SXSWi was also an opportunity to reflect on the library industry and ask important questions: What can libraries be doing to better meet the needs of their communities? How can libraries collaborate with outside industries to greater enhance their offerings? How can libraries help support entrepreneurs? How can we help foster a new generation of innovators and problem-solvers? How can libraries improve their spaces to engage with their customers?

Inspiration to address such questions came in many forms, often presenting new questions along the way. Take that last question, for example. SXSWi’s kickoff keynote presentation, “Curious Bridges” How Designers Grow the Future” with Paola Antonelli, shared some of the ways in which MoMA exhibits are literally breathing life into their spaces with silk worms and human-balanced architectural structures. Is this something we could scale and implement at Anythink? And, if so, how?

Makerspace creations at SX Create

SX Create proved to be one of the best spaces to take a look at the innovations happening in makerspaces and participatory learning environments across the world. The booths highlighted just how accessible tech learning can be, especially for younger students. Programming tools like Arduino and Raspberry Pi have made the world of tech even more imaginative and fun for young learners in the past few years, and companies like Boulder-based SparkFun Electronics are finding ways to help kids tinker in new and exciting ways.

The concept of accessibility was even further demonstrated by representation from local makerspaces, including ATXHackerspace. This collaborative group is composed of designers, engineers, musicians, artists and makers, several of whom showcased their inventions and designs at SX Create. Exploring this type of technology and collaboration is an inspiration when thinking about The Studio. How can we use these fun tech tools and, more importantly, harness the collaborative power of passionate community members to help one another learn and create?

Technology trends

The tech trend on everyone’s mind – and throughout this year’s conference – was wearables. Not surprisingly, wearable technology was making big waves in the exhibit halls and in presentations throughout SXSWi. And with this emerging trend also comes a major focus on health data – its potential, its power and its privacy concerns. Many of this year’s panels highlighted the intersection between technology and health.

At the Robot Petting Zoo, a different theme emerged – first-response technology. Examples and prototypes were everywhere: drones designed to bring first aid to stranded individuals, pods designed for temporary living quarters after a natural disaster, and robots that can dig through rubble. Innovations with strong social impacts definitely took a place in the spotlight both at the Robot Petting Zoo as well as at the Social Good Hub, a space for the nonprofit and tech communities to connect and collaborate at SXSWi. Here, Libraries Without Borders displayed the Ideas Box, an innovative device designed to service people impacted by natural disasters, poverty and war with books and other educational resources.


More than anything, my experience at SXSWi was highlighted by the opportunities for collaboration – with other libraries, with advocates and customers, and with people from all types of industries. These connections happened everywhere – at panel discussions, on the street, at meet-ups and even while standing in line for presentations. They happened with video game designers, engineers, writers and academics. Ideas were hatched and plans were made. This type of opportunity helps organizations like ours grow and expand beyond typical channels and industry-specific conferences to make new and meaningful connections in areas you wouldn’t necessarily expect. We want libraries to surprise and delight. To help make that happen, we have to search out and embrace the unexpected, and SXSWi is one of the best places to do that. 

For more information on lib*interactive and Anythink’s participation at SXSW Interactive, check out this March 17 article in the Denver Post.