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SXSW 2010 and Different Ways to Learn During Conferences

Guest post by Jenny Engstrom
Reference and Research Services, The New York Public Library

Somehow an entire month has gone by and I haven’t taken time to share or reflect too much on my recent experience as a presenter — and first-time attendee! — at South by Southwest 2010. In recent years, the Interactive portion of SXSW (best-known for it’s annual Music and Film festival events in Austin, Texas) has gained a reputation as “Geek Spring Break” — the place to be to learn about emerging technologies and share innovative new services. Twitter even debuted at SXSW a few years back!

I was asked to co-present with Jessamyn West, who proposed a panel where we librarians could share our experience working with patrons on the other side of the digital divide — something she became passionate about after attending SXSW on and off for years and seeing a whole lot of hand-waving about the digital divide but not too many people who really understood the reality. I had my doubts about whether the panel would be accepted, and then again about whether anyone would show up to our session. But to my surprise and delight, we had a great turnout and people really seemed engaged. Jessamyn described her experience in rural Vermont and I shared mine working here in New York City, which allowed us to describe some of the different reasons rural and urban residents are offline but also explore the commonality between new computer users no matter where they live. We were also blessed by good timing — the FCC Broadband Study had just been released but the National Broadband Plan wasn’t dropping until the day after our talk, so people definitely had digital divide on the brain. The response, both in the twitter backchannel (which led to people who weren’t even present at our talk blogging about it!) and from the people who have taken the time to follow-up and meet with me back here in New York, reminds me how important it is to tell the story of the work we do and the many different people we serve in libraries. If you’re interested, the slides and sources for our talk are posted here, and you can also listen to an audio podcast on the panel page.

Despite my anxiety over my part of the talk, I managed to attend several other awesome sessions and found going to a non-library conference helped me explore some completely new territory! I have nothing whatever to do with web design in my real life, but I enjoyed and got a lot out of Stephen Johnson’s talk about The Art and Science of Seductive Interactions… so much we can learn by paying attention to human behavior and designing experiences that delight! I also attended a talk by Dan Ariely, who is one of my favorite speakers, on the predictable irrational choices we humans make and how we can use that knowledge in many interesting ways.

Computers in Libraries kicked off today in Crystal City, and I’m sad not to be there with all my favorite usual suspects but conferences seem to get more and more expensive as our budgets get smaller and smaller. The good news it that if we can find the time (also nearly impossible, some days) there are so many great tools out there, like twitter and slideshare and youtube, that allow us to experience some of these great learning experiences remotely!

DeEtta Jones

DeEtta Jones is an invited speaker, equity, diversity and inclusion strategy consultant and author with more than twenty years of experience working with people from around the world to on personal effectiveness and building workforce capacity.

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