A Librarian's Look Back at SXSWi 2012


Data Visualization Panel Speakers: Dylan Lathrop (Editorial Design Director, GOOD); Rosten Woo (Designer Writer & Educator); Robert Kosara (Assoc Professor of Computer Science); Irene Ros (Sr Open Source Data Visualization Developer, Bocoup). Photo by Diana Garcia. Home page image via @dingatx on Flickr.

Attending South by Southwest Interactive (SXSWi) can be intimidating. If you're not a hard-core, cutting edge developer or a social media marketing guru, you may wonder if you're not completely out of your league.

Where does a librarian fit in exactly?

The fact of the matter is that undercover librarians, aka information professionals, are working each day in the cross-hairs of our technologically-saturated environments. Making sense and order out of digital information is part of our professional DNA.

As Butch Lazorchak wrote recently, LAMs (Librarians, Archivists and Museum professionals) are already "exploding stereotypes" and conventional job titles, albeit too quietly perhaps.

That's precisely why attending SXSWi makes sense. It helps shatter the stereotype and reinforces that this domain is also a part of our professional landscape.

I'm a librarian by training, but I don't work in a library. My focus while obtaining my masters in library and information science (and yes, some people do still get hung up on the word library), led me down the path of interaction design, information architecture, usability and digital archiving -- disciplines that I put into practice each day in my role as Manager of the Patient Portal at MSKCC as well as in other, myriad projects I'm directly or tangentially involved in within our Information Systems division. (I have the privilege of working for our CIO, so I am afforded a rare, front row seat to all things IT related within our institution.)

While I've attended other conferences specific to either interaction design (e.g. the Information Architecture Institute’s  IDEA conferences) or healthcare (Medicine 2.0Healthcare Experience Design Conference) my motivation to go to SXSWi stemmed from a need to see what's going on outside of any one particular silo, and that is precisely what's on offer in Austin: diversity.

True to a librarian's credo that serendipity also plays a role in how information can be accessed, rubbing elbows with those in other disciplines and attending panels outside of one's specific industry is bound to set the synapses firing. The cross-pollination of ideas and experiences bears fruit.

From just a small sampling of panels I attended below, it's clear that all of these relate to our particular skill sets as information professionals:


The theme(s) 

How it relates to LIS 

The Future of Digital Health

personalizing electronic health information to make it meaningful

prioritization, categorization, access

Data Vis is Dead, Long Live Data Vis! (data visualization)

"new indices" vs. data distortion

visual information literacy, visual information validation

Language, Technology and the Clinical Narrative

retaining the clinical narrative (i.e. dictation) in electronic medical records (EMRs) while still providing downstream data for analytics

digital preservation, data integrity

Coding the Next Chapter of American History

civic service in the form of providing information access and exchange for and between citizens

information access

DIY Mobile Usability Testing

mobile usability testing on a tight budget

user-centered design


Bruce Sterling's closing keynote speech at SXSWi ended with a nod to our community: “Information wants to be free, but it also wants to be archived.”

LAMs, the welcome mat lies before you. Open the door and take it all in.

Diana Garcia is an undercover librarian currently working in the Information Systems division at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC). She manages the development of and support for MyMSKCC, a secure, personalized patient Web site.

Tags: SXSWi, LIS, LAMs