The South by Southwest film, interactive and music conference and trade show (SXSW) in Austin, Texas, brings together the latest in original music, independent films and emerging technologies. Up-and-coming music groups rub elbows with record labels, media and promoters. Independent films are screened to diverse audiences. Web developers, bloggers and other new-media entrepreneurs come together to discuss the latest in cutting-edge technology.
So it should come as no surprise that the Library of Congress found itself among friends when some of its staff members participated for the first time in the 2010 event, held March 17-21.
This year, the Music Trade Show included a Library of Congress information booth, and the conference program featured a panel session titled “The Library of Congress: Music for Generations.” Recorded Sound Curator Matthew Barton and Digital Reference Specialist Karen Fishman from the Recorded Sound Section, along with Digital Archivist Butch Lazorchak from the National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program (NDIIPP), put together material for the session. All three of them, along with Digital Media Project Coordinator Michael Ashenfelder from NDIIPP, staffed the Library’s information booth at the trade show.
The Library has been interested in SXSW for several years as a place to promote its activities to communities outside libraries and archives. The conference offered numerous opportunities for the Library to broaden its acquisitions of contemporary music and to raise its profile in an increasingly diverse, diffuse and decentralized music industry, as well as to raise awareness of digital preservation issues and the Library’s commitment to them.
A booth at the SXSW Music Trade Show was an ideal forum for the Library staff to reach out to conference registrants and showcase the variety of services the Library offers. Continuously busy over the course of the three-day trade show, Library staff fielded a range of questions on digital preservation, the Library’s recorded sound collection and copyright.
On display at the booth were examples of vintage sound formats, including an Edison cylinder, an Edison 80-rpm Diamond Disc, a 1940s wire recording and an 8-track cartridge of romantic mood music from the 1970s. According to the Library employees staffing the booth, attendees were fascinated by the display.
For some, the trade show represented their first physical encounter with any part of the institution. For others, it was an opportunity for them to cheerfully display their Library Reader Registration cards and comment on how satisfying it was to see the Library participating in an event like SXSW. The phrase “Wow! I didn’t know that!” was heard frequently. Some visitors even offered leads to potential recorded-sound acquisitions.
Most SXSW attendees have a professional stake in the music business, so they had a keen interest in copyright issues. Library staff gave away hundreds of copyright information sheets and addressed a range of complex copyright questions about filing, fees and other aspects of registration. Some attendees asked if mailing a copy of their recording to themselves and keeping the postmarked, sealed package—a practice sometimes called “poor man’s copyright”—really worked.
One visitor to the booth, a record producer, noted that the intense interest was due to the fact that “copyright is probably the hardest step for an artist.”
There were also ample opportunities to inform attendees about the challenges of digital format obsolescence, though most attendees seemed to be somewhat familiar with general concepts of digital preservation. It was apparent that the recording artists had a high level of awareness about digital preservation, and many were making at least tentative steps to preserve their recordings by backing them up on CD-ROMs, secondary drives or through online storage services.
Covered in depth during the Friday panel by Barton, Fishman and Lazorchak were topics such as the recorded sound collection and copyright, as well as the history of the Library and its ongoing commitment to digital preservation and collecting and preserving sound recordings. The panel was approved for participation through a public vote on ideas most appropriate for SXSW.
According to the staff, the Library’s outreach efforts at SXSW were a great success. While the days were long and crowded with activity, the meeting was not without its perks. Notable visitors during the course of the week included Claudette Rogers Robinson, a founding member of the legendary Motown vocal group The Miracles; Martin Atkins, former drummer for Public Image Ltd.; record producer Sandy Pearlman (Blue Oyster Cult, The Clash, Dream Syndicate); author and NPR commentator Ed Ward, a founder of SXSW; and members of the bands Tally Hall, the Akron/Family, The Protomen and Timbuk3.
Library employees Mike Ashenfelder, Matt Barton, Karen Fishman and Butch Lazorchak contributed to this report.