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Digital Preservation

The Library of Congress > Digital Preservation > News Archive > Library of Congress Rocks South By Southwest Conference

April 7, 2010 -- The 24th Annual South by Southwest film, interactive and music conference (SXSW) (external link) was held in Austin, Texas from March 12th to 21st, with the Library of Congress participating during the Music and Media Conference (external link).

Digital Reference Specialist Karen Fishman at the SXSW Trade Show

Digital Reference Specialist Karen Fishman at the SXSW Trade Show.

South by Southwest began as a local musical event in Austin in 1987 but now incorporates a variety of media and draws as many as 20,000 registrants from around the world. Panels, presentations and the SXSW Trade Show are held at the Austin Convention Center during the day, with musical performances, screenings and in-store appearances held throughout the city of Austin day and night.

This year, the Music Trade Show included a Library of Congress information booth for three days, while the Conference program featured a panel session titled "The Library of Congress: Music for Generations." (external link) 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, 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 of 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.

The table at the Library's booth at SXSW 2010

A variety of material was available at the Library's Trade Show booth.

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. In late 2009, a session proposal was submitted via SXSW’s Panelpicker (external link) , a web application that lets online users browse through programming proposals and vote for the ideas they felt were most appropriate for SXSW. The Library’s panel, "The Library of Congress: Music for Generations" was accepted for participation in early 2010.

The booth was continuously busy over the course of three days, with staffers fielding a range of questions on digital preservation, the Library’s recorded sound collection and copyright. These issues, as well as the history of the Library and its ongoing commitment to digital preservation and collecting and preserving sound recordings, were covered in depth during the Friday panel by Barton, Fishman and Lazorchak.

Many attendees were fascinated with the Library’s vintage sound formats display, which included 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. For some, the trade show represented their first physical encounter with any part of the Library. 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 from visitors. Some even offered leads to potential recorded sound acquisitions.

Recorded Sound Curator Matt Barton setting up the Trade Show booth.

Recorded Sound Curator Matt Barton setting up the Trade Show booth.

Most SXSW attendees have a professional stake in the music business, so they had a keen interest in copyright issues. The Library staff gave away hundreds of copyright information sheets and fielded a range of complex copyright questions about filing, fees and other aspects of the procedure. 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-Rs, secondary drives or through online storage services.

The Library’s outreach efforts at SXSW were a great success, and while the days were long and crowded with activity, it was not without its perks. Notable visitors to the table 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, Timbuk3 and many others.