Pop-up community building at SXSW

During my time at SXSW, I stopped by the LABRARY, which describes itself as “a pop-up experimental library.” Born out of a seminar at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, the LABRARY popped up on a museum lawn a block from the epicenter of SXSW’s frantic activity. The inflatable, zip-up reading room provides a welcome contrast, because once inside, it’s easy to concentrate on one thing.

Calling it a pop-up library is a little misleading, though, because it was really a collection of experimental products for the modern library (because design schools eventually produce products). Cool products revolving around ways we interact with media and technology, such as a manual typewriter attached to a Mac, a machine that prints out the Constitution on a roll of receipt paper when you push a button, and the “Electric Campfire,” a box powered by marine batteries where people gather round to charge their devices. 

Conceptually, there’s a certain parallel with efforts of pop-up community building, such as the recent Creative Interventions Tour announced by Knight Foundation and artist Hunter Franks, and from what I saw, kids gravitated to the objects. But the LABRARY installations work best when integrated with an existing public library, something they are doing in Boston. 

The broader lesson is that when you are trying to build community, libraries are great assets to build on. If they didn’t exist, we’d have to invent them.

Andrew Sherry, vice president of communications at Knight Foundation