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I am writing from Washington D.C. where I just toured the White House and met with the U.S. Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra, and tonight will be live-Tweeting the State of the Union from next door to the White House and then having a Q&A session with senior officials from the Obama Administration.  You can follow the Tweets of our whole group all day at #whtweetup.  Our Tweets about the State of the Union tonight will also be tagged with #sotu.

A few days ago, I thought I’d be at my library today working on statistics.  Big thanks to San Rafael‘s City Manager Nancy Mackle for letting me take a few days off last minute! So, what happened?  Why am I not at my desk, drinking espresso, and looking at spreadsheets until my eyes cross?

State of the Union Tweet-Up: The White House Twitter account (@whitehouse) posted a contest of sorts for people to be selected to attend this official State of the Union Tweet-Up.  The contest was only open for 24 hours, and you just had to fill out a brief form and describe in 140 characters why you’d be a good people’s representative.  Because of the low barrier to entry for this once in a lifetime experience, I entered.  I wrote something about being a librarian and how libraries are centers for technology access and digital civic engagement.  And then a couple of days later–boom! In my inbox, a message with the White House logo and the following text: “Congratulations! You’ve been selected to attend the State of the Union Tweetup at the White House…” To be frank, I first thought it was spam.  I mean, really…the White House emailing me?  Those of us who were selected can find no common thread in why we’d be picked–different political beliefs, professions, ages, interests, etc. We’re guessing it was either random or that they were aiming for diversity, but in any case–who cares? I’m at the White House!

Getting my California Self to D.C.: I scrambled to get last minute plane tickets and hotel reservations, and then submitted my information to get security clearance (I was a little nervous about that part).  Without even knowing if I had passed the security process, I boarded a plane from San Francisco to DC.  Weirdly, the other Bay Area representative (@darryl_davis from Oakland) was on my same flight (thank you Southwest for your comparatively cheap last minute seats).  Only three people that we know from west of the Mississippi were chosen and were able to come.  @brentpliskow made a nice map with everyone’s locations.  I love my fellow nerds and our use of technology to share information.

White House Tour: This morning we got a tour of the White House.  I’d never been before, so it was super neat to see the rooms and hallways you often see in photographs of official events.  It is indeed much smaller than one might think.  I got to see Bo (the first family’s dog) being brought in the front door (the front door!) presumably after a walk and bathroom break.  My favorite parts were getting to see the White House Library and seeing the hallway that you often see the President walk down before an address (you know…this one).

Aneesh Chopra and Mike Krieger: Soon after that, a smaller group of us got to have a meeting with Aneesh Chopra, the U.S. Chief Technology Officer, other technology advisor folks, and a surprise visit with Mike Krieger (@mikeyk), co-founder of Instagram.  Each of them spoke for a while (The administration is doing a ton of stuff with open government which is awesome, and Instagram is building an Android app, thank ba-jeezus), then they took our questions.  I jumped in with the second question and asked how the administration planned to address the failed system of copyright in a digital media age, particularly the restrictive DMCA, and cited how some vendors refuse to sell digital content to libraries.  Chopra’s practiced very political response was that copyright was a macro-policy issue, and then he talked about the administration’s work on sharing and open data standards through leading by example–their work on the Learning Registry and other open education and data initiatives (check out all the stuff at data.gov).  He did use the phrase “metadata standards,” which literally made me shiver.  I guess I am a true librarian nerd girl at heart (as if there was any doubt)!  Other questions asked about healthcare records, open data standards, SOPA and PIPA, broadband, delegating some of the wireless spectrum to public safety officials, resources for primary education, and more.  It came across as truly practiced messaging.  I suppose that’s to be expected.  Chopra comes off as one of the most laid back, approachable, and excited government officials I’ve ever met.  If only I could muster that much jump-for-joy enthusiasm every day! We did get to hear more about what initiatives are being done by the administration, all good stuff and seriously a departure from the tech-resistant Bush administration.  Open government, open data, and open education are all important philosophies for libraries to embrace and share with their residents and users.

State of the Union: Tonight a larger group of us (we think 50 at this point?) will meet up at the White House Complex (the Eisenhower Executive Office Building to be exact) to watch the State of the Union address, and live-Tweet the SOTU and our reactions to it.  After the address, a panel of senior advisors in the Obama administration will do a Q&A session with all of us Tweet-Up folks, also taking questions via Twitter and Facebook.  Learn more about how to participate at the SOTU website.  I do have to give big props to the administration for using social media in a really useful way.  They’re taking questions via Twitter, Google+, Facebook, and YouTube, and having live interactions with not only the POTUS but also his advisors all week.  Really making themselves accessible is pretty commendable in my opinion.

I’ll try to write more when the SOTU event is over tonight if I am still awake :)  In the meantime, I want to say how thankful I am to those who have sent in questions for me to ask, and how thankful I am that I was chosen.  This is truly a surreal experience…just being near people with this much influence into the nation’s direction makes me giddy.  I know that sounds all stupid naive fan-girl and what not, but I’ll put aside my bad ass image for a moment and just admit it–whether you care about politics or not, whether you like this administration or not, being even marginally involved in the democratic process like this is pretty freaking cool.

Below are photos from today so far. I’ll be adding to the set later.

“Ms. Librarian Goes to Washington”

  1. Jessamyn West Says:

    This is so incredibly exciting, even to watch from the sidelines. I’m glad you got this opportunity.

  2. ae-j Says:

    what Jessamyn said! such an awesome opportunity for you, Sarah. enjoy it!

  3. Kate Says:

    Wow! how exciting. I’m a LIS student in New York, assigned to watch the state of the union tonight for discussion tomorrow in an Info Policy class. your tweets will be especially of interest! Can’t wait

  4. Jimmy the Geek Says:

    What a great opportunity! Have fun, and I’m glad you are the one representing “the common person,” rather than someone who has no clue about today’s issues!

  5. David Dodd Says:

    Fantastic, Sarah! And you are the one to ask the right questions. Go get ‘em!

  6. R. Todd Vandenbark Says:

    Congratulations Sara! And way to go for asking about copyright off the bat! Looking forward to hearing your reflections on this after you’ve returned home and rested. Your blog is a thoughtful and enjoyable regular read for me.

  7. Brent Pliskow / Optimistic Dreamer / Web Enthusiast / World Traveler Says:

    [...] is growing to 30 employees this year AND will be introducing an Android app (finally!). In her summary, @TheLIB, provides more detail on this [...]

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