My Thoughts on BookcampTo

by Hugh

bookcampto logoIt’s been … wow, almost three weeks since BookCamp Toronto, and I guess I should get around to writing out some thoughts. So in no particular order, here are some of my personal reactions to the event:

1. What a great event
I have been involved as a participant and an organizer of numerous unconference / camps: barcamps, podcamps, democamps. But there was something amazing about this one, and certainly for me personally it was the most rewarding camp – or indeed conference of any kind – that I’ve attended. (With the caveat that, as an organizer, I am probably biased, but still … that was my personal reaction).

alana wilcox2. Engagement from industry
One of the most powerful things about BookCamp, compared with other events I’ve been to, is that this was not just a grassroots group. There was high-level engagement from the publishing industry, with publishers, editors, senior VPs, production managers, marketers, and interns, and everything in between. It was great to see the honest debate and conversation being lead by these insiders, who are truly grappling with the future of their business and their passion. This is something different from almost all the other “camps” I’ve attended (with the exception of BookCamp London), where it is often a grassroots gang talking about the future, with very little stake in existing business. BookCamp felt a very relevant meeting for a big industry in the throes of change.

evolution3. Mixing publishing insiders and outsiders
One of the things of which I am most proud was our success in getting dialogue going between book business insiders and passionate outsiders. Along with the publishing big wigs, there were free culture advocates, open source proponents, artisanal bookbinders, librarians, web developers, readers, standards and accessibility experts, writers, bloggers, podcasters, technologists, marketers, newspaper folk, booksellers, and on and on. It truly was the open, mixed crowd we were hoping for, and I think the beauty of the event is that we managed to create an even playing field, where everyone got to talk as equals, all driven by the desire to see a healthy future for books.

relating4. Getting the numbers right
We worried about numbers. Too many people? Too few? How do we feed everyone? Will they fit? Well, we had some 350 sign up, and about 225 show up (good stats for a free event). Some sessions might have been a touch too big, but all the sessions I attended were full of lively discussion, and I think everyone who wanted to talk and engage were able to do so. We had just enough lunch, and everything worked out just fine.

5. No powerpoint
One of the best decisions we made was to discourage powerpoint presentations. If you are planning a discussion-centric event, I urge you to not provide any powerpoint capabilities. Powerpoint is so often a conversation killer.

on the grass

6. Great session moderation
We gave some guidelines to session moderators: 1. focus should be discussion, 2. no power point, 3. 15-20 mins of intro, then open up the floor to discuss. This model was embraced in all the sessions I attended, and worked swimmingly I think.

bedford7. Kick-ass organizing team
It truly was a pleasure to be a member of the team who put this together. Mark Bertils did so much work to make sure the on-the-ground set up was in good shape, and to keep the wiki up to date and information flowing well to attendees. Alexa Clark took care of the food, and it all worked out perfectly. Erin Balser organized all the volunteers, and info management on the day of the event. And a special thanks to Mitch Joel, who when I asked him: “Should we do a BookCamp Toronto,” answered, without blinking: “Let’s do it.” Also: Judy Dunn and UofT’s iSchool were perfect hosts. And Morgan & Michael at BookNet Canada were brilliant and understanding sponsors for the lunch.

8. Venue
U of T iSchool was a great place to hold the event.

9. Post-event Party
That was fun at the Bedford Academy, even if we got there before they were ready for us.

10. The Americans!
It was nice to see so many of our colleagues make the trip from south of the border, and contribute so much to the event.

everyone

So thanks again to: all the attendees for being so amazing, my co-organizers for being so on the ball, the session moderators for being so wonderful, and for everyone else who helped make this such a success.

For more BookCampTO posts, see Mark’s list.

Photo credits: Sniffles, Fiacre1, LexnGer.