Pushing Boundaries at BookCampTO

BookCampTO is an annual “unconference” that invites anyone and everyone who loves books to come be part of a day of conversation about books, writing, the publishing industry, and more. 

The unconference is presented by CanBPA, and BookNet is proud to have co-sponsored this year’s event.

BookNet’s Tom Richardson co-presented a session on metadata & ONIX with eBOUND Canada’s Christen Thomas, and Lauren Stewart co-presented a session on events with Chris Reed of Small Print Toronto. Below, Tom reports back on the sights and sounds of BookCampTO.

Last weekend, the Canadian Book Professionals’ Association (CanBPA) held its fifth annual BookCampTO. This year’s un-conference was called “Five Alive! How We Adapt and Thrive in Canadian Publishing.” Un-conferences are intended to be wide-open, self-organized events, and every time slot had one open room intended for spontaneous sessions on any topic.

This being practical Canada though, CanBPA did line up facilitators to speak on a variety of themes during the sixteen programmed session slots, and all of the facilitators in the sessions I attended or heard about were well chosen. There was a genuinely collaborative vibe—no powerpointed pontificated prezzies—and even with the facilitators present, the session themes were more suggested than prescriptive.

BookCamp works because Toronto is a city full of book lovers (professional and otherwise), and volunteer organizations like CanBPA are supported by the broader community of publishing-related businesses and associations. People come to network and participate, and they have plenty of chances to do both.

I heard perspectives and takes on the industry that expanded my outlook and suggested new ways to do things. Kobo’s sponsored presentation on the Value Chain Gang, for example, showed just how hard it is to identify where value is added in a digital supply chain while making it clear, to me at least, that adding value is absolutely necessary in the long term.

The discussion in the session on alternative publishing models bounced from fanzines and web publishing, to the ethics and meaning of “free” (forced and intentional), to financing models (dance parties!), to failed businesses and user-generated content. On the latter point, I’d recommend checking out Ofcom to download a copy of a sweet UK report that was referenced in the session.

I went into the Critical Culture session thinking I’d be hearing erudite discussion along the lines of Christen Bök or Habermas and the Frankfurt School… only to find out the session was actually about book reviews. No disappointment, though—the session was facilitated by two reviewers who knew a lot more than I do about what I understood to be critical culture, and the group ended up having a genuinely fruitful discussion full of thoughtful observations on the ethics, reality, and problems of reviewing and the ways publishers can support it.

I found many of the conversations could have gone on longer than the 45-minute session blocks—it seemed to take most groups about twenty minutes to loosen up and start chatting, and the remaining twenty minutes of the session weren’t enough to get participants sufficiently engaged to motivate them to use one of the free rooms to carry the discussion into the next time slot. Or maybe it did happen that way and I’m too old and limited to have looked.

Check out the BookCampTO site to see the session topics and facilitators, and search the #bcto13 hashtag on Twitter to get a look at what people were talking about.

It’s a lot of work to set up these events, find sponsors and facilitators, and handle all the necessary promotion. CanBPA co-chairs Tan Light and Kelvin Kong and their many volunteers deserve a lot industry credit for a job well done. A call-out is merited here to our event co-sponsors Kobo and the Editors’ Association of Canada, who sponsored and facilitated the event and also had staff out in full force to take part in the proceedings. BookNet was there too, of course—we co-sponsored the conference and co-presented a session with eBOUND Canada on the weighty topics of Thema and meta-digi-stuff.