Review of the first One Minute Critic event

June 29, 2008 at 11:23 pm (One Minute Critic)

Well, it’s been almost two weeks since the big One Minute Critic event, an evening program that i had been working on for almost an entire year. Not constantly, mind you, but the initial “hey Sam, you should put together a program about books for next summer,” was handed to me last summer, and I started brainstorming for ideas that would be interesting, fun, different, and appealing (hopefully) to adults in that tough library demographic of 25-45 years old or so – people who are out of college and working full time and either don’t usually come to the library or only come in for kids programs.

Early ideas involved bringing in a variety of speakers, like book reviewers from the area newspapers, bookstore people, local writers group people, etc. to talk about their favorite summer reads. But I had to ask myself – can I get these speakers to come and speak for free? And, even if i got them to come, who would attend the program – would it appeal to that tough demographic?

This got me thinking about the social activities of that age group. At the same time, i was working with the library on a Library 2.0 initiative to get our staff up to speed with Web 2.0 through one of the 23 Things programs. So what I thought was, there’s all this focus on social media – read/write culture, etc. A lot of that read/write culture is being propagated by adults in the age range I’m appealing to. So it started to make sense to design a program that worked in the same way that social media works – the audience is also the speaker. So, instead of bringing in experts to tell us what they think we should read, bring in people from the community to share what they actually read – whether it’s a best seller, an obscure gem, non-fiction, deep philosphical stuff, poetry, whatever. Because it’s not hard to find a list of critics picks, or best sellers, or top ten, or stuff like that.

Next came the part where I try to get people interested in taking part in the program. So, I started making these little short videos of myself talking about books. The first few videos i did in my living room, holding the book in front of me, with most of my head cut off by the frame, so i couldn’t be identified. I did a few serious reviews this way, but mostly goofy stuff, a kind of “what not to do,” of book reviews, like treating the book like a puppet and having it talk about what’s inside, or reading aloud out of “The Anatomy Of Melancholy,” or composing poetry about Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer books. It did what i needed it to do, however, in that it gave me some short video to experiment with online. I learned how to do some simple editing with the software on my computer, how to upload things to various locations on the internet. Because I had nine or ten of these things, i could experiment with various widgets and things to see how they worked in a variety of settings. What i ended up settling on was blip.tv and youtube. YouTube is huge, and if you get lucky there, your video can get hundreds or thousands of views, which might lead a few interested viewers to the rest of the work. Blip.tv lets you cross-post your video to a wide variety of other sites, like a blog, twitter, del.icio.us, and more. So, by uploading the video twice, i put it in quite a few different online locations. I talked to some people at the library about what i was working on, and got the go ahead to keep up the work on it – but they wanted me to show my face and be a little more serious – like do real reviews and things like that. So, off I went to pursue that.

I realized at this point that in order to follow the rules of basic blogging (post regularly, often enough that people don’t forget about you but not so often that people don’t bother with half your posts), I would need help. I can read a book a week, when driven to do so by extraordinary circumstances, and I’ve read a few hundred memorable books, but if i wanted to get a better cross section of the wide variety of material available, I would have to get other people to do videos. That was harder than i thought it would be – what with the wide array and popularity of reality shows, i figured it would be a cinch to get people to go on camera for one minute. Slowly i found some people who didn’t mind and who would agree to do more than one.

So, I set a goal for 100 videos by May 2008, about six months after posting the first ‘real’ video in the series. I posted the 100th video in early June, so I just missed my mark, but i still feel like i had a successful first six months.

Some of the numbers as of today:

On YouTube, the OMC videos have had over 10,000 views. Most of the videos, after a month or so online, average about 30 views. About ten of the videos have had more than 200 views, and one video (One Minute Murakami) has had over 1,700 views.

On Blip.tv, the OMC videos have had almost 6,000 views. The view rates and averages are similar to YouTube, but (obviously) lower by about 40% all around. Interestingly enough, One Minute Murakami is not one of the top videos here. Instead, the top video is One Minute Murder Mysteries, with almost 800 views.

As far as comments and responses go, most comments seem to be for titles targeting younger audiences, like Generation Dead, Gregor The Overlander, and Lord Loss. A few authors seem to have their outspoken supporters and detractors among adults – Murakami and P.G. Wodehouse, for example.

Now back to the program overall – the videos were moving along, and quickly became an entity separate from the program. If the evening program failed to materialize, the videos were still an interesting and by all accounts successful project. Planning for the OMC continued right along, and I used a variety of methods to market it, including the old fashioned flyer/poster method, bookmarks to be handed out with every checkout, and packets of bookmarks and flyers sent to many different local book groups. I also spoke with a lot of my friends and fellow staff about coming to the event. My big ‘bribe’ for the event was that everyone who came and reviewed a book would get a free book to take home with them. These books were all different, and reflected a cross section of quality fiction and non-fiction literature. Titles ranged from classic to modern, represented authors from all over the world, male and female authors, etc.

I was able, with the funds I was given, to purchase 55 books as giveaways. At the event 25 books were given away, which leaves 30 leftovers – thus making the next installment of the program a lot cheaper.

Up until about two weeks before the program, I had no intention of videoing people at the event. That had never been part of the planning, and even though it turned out to be a great idea, it just wasn’t something i was thinking about. Strange, I know. A series of small misunderstandings (understandable, given the popularity and visibility of the videos) led some staff to believe that the program was specifically to gather more videos from the public. So, to accommodate that expectation, we gave people the option of being filmed or not – that way, people who are uncomfortable being filmed did not have to be filmed, and those who were expecting to be filmed would have their expectation fulfilled.

The night of the program:

We set up our library meeting hall in a slightly different way than for other programs, placing the equivalent of a stage in one corner of the hall, with a backdrop normally used for taking portrait photos as the background. For a set, we used a comfy chair, a bookcase full of books, and a coat rack with a coat on it. I like to think it made people feel a little more comfortable to be able to sit down and have some familiar and cozy elements around them while they talked.

As people entered, we greeted them and asked them to sign up for a time slot to review their book. Some people came only to watch, others planned on only watching and then decided at the last minute to review something. Consequently, not everyone had a book in hand to show while they did their review, but everyone was very supportive of each other, and it didn’t seem to be an issue. Some people came in and asked if they could go first, because they had to go, so we let them in near the top of the list – i don’t think anyone was put out by being moved a slot or two down the list to let someone else ahead. In the future, if we had a full roster, then we wouldn’t be able to do that.

Eventually, we had around 25 people signed up to talk, and just shy of 40 people total in the room. I started things off by introducing myself and my colleagues, the program and its general purpose – to introduce people in the community to books that other people in the community are reading – and then I did a review of a book I had read, to give people an idea of about how long the review should be. Then i sat with my camera and called people up as they were listed. On the list we had an option for people to decide if they wanted to be filmed or not, and over half the people said that filming was OK, so we were able to collect 14 videos of the event.

Most people were able to complete their review in around two minutes. One minute seemed like a tough mark for most folks to adhere to – at one minute, they were still just getting started. Because we weren’t crunched for time, I wasn’t a stickler about it, except in cases where it looked like the person was rambling a little to much, which only happened a couple times that night.

After the final review was done, everyone was invited to take their free book, which was wrapped in paper to make it a mystery – and open it up to see what they got. Some people were really excited and happy with what they got, and others seemed a little mystified, miffed, or disappointed. One gentleman, who had received a collection of Alice Munro short stories, traded with an older woman who had received a copy of William Gibson’s “Neuromancer.”

There were two younger reviewers at the program, a middle-school aged boy and a 9 year old girl. All the book gifts were targeted to adult readers, so they each got a book that they might not have been ready for. I’m not sure what the boy got, but the girl ended up with a copy of “The Inimitable Jeeves,” by P.G. Wodehouse. Probably not a bad find for a kid, compared to something like “Bastard Out Of Carolina,” or “Killer Inside Me.”

In the future:

Possibly a small selection of books for younger readers – but I still want the focus to be on adults, so I think those will just be on hand, and not advertised.

Probably limit number of speakers to 45 max for the 2 hour program. The first 15 minutes of the program were spent signing people up, snacking, and chatting. Reviews took up 2-3 minutes each all in all, and the opening of the books afterward was a lot of fun and gave people a chance to talk and unwind. If we had a full roster of 45, that would be 90 minutes of the 2 hour program, at best. Plus, there were a lot of people who just came to watch, so 45 speakers would probably mean 60-75 attendees, maybe.

Maybe have a sign or something to wave at people who are going over 2 minutes, to let them know they need to wrap it up – What do you think, “Wrap it up,” or “10 Seconds” or something else?

Definitely keep the food – the fruit platter was a big hit, but the cheese platter not so much. Decaf coffee was a big hit, but soda pop not so much. I’m thinking fruit platter, cookies, coffee, water.

Other future developments:

Aside from doing a public invite program, the OMC will also move into some forms of outreach – in August we’ll be riding with the bookmobile to a variety of assisted living facilities. Through July, the bookmobile staff will be encouraging people there to think of a book they’d want to share with others. I’ll go in August with the camera and film interested parties, and in September the outreach staff will return with the videos on a disk to show them on a laptop.

Also, we’re looking at attending various teen book clubs and the young adult advisory board meetings, and having a time at the beginning of the meeting where teens can talk for a minute about the discussion book, or about a book of their choice.

A lot of people ask me if anyone has wanted to do a book that someone else has already done – this was a concern for the evening event, as well. But so far, out of almost 130 reviews, no one has even mentioned wanting to do a book that someone else has done. Most people choose books that they consider gems, things they want other people to know about that they might not hear about anywhere else.

If you have any questions about the event, or the videos, or the program in general, don’t hesitate to comment! Thanks.
Sam

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1 Comment

  1. Jason said,

    Greetings,

    I came across your blog post regarding book clubs. I’m Jason Pfeifer, and some friends and I started an online service called Booksprouts, that allows people to create book clubs, choose books, invite friends, and read and discuss online. We are currently seeking people who might be interested in trying the site out, and giving us feedback on the service. We also welcome people who have blogs to write reviews of the site (good or bad) as a means of feedback. We’re really excited to hear what people think, and on how we can improve the site. It’s 100% free, by the way. Please feel free to check it out.

    book clubs

    regards,

    Jason Pfeifer
    Community Manager
    Booksprouts.com

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