#OhBoyTolstoy – Or, We Made a Podcast

War and Peace in VT 2

I read “War and Peace” on my vacation…

This Summer I, and 3 librarian colleagues from the Arlington Public Library, set off on a multi-layered, virtual book club project called “The Big Book Club: Oh Boy, Tolstoy!

The librarians’ goal, along with the 200+ people who registered to join us, was to read “War and Peace.”

My goal was to successfully run a weekly facebook group chat about “War and Peace,” and to make a weekly podcast.

Podcast recording 1

Jennie, Pete and Megan at work in our make-shift studio…

Our collective  secondary goal was also to test the community building powers of an online book club. You can read/listen to one participant’s experience on her radio show, Choose to be Curious.

14 weeks, 17 episode later, and 2 surveys later…

  • We finished the book. And the 2 epilogues.
  • We had robust online conversations every Sunday night, with between 24 and 68 people “attending.”
  • We created a weekly podcast (available on iTunes and wherever you get your favorite podcasts) that documents both the reading of the book, and the project.

Results of the surveys, based on the 200+ people who registered for the original Big Book Club program:

  • We had a 25% return rate on the overall program survey.
  • We have actionable ideas about what did and didn’t work for different people.
  • We had 50% return rate on the survey about which book to read for our Winter session.

Moving forward, doing it better/differently

“War and Peace” is a freaking long book, and some of us just don’t read that fast. Some of us want to meet in person sometimes. Some of us get burned out having to make a podcast every week…

  • Strategic podcast recording – To make my editing time shorter, I’m setting restrictions on how much time we can spend recording this time. 30 minutes of audio is more than enough, but I’ll be aiming for 20 maximum. Basically, I spent too much time editing this summer.
  • Shorter book and reading period – Measurable participation dropped off sharply after the first month and a half for “War and Peace,” and while we don’t know if it was the book, the fact that it was summer, or that people hated us, we’re leaning strongly towards finding way to adjust the first two (since at least we can work with those). Thus we’ve chosen “Middlemarch,” by George Eliot, which is about 700+ pages, and we’ll read it in less than 2 and a half months.
  • Built in reading / catch up breaks – This time we’ll have “Off weeks” with no reading assignment, where readers can get caught up, or read ahead, or take a break.
  • Different discussion platform – We’re going to try Goodreads’s book discussion platform for our winter session. We had participants who did not want to use Facebook. In addition, 3/4 of the way through our program FB shut one of our moderators out of her account due to “suspicious activity” after she tried to log in from an unusual location… and I just don’t have time to jump through all of their hoops. Hopefully everyone who is interested in participating will be willing to follow us over to Goodreads.
  • In person meet ups – Several less tech-comfortable group members expressed that they wished they had people to talk to in real life about reading War and Peace, so this time we’ll use those Off Weeks to hold casual in person gatherings, to see each other face to face.

The next book is “Middlemarch,” so we start “The Big Book Club: Ides of Middlemarch” in January, and end, well, in the middle of March, or course.

Look for the podcast teaser on Monday, Nov. 26, and a special “Big Book Club: Game of Books” mini episode in mid-December…

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