Monday, October 05, 2009

Book Fair And Turku Thoughts

The Turku International Book Fair was this weekend and, as usual, much of it was spent meeting friends and talking about different fandom-related things.

The Turku science fiction societies’ display booth (it used to be the “Finnish science fiction” booth, but this year just the local societies were invited) looked very nice. It was at a new location (in the hall with the second-hand book stores, where it felt, at least to me, more at home than in the big hall with the publishers, book stores, etc.) and very well organized. There weren’t too many things there so everything was on display where you could actually read the info posters and browse the products. And the sofa plus table were great, creating a cozy space to sit down for a moment, rest, and talk to people.

I don’t think I’ve ever spent so little time browsing the book stores as this year (I mainly grabbed a few small press books here and there and skipped the rest), but there seemed to be so much to do on the one day I spent at the fair this year, and I kept bumping into people I knew and stopping for a chat. This year I was also involved in one program item: a panel discussion about the future of books I put together. We discussed mainly e-books and their impact on writing, publishing, and reading books. The discussion went very well and we had a few positive comments from the audience afterwards. There was also considerable interest in the e-book readers we bought with us: after the discussion many people came to see and try them out and ask many questions.

The book fair always brings friends from across the country to Turku, and this year was no exception. Suffice it to say that Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights were spent eating well, smoffing (hopefully something concrete will follow in the near future), and drinking bheer. Thanks everybody for the great company, you know who you are!

A meeting of the Finncon association was held on Saturday, where the agenda was to iron out some bugs found in the association’s rules and make some modifications to accommodate things that were discovered not to work so well. I think we have it now; there will be a second meeting in December where the new rules will (hopefully) be ratified.

On Saturday there was a big town hall–style meeting about the future of the different sf societies in Turku. Three societies were represented: TSFS, The Turku University sf club, and the Finnish Science Fiction Writers Association. The societies have a problem with active members: too few people are doing too much, and they are getting burnt out. There were many members of the active fandom from Turku and other cities too, and I think a lot of good discussion was had.

In my opinion it seemed the local societies had realized the problem very well and had quite rational a perspective on it—a lot of the time it seemed others were commenting and suggesting things the actives themselves already knew to be true. But perhaps it sometimes helps to have somebody “from the outside” say things out loud.

Maybe the biggest issue that was singled out was that quite a few people were active in many societies at the same time. It is of course always easiest to recruit new people from friends that are already active, but this creates two problems that were discussed: first, if you’re active in two or three societies, it often means you’re able to only give half or one third to those activities each, thus lessening the amount of actives they have (providing that a replacement could have been found to take care of some of the tasks). Admittedly, one third of a very active person’s effort can be a lot, but even in those cases the years tend to add up and the person might gafiate a lot sooner because all the activities just require too much time and energy. The second problem is that when different societies are doing projects together, if you have a few people who are active in all of them, there’s a danger that they will just try to work things out between themselves and forget to tell the others, thus accidentally shutting out even those who are active in only one society.

One of the things many people pointed out was that since this was a meeting of the Turku societies, the FSFWA shouldn’t have been there in the first place since it is supposed to be a national association. In recent years, it has gravitated more and more towards Turku, found new actives there and organized a lot of events, but at some cost of activities elsewhere. It was recommended that for the next year the association will concentrate on extending its reach outside Turku and finding actives in other cities. That would make it easier to function on the national level and also would tax less the people in Turku. A very good first sign of this is that the association’s meeting where next year’s things will be decided will be held outside of Turku (October 24 in Helsinki).

The role of different societies (besides FSFWA) was also discussed and I think there were many good points about each finding their own focus and concentrating better on it. You can still do cooperation where advantageous, of course, but by finding “your own thing” the different societies might better attract different kinds of people to their ranks.

A lot was talked about communication and distribution of information. This seems to be one of the biggest problems with the societies. People hang out together and talk about stuff, but they are lacking official channels and information isn’t forwarded to all people (this is something that has also popped out in conversation several times earlier, even concerning communication within the board of one society, not just between different societies). I hope the actives found at least some suggestions useful and are able to do something about this—they seemed very aware of the problem, so the will to fix it will hopefully also be found.

Another part of communication that was criticized (and rightly so) by the “ordinary” members was informing the members and the public about the dealings of the societies. There isn’t a lot of information about what the board members are doing, and the e-mail lists are too silent. (A good example was the starting time of the meeting: it apparently was changed in face-to-face planning between local people, but nobody else planning to attend wasn’t informed until the new time almost by accident came up in e-mail conversation a couple of days earlier.) This is something I’ve seen also on the Finncon 2011 planning list: there is virtually no traffic there so if you don’t hang out at the club house it’s very difficult to participate. There was talk about some upcoming fancy information portal, but what it will be and when it will materialize remains to be seen. In the meantime, it was suggested the e-mail lists be used more, but this is one of the things I don’t think very likely to happen.

All in all I think the meeting was productive. One of the biggest fears beforehand, that there won’t be enough people to form the boards of all the societies next year, was in my opinion alleviated effectively: there seemed to be some interest in the matter and I don’t think this will be a big problem if the current boards don’t shut out the people willing to participate. And besides, the TSFS “emergency plan B” didn’t actually sound half bad—something along those lines should perhaps be considered for promoting into part of a working plan A. It even generated some outside interest of participation after the meeting.

I think calling together this open meeting to discuss things was an excellent idea. The critical next step is to think hard about all that was said and be prepared to actually effect change, even if it means doing things a bit differently from what comes naturally to you. I really hope we will see this happen!

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