If you had to pick the very best children’s book of all-time, your first choice might not be, The Scholastic Book of World Records, 2009.* As far as I know, the book has not made it to the top of any critic’s lists. But in at least one Wisconsin elementary school, this book reigns supreme. Last week, the students crowned this book as champion in their school library’s March Madness Book Bracket.
The school’s awesome and talented librarian organized the contest. Disclaimer: the librarian is my mother. But family connections aside, this campaign is a great example of social media at its best. March Madness style brackets are a popular way to organize social media campaigns. In this case, my mom had students vote on their sixteen favorite books through four head-to-head rounds. The students used Google+ and Destiny Quest to vote on each round and to share their own personal picks with their peers.
The original field of contenders was determined by the audience; the Sweet Sixteen was composed of the most-frequently-checked-out books, seeded by popularity. Some of the results were surprising to my mom. She knew that Diary of a Wimpy Kid was a popular series, but would not have guessed that Rodrick Rules would turn out to be the #1 most-checked out book in the school. And I am guessing that Sardine in Outer Space might not make it into her personal top 5 list.
As Dana Allen-Greil and Matthew MacArthur note, social media can heighten a cultural institution’s impact through “true dialogue and mutual understanding with those whom they claim to serve.” This requires knowing your audience and actually trusting them with the power to create content. In this case, it required allowing students to be the experts on what makes a good book.
The March Madness Book Bracket was fun for all, but it was also a good way to learn. Students used computer skills, created pie charts to analyze the voting results, and got really excited about reading their favorite books.
The important lesson here? Social media is not just about spreading the word. Nor is it just about encouraging participation. Utilizing social media to its fullest potential requires collaborating with your audiences to fulfill your mission, whatever it may be, whether you are a teacher, curator, publisher, or historian.
*I am left with one pressing question: What makes The Scholastic Book of World Records, 2009 better than The Scholastic Book of World Records, 2010 or 2011 or 2012? I know who to ask!