It’s been a long time since this reporter has been to camp, but this past weekend I was invited to attend Book Camp NY, a curious but lively gathering organized by e-book retailer Kobo and Open Sky, an online startup that combines social networking and e-commerce. Held at the Open Sky loft/offices on W. 18 St., Book Camp NY was an “unconference,” a seemingly unstructured gathering of book and new media professionals to talk spontaneously about the transformation of books and publishing by technology and social media.

Sponsored by the likes of Cursor, Richard Nash’s much anticipated startup publishing venture, O’Reilly Media, Kobo and Moveable Type, Book Camp NY turned out to be a thoroughly enjoyable way to spend a Saturday afternoon. Like most attendees, I received an email invitation that explained it would be an unconference, a kind of spontaneous gathering of like-minded professionals who would then organize themselves, set an itinerary, select topics for discussion and moderators, load up on the copiously supplied coffee and snacks and talk about the future of publishing.

That’s more of less what happened although it was clear that among the 100 or so book folks invited, a few moderators and hosts had been seeded, just to make sure everyone didn’t stand around waiting for something to happen. Not that there was any real danger of that happening considering the go-getters who were there. The experience of Book Camp NY was like having my Twitter Feed come to life: a lot of the interesting book/new media folks I follow and banter with online were there in the flesh, talking and joking about the same things they usually do online. After an opening brainstorming session, groups formed in different spots and offices throughout the loft and held informal “panels” on a number of topics. Indeed it was kind like going to a super informal, well, conference, where people gathered in small to larger groups exchanging views on everything from the future of book publishing to how to develop apps.

A shortlist of attendees would include Bob Miller, Richard Nash, Laura Dawson, Don Linn, Sarah Weinman, Brian O’Leary, Jim Hanas, Guy Gonzalez, Matthew Cavnar, Kate Travers, Kate Meyer, Charlotte Abbott, Ron Hogan, John Oakes, Kate Rados, Jason Boog, Ami Greko and lots more thoughtful and cool bookish (or book related) folks. In fact that may have been the big takeaway from what I originally thought was a dubious project—publishing imp and Twitter “agent” @EvilWylie even sent me a tweet to “take a sleeping bag” when I tweeted that I would attend—not to mention having to give up a Saturday. While the unconference wasn’t really so unstructured—there were discussions on everything from bookstores to indie Rock to how self-publish an e-book, to of course, Open Sky itself—the best thing about Book Camp NY was that it was unvirtual.

The topics, people and many of the responses had been heard before, online and up on the stages of the digital media conference circuit. But at Book Camp NY the exchanges were up close and personal; a chance to talk face to face and make plans to meet later and, to be fair, I was so busy jumping from group to group I missed a lot of the details of any particular discussion group. But I didn’t miss any of the personalities. There was no need to logon to hear Don Linn’s cranky reflections on the latest baffling move by a publisher, to hear Brian O’Leary’s wry insights on the economic effluvia of DRM or to listen to Ron Hogan talk about connecting people to books. The whole cast of characters was right in front of you and frankly, that was pretty cool.