‘Fan literacy’ – on my conversation with Dr. Matt Finch

Last Autumn I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Dr. Matt Finch, as part of his ongoing column in CILIP’s Information Professional magazine. Matt’s column explores new notions of literacy in the 21st century, and, in a world where many young people learn to navigate digital and online spaces through fandom, we were able to discuss how ‘fan literacy’ is one of the most important ways that information literacy is achieved particularly among younger generations of internet users. Yet information literacy is rarely discussed in these terms.

My interest in the liminal spaces between fandom and LIS really began in 2009, when I joined an online fan community for The Sims computer game, called CTO Sims (sadly now defunct). Apart from the main forum, there was also an archive of sorts – a space where fan-made custom content from this old game was collected, stored, and curated. Over time, I became an administrator and informal ‘archivist’ of the site, and it never ceased to amaze me how information literate we all were as a community – even though I never thought about it in terms of information literacy at the time. Some of us would go on ‘rescue missions’, downloading custom content en masse before the host site could go down, using rudimentary tools such as the DownThemAll Firefox extension. If a site had already gone down, we’d see what we could salvage using the Wayback Machine. We arranged everything in our archive according to site, function, and type. It was digital archivism. All done by passionate fans and amateurs.

But CTO Sims was much more than this. As a community it was a place to share, to learn, to teach. People wrote tutorials and FAQ’s. Members came together to build beautiful, virtual worlds in monthly contests, and celebrated events by gifting the custom-content they had made. Others created themed rec lists, pointing members in the direction of the best sites to find what they wanted for their builds. And the old-timers mentored the ‘newbies’ in the skills they’d taught themselves over the years.

My custom-made X-Men Sims in a virtual Danger Room.

I learned how to mesh and create game assets through the CTO Sims community. I wanted X-Men for my Sims game, and there weren’t any, so I had to learn how to make them myself. And when I couldn’t find all the appropriate items to build the Danger Room in my virtual Xavier Institute, I had to learn to make those items myself too. These are not soft skills. These are hard, tech skills, ones that I learned not by going on a course, but by reading the tutorials written by fellow fans, by the mentoring of those in the community who had also had to teach themselves. And what we created, we shared. We announced them with pride. We turned our new skills into making gifts for the rest of the community, uploading them to the archive so anyone could download them.

When I started my Library Science Masters at CityLIS, I began to see the overlaps between what we were doing in CTO Sims and LIS. That overlap, between passionate fandom and LIS, became the foundation of my Masters dissertation, which ended up being a virtual ethnography of the information behaviour within CTO Sims. What I found was that CTO Sims was an information eco-system, in complex and exciting ways – informal and non-proscriptive ways, to be sure – but in a manner that was rich and vibrant. And as I continue on my journey both as a fan and as an information professional, I see that richness, that vibrancy, throughout the fan communities I inhabit.

As I explained to Matt, fandom is place where new kinds of expertise are developed, ones that can rise to challenges and problems in new and innovative ways. Being a fan doesn’t necessarily mean you are a qualified computer science professional, but it doesn’t stop you from coming together with other fans to build a tagging system that does away with most of the inherent messiness of traditional folksonomies, and is probably the envy of many a professional subject heading authority. It doesn’t stop you from using your language skills to create scanlations (fan-made translations) of manga for fellow fans. It doesn’t stop K-pop stans from using their fancams to protest far right political discourse on Twitter. And it doesn’t stop Sims fans from teaching the community how to game mod.

This is what I mean by ‘fan literacy’ – fandom isn’t merely a place to squee and geek out (though there is that). It’s a place to learn to navigate the digital world in a way that is sometimes completely outside the box. You don’t solve problems because you have to – you solve them because you want to, sometimes obsessively so. You don’t go looking for information because it’s work; you do it because it’s play. Fan literacy, fan information literacy, is pleasurable, sociable, generous and ludic. And it sticks. Because it satisfies a core need within us – the need to create… and the need to belong.


You can read Matt Finch’s column on fan literary in the Jan-Feb 2021 issue of Information Professional; or you can listen to our hour-long interview here.

 

CFP: Building Bridges: exploring interdisciplinary intersections between fandom, fan studies and library and information science.

Image © Ludi Price CC-BY-NC-SA

Call for Presentations – all authors welcome!

***Rescheduled to 20th May 2021***

***Please note that this call has now closed, and the Programme and registration details will be available soon!***

One day CityLIS symposium to explore the intersection between fandom, fan studies and library and information science. April 9th 2020 at City, University of London.

Recently the fan studies community has become interested in building bridges between different cultures and disciplines, with Dr. Naomi Jones, during the Fan Studies Network Conference 2018, emphasising the importance of interdisciplinarity in moving the field forward. This challenge was taken up by Kelley, Price, Schuster and Wang in the Fan Studies Network Conference of 2019, where they presented their interdisciplinary, collaborative project on fandom, which started in the Spring of 2018. This collaboration brought together scholars from the fields of cultural studies, the digital humanities, and library and information science to talk about fandom and fan practice, and has allowed a wider exchange of ideas between disciplines.

In common with fan studies, library and information science has a keen interest in the utility of their research outside the field, and in understanding to what extent it produces an impact outside its own disciplinary boundaries. For example, while library and information science (LIS) has a rich history of user studies, its impact outside of the field is less clear, despite multidisciplinary studies being shown to have more impact (Ellegaard & Wallin, 2015). Thus, it would seem that this is the perfect opportunity to bring members of these two disciplines – fan studies and LIS – together, in order to move the concept of ‘interdisciplinarity’ away from just a subject of conversation, towards something real and tangible.

Fan practice shows many parallels with the interests of information professionals, such as librarians, archivists and curators. Fans are ardent collectors (Geraghty, 2014); they take pride in the classification of their work; they develop best practice in the preservation of fanworks (Swalwell et al., 2017); and as some of the first adopters of the internet (Jenkins, 2006), they are comfortable using technological innovations which many information professionals have yet to embrace. Other fan activities with which LIS has overlapping engagement are the publishing of fanfiction as mainstream literature (Peckosie & Hill, 2015), classification of fanfiction, such as on the Archive of Our Own (Price, 2019), and copyright, to name but a few. Rarely, however, does LIS literature acknowledge the relevance of work carried out in the fan studies discipline, e.g. Versaphile’s (2011) look at the preservation of fannish history and Johnson’s (2014) look at fanfiction metadata. Likewise, there is little evidence that fan studies authors are aware of the rich troves of relevant work carried out within the LIS discipline. This creates a significant lacuna in knowledge, which could be assuaged by a less siloed approach to research conversations.

This symposium aims to be part of the nascent interdisciplinary dialogue, by bringing together scholars from fan studies, LIS and beyond, to find commonalities, inspire new conversations, and reveal hidden and unexpected intersections that will enrich the current discourse of fandom and fan practice.

We welcome proposals for 20 minute presentations relating to topics that draw links between, and are relevant to, issues both within fan studies, fandom and LIS, and to other liminal spaces associated with these disparate disciplines. We encourage work that presents perspectives from non-Western and transcultural standpoints.

Topics can include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Beta-reading and the fan as editor
  • Classifying fanworks, e.g. tagging, fan genres
  • Fandom and libraries/archives/museums/galleries
  • Fanzines, and fan self-publishing
  • Fandom and information literacy
  • Fandom, education and peer-learning
  • Fandom and cultural memory
  • Crowdsourcing
  • Fan news and fans as ‘citizen journalists’
  • Fandom and the digital humanities
  • Fans as author
  • Fans as collectors and curators
  • Participatory culture
  • Fandom and social media
  • Preservation of fanworks, including complex objects such as costume, figurines, dolls, gaming mods, etc.
  • Collaborative projects between fans and cultural institutions such as libraries, archives and museums

We are hoping to receive proposals from people from all stages in their academic career, including students and early career researchers; and also from people of colour and other cultural/non-Western backgrounds. We are open to longer style workshop and installation-type formats.

Please send your 500 word proposals to both Ludi Price at Ludovica.Price@city.ac.uk and Lyn Robinson at lyn@city.ac.uk by midnight on December 31st 2019.

Authors of successful proposals will be notified by January 31st 2020. Presenters will be expected to make their own way to City, University of London, but there will be no charge for presenting at, or attending the event, which we hope will be accessible to all those interested in fandom and LIS.

We are looking into open access publishing options for the proceedings of this event.

References

Ellegaard, O., and Wallin, J. A. (2015). The bibliometric analysis of scholarly production: How great is the impact? Scientometrics, 105(3), 1809-1831. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11192-015-1645-z

Geraghty, L. (2014). Cult Collectors: Nostalgia, Fandom and Collecting Popular Culture. Abingdon: Routledge.

Jenkins, H. (2006). Fans, Bloggers and Gamers: Essays on Participatory Culture: Exploring Participatory Culture. New York: New York University Press.

Johnson, S. F. (2014). Fan fiction metadata creation and utilization within fan fiction archives: three primary methods. Transformative Works and Cultures, 17. http://dx.doi.org/10.3983/twc.2014.0578

Peckosie, J., and Hill, H. L. (2015). Beyond traditional publishing models: an examination of the relationships between authors, readers, and publishers. Journal of Documentation, 71(3), 609-626. https://doi.org/10.1108/JD-10-2013-0133

Price, L. (2019). Fandom, Folksonomies and Creativity: the case of the Archive of Our Own. In: Haynes, D. and Vernau, J. (eds.). The Human Position in an Artificial World: Creativity, Ethics and AI in Knowledge Organization, ISKO UK Sixth Biennial Conference London, 15-16th July 2019, 11-37. https://doi.org/10.5771/9783956505508-11

Swalwell, M., Ndalianis, A., and Stuckey, H. (eds.) (2017). Fans and Videogames: Histories, Fandom, Archives. New York: Routledge.

Versaphile (2011). Silence in the library: archives and the preservation of fannish history. Transformative Works and Cultures, 6. http://dx.doi.org/10.3983/twc.2011.0277

This is a cross post originally published on the CityLIS blog.

 

EDIT 25 Oct 2019:

Authors are permitted to submit two proposals. To allow everyone a chance to present and to balance the programme, authors can expect that only one proposal will be accepted in the instance of a successful submission.

EDIT 31 Jan 2020: This call is now closed.

Our programme, and bookings for registration will be published shortly. Please check back for updates!