Some notes on what LIS can learn from fan information behaviour

A couple of years back I gave a talk during #citymash entitled ‘NSFW: Fanfiction in the Library’, which was more or less an exploratory dive into how LIS can learn from fan information behaviour. (My original blog post on this event can be found here. You can also read the handout for the talk here).

Recently I found the notes I took from audience members during the talk, which were very helpful in helping formulate some of the theories later developed in my PhD thesis.  I’ve decided to do a little rundown of these notes (plus some discussion), which might be of interest, particularly to those who are thinking about what LIS can learn from fan information practices (and that of other participatory cultures.  Trust me – there is lots we can learn!).

So here we are – some comments from the audience

-oOo-

Fan information behaviour is fun.

The implication being that information behaviour in professional/academic/research/mundane contexts is not. Is this strictly true? If not, how can LIS make their systems fun for users to engage with? If yes, then what can we do to harness the pleasurable aspects of information behaviour that we are not already tapping into?

Tagging only makes sense to me.

One audience member thought that the only aspect of fan information behaviour that could be successfully incorporated into LIS systems is tagging.  But free tagging has already been instituted on many online library, museum and gallery catalogues, with only limited success, and hasn’t seen the wide-ranging and innovative usage that manifests on platforms such as AO3 and Tumblr.

You need a feeling of community for it to work.

Users need to have a strong sense of community; they need to be invested in the institution and/or the thing that it stands for.  Otherwise they will not be motivated to contribute to participatory classification activities (such as free tagging), or other initiatives that may be beneficial to institutional information work.  Certain groups, such as scholars, amateur genealogists, historians, movie enthusiasts etc., already have the requisite investment in a certain domain – however the degree of their involvement in participatory information behaviour is variable, and whilst similar in some ways to fan information behaviour, is arguably less intense.

Publicity and discussion is needed to foster a sense of community and investment in collections.

Are there people who already have that vested interest in your collection? Who are passionate about it? Find those people and engage with them.  What do they have to offer?  What do they think are the best ways to publicise your collection and engage others with them?

AO3 is creating a collection of deleted fanworks.

Fans are very interested in preserving their cultural history and the artefacts associated with it.  They are able to think outside the box and come together on a voluntary basis to preserve their fannish history.  Maybe passionate users of memory institution collections have ideas about how works they are interested in can best be preserved, curated and showcased.

There’s a similarity between big name scholars and big name fans (BNF).  The cliques that form around BNF and their influence can be toxic to the community.  There can be gaming the system, such as getting fans of the BNF to increase hits, reviews and positive spin on their work.

The comment implies that scholarship suffers from the same sorts of problems, such as skewed metrics and citation practices.

Library systems could be more user-focused.

There is a trend towards this, with more ‘interactive’ functions, such as scrolling book covers, free-tagging affordances, and the ability to create reading lists – are these initiatives successful, and do they engender passionate, fan-like information behaviour?  How can we make using the library catalogue ‘pleasurable’?

Friction is an issue – there is less friction for fans when using their information systems.

There is plenty of friction in fan information systems, but because fans are invested in the system (and sometimes because they actually own, develop or maintain the system), they are more motivated to create workarounds or improve that system.  Perhaps information professionals can engage with users about friction points and how to overcome them.

MARC cataloguing – can it be used to catalogue fanworks?

MARC cataloguing standards are not readily transparent and there is a learning curve to using and understanding them.  Most people outside of LIS have not heard of MARC or know of its purpose.  Similarly, standards such as the Library of Congress subject headings are not granular enough to cater for the specificities of fandom. Therefore fans do not generally use these standards to catalogue their works – indeed, most fanworks have no standard bibliographical data applied to them.  Is there a way that those standards can be mapped onto the cataloguing standards that have already been developed by the fan community?

Fan-tagging type systems already exist for ‘normal’ books.

These can be seen in many OPACs or online catalogues, although usage appears to be low.  The tagging system on LibraryThing is much more widely used and successful, as the LibraryThing community has a vested interested in their own libraries (and, perhaps, books themselves). They can also contribute obscure information about books, including different editions, acquisition information, and even upload their own covers for books.  There is a sense that they are contributing to the catalogue, and enriching the experiences of other LibraryThing users.  This is not apparent in standard online catalogues.

-oOo-

So that’s it for the discussions that came out of my talk.  Lots to think about. One thing that stuck out to be as I was going back on these was the point that I copied out in bold in the previous paragraph – “enriching the experiences of other LibraryThing users”. I believe this is of primary importance in building participatory information behaviours and systems.  It isn’t merely a case of being personally invested in the collection, but also in the community around it.  It is about improving, enriching, and sharing accurate and interesting knowledge about the collection with other users who share your passion.  It is about contributing value to a community.  It is even about sharing your own knowledge capital – I know a really rare fact about a limited edition of this book, and I want everyone else to know I know. I can reference a really obscure comic issue/TV episode in my fanfiction, and I’m going to tag it so everyone else can know I know about it.  I live in the road where this photo in this archive was taken, so I’m going to share my personal knowledge of this road to enrich peoples’ knowledge of this place with my own.). Tapping into what users have to offer the entire community, and making them feel that their knowledge is valuable, is key to concepts of participatory engagement in information work.

 

 

 

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My newborn fanfiction book collection

I recently decided to start a collection of fanfiction books.

This may seem like a bit of an oxymoron, especially nowadays when most fanfic is published online and most fans aren’t even aware it exists in book form.  When you say ‘print fanfic’, most people think you mean fanzines.  But I’m talking about books, actual fanfic printed in book format. I can’t say exactly what spurred on my sudden decision to collect fanfic books, especially when a good portion of its contents already exist online, and free.  Maybe it’s just the bibliophile in me.  Maybe it’s just the librarian in me.  Maybe it’s just the collector in me.  Maybe it’s just the fan. Most likely it’s all of the above.

I was first introduced to the idea of fanfic in book form in the mid-2000’s when my sister’s friend sent her a beautiful illustrated book of her fanfic (which I briefly mentioned a long time ago in a previous blog post). It looked so gorgeous, so professional, that the concept stuck in my mind, and a few years later I published my own fic in book form. This was more for my own benefit than anyone else’s.  I just really wanted to hold my own words in my hands, to leaf through them, to annotate them, to put them on my book shelves just like the other treasured tomes I possess. It turned out that there were a small number of fans who also wanted copies, and so I opened up access to the books on Lulu.com

The first few books of my new collection…

It wasn’t until I started research on my Ph.D. that I discovered that the fanfiction book was more common than I first thought it was.  I was doing a random search for my ship on Amazon when I discovered a certain book that I may also have mentioned in a previous blog post. I bought a copy (for research purposes initially), mainly because I was intrigued that this book of fanfic was being sold (presumably for money) on a major online bookstore, and had an ISBN (Lulu.com will make these books available at major bricks-and-mortar bookstores, such as Borders, in this case). I haven’t linked to this particular book, since I don’t want to risk drawing the attention of rights-holders to the author, due to the work’s legally grey area.

At the Fan Studies Network Conference last year, I was shown some gorgeous fanfic books, also printed by Lulu, by an acquaintance, and this again reminded me that ‘this was a thing’. At this point, I actually did a little bit of digging into the phenomena and discovered the notorious case of Lori Jareo’s Another Hope, a Star Wars fanfic book that was sold in major bookstores, and was finally shut down by Lucasfilm in 2006. At the time, it caused significant ripples in the fan community, who were afraid that the furore would cause a backlash from the Powers That Be against fanfic itself.  Taking a look around the net, I was able to find that there was quite a sizeable amount of fanfic books out there, and since this seems to be a little-known area of fandom (and fandom research), I thought I would start up a collection of my own – for both research and entertainment purposes.

From a research perspective, there are three strands to my interest in collection fanfic books. The first centres around changing modes of publication.  In the digital era, print-on-demand (POD) has meant that self-publishing has become an affordable reality for many, and there is no longer the stigma of publishing through a ‘vanity press’.  This suggests that the internet has afforded yet more ways for fans to publish their work, apart from digital or amateur press avenues.

On the shelf…

The second area of interest revolves around the materiality of the book, and the fact that some fans still like to have their work presented in a physical format; and that others still like to buy physical written works, despite the free/gift culture that exists within the fan community.  I suspect that this may have something to do with idea of collectability – that there exists in the fan the desire to possess physical tokens of their fandom, the collective size of which may bestow fan capital.  This interest in owning physical works is especially interesting considering the recent decline in e-book sales. Could the phenomenon of fanfic books tell us something about why print books sales are once more increasing?

The last strand of interest for me is that old chestnut – copyright. Needless to say fanfic books occupy a grey area legally, and even if they are not being sold for profit (i.e. sales only going towards the cost of production and/or shipping), does this let them off the hook?  Do they still constitute fair use? And what drives fans to sell print versions of their fanfiction despite the legal nightmare experienced by Another Hope over a decade ago?

I’m not expecting my collection to answer any of these questions.  What it does make me think about however, is that fanfiction books occupy a unique place in the long history of print.  One day, I hope, my collection will be the basis of a public institutional collection that can be enjoyed by all.

* I’m currently taking donations to my collection.  If you’re interested in donating, please reply to this post, DM me at @ludiprice on Twitter, or email me at Ludovica.Price.1 (at) city.ac.uk. Thanks! 🙂 

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List of UK (fan)zine collections

This list is intended to be a resource to other UK (fan)zine researchers.  It is by no means exhaustive and is a work-in-progress. Please contact me via the comment box below if there are any that are missing and that need to be added. It was originally drawn up for a paper/presentation, ‘Fan Fiction in the Library‘, delivered at the Fan Studies Network Conference 2016 (paper currently in press) with Lyn Robinson.

Major thanks to the zine collections list at http://zines.barnard.edu/zine-libraries#uk for the bulk of these links!

 

  • 56a Zine Library, London, England. Political, feminist, queer, activist zines as well as perzines and punk zines.
  • British Library, London, England. Counterculture zines, women’s zines, riot grrrl zines,music zines, football zines, alternative comics.
  • Canny Little Library, Newcastle upon Tyne, England. Punk zines, feminist zines, queer zines, perzines, political zines, and pamphlets.
  • Cowley Club, Brighton, England. Lending library with materials relating to libertarian, ecological, and feminist books, pamphlets, and zines.
  • Glasgow Women’s Library, Glasgow, Scotland. Feminist, perzines, music, punk, political, comics included in the collection. The collection dates from the early 90s to present day.
  • London College of Communication, London, England. Art zines as well as music/personal/political zines, covering art, music, photography, politics and personal stories; mostly 21st century zines, oldest 1970’s, currently being added to). Also at https://www.facebook.com/LCCLibraryZineCollection
  • Manchester LGBT Zine Library, Manchester, England. Zines housed in the Joyce Layland LGBT Centre
  • Manchester Metropolitan University, Manchester, England. Was slated to open late 2016. No further news as yet. Currently taking donations.
  • Mobile Menstrual Zine Library, Sheffield, England. Reference only.
  • Poetry Library, London, England. Poetry zines, art zines, radical printing, fanzines, and perzines.
  • Salford Zine Library, Manchester, England. A self-publishing archive formed in January 2010 by Craig John Barr.
  • Stuart Hall Library, London, England. Cultural diversity, race, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality, as well as personal/political/arts based zines.
  • Tate Library, London, England. Art zines (collage, illustration, and photography feature heavily), punk zines, fanzines, political and personal zines, comix, and poetry zines.
  • University for the Creative Arts, Epsom, England. The Public Zine Collection. Art zines, etc.
  • University of Liverpool Library special collections (includes fanzines in their science fiction collection).
  • University of Portsmouth/Zineopolis, Portsmouth, Hampshire. Zineopolis! Supports an arts, design & media illustration course
  • The Women’s Library, LSE, London, England.
  • York Zine Library, York, England. A small lending library of zines, indie press comics and DIY publications based at Travelling Man York.

 

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Review: Rogue Archives: Digital Cultural Memory and Media Fandom by Abigail De Kosnik

9780262034661Ten years ago Abigail De Kosnik introduced her concept of ‘archontic literature’, which describes fan texts (and indeed many other texts in the canon of Western literature) as additions to a global archive of cultural texts, an archive that writers draw upon to create their own works, thus expanding and enriching the archive that already exists (Derecho, 2006).  Works such as Death Comes to Pemberley by P. D. James build upon the ‘archive’ of Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice narrative; Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead builds upon Shakespeare’s Hamlet; countless tales around the world build upon the archive of ancient folklore and mythology that have enthralled us across many eons.  As a student of Library and Information Science (LIS) – and an avid fanficcer – the idea of fan texts as literal and figurative documents in an ever-growing and ever-expanding archive of human culture immediately appealed to me.  The appeal grew to reinforce my opinion – or intuition – that LIS and fandom are intrinsically intertwined.  For if fanfiction is archontic literature, part of a grand cultural archive, who then are the archivists?  The answer, of course, is the fans themselves.

In Rogue Archives, De Kosnik updates the concept of ‘archontic literature’ to ‘archontic production’, crucially expanding it to include other forms of fanwork that do not involve creative writing, such as fanart, fanvids, fanfilms, podfic, cosplay, mods etc.  This expansion of the ‘archontic’ concept here is much more satisfying in that it brings in the entire range of fan production and allows it a space within the cultural archive.  Fanfiction is no longer given precedence but is simply a part of the sum of fandom’s archontic outputs.  Whilst the expansion of the term bolsters its theoretical implementation, it also brings it more in line, both conceptually and metaphorically, with actual archives, which of course are not merely repositories of the written word.

As far as I know, Rogue Archives is the only book that explicitly links LIS to fandom.  Within fan studies, there have been several articles that comment upon classification practices and information behaviour within fandom (e.g. Versaphile, 2011; Johnson, 2014; Thomas, 2016), although few draw explicitly upon the field of LIS and its methodologies to do so.  Likewise, the field of LIS has done little to engage with fan information practices, despite a growing interest in information behaviour within leisure contexts.  LIS literature on fan information behaviour is few and far between, though some does exist, e.g. Hart et al. (1999), Adams (2009), and Bullard (2014; 2016), albeit with limited impact.  What Rogue Archives does is unequivocally link the language of both disciplines (admittedly with a focus on the fan studies angle, which is understandable given the context of the book) for the first time.  From my perspective at least this is a welcome surprise, if only to reaffirm that I’m not in a club of one.

What is also fascinating about Rogue Archives is the fact that it also incorporates concepts from performance studies – an angle which the library school I’m studying at, #citylis, is also heavily interested in (we recently held a symposium, Documenting Performance, which brought together parties from both performance studies and LIS to discuss the ways in which we (can) document complex documents such as live performance).  De Kosnik’s book was an enlightening foray into the idea that fanworks sit squarely on the boundary between the documents of the traditional analogue archive, and the embodied, temporal works of the performance arts. There is an apparent dichotomy between what we call the archive and what De Kosnik and others call ‘repertoire’, as she explains:

“Repertoire” transmits knowledge through processes of embodied mimesis, one person imitating what another person does, while “archive” transmits knowledge through recording technologies […], one person decoding the knowledge that another person has encoded in fixed form. (p.54)

What Rogue Archives does is to break down this seeming dichotomy, by showing how fans use both traditional archival practices and repertoire in order to build the ‘rogue archives’ that fan archives encompass (i.e. they are universal, community-driven and alternative).  Whilst fan archives, such as FF.net and AO3, do seem to be like the usual digital archives on the surface, they reject many of the practices employed in traditional archives.  There is no formal collection policy; archivists are ‘techno-volunteers’ who learn their tasks through repertoire, through following the example of more experienced fans or mentors.  They are based on passionate practice rather than professional practice.  They represent active cultural memory rather than passive cultural memory.

What is important here is that popular culture is constantly moving, evolving.  Fanworks (which are now largely born-digital) are also constantly shifting and dynamic.  They are subject to the whims of their creator, constantly edited, abandoned, unfinished, remixed, reworked, deleted, lost.  Ephemeral, dynamic and rarely instantiated in a single, fixed form, fanworks share much in common with performance art and it is therefore difficult to submit them to the rigidity of formal archival process.  This affinity with complex documents leads fan archivists – ‘techno-volunteers’ as De Kosnik calls them – to effectively bridge the gap between the immovable, analogue world of the traditional archive, and the performative, non-reproducible world of repertoire.

De Kosnik is skeptical of what LIS can do for fandom.  As she notes herself, fans have been “dedicating themselves to digital cultural memory work [since] the early 1990s, just as the Internet and the World Wide Web were becoming integral to daily life” (p.12) – ironically, fans have been digital archivists a lot longer than digital archivists have, and have the corresponding expertise.  This is mirrored in the responses of some current LIS students I surveyed earlier this year for my ‘Fanfiction in the Library‘ paper, delivered at FSN2016 in June (Price & Robinson, 2016).  There was the idea that fans manage their own archives ‘just fine’ themselves.  There is also a wariness of LIS imposing itself on the practices fans have already developed in order to preserve their own cultures.  That is why I believe that any attempt at collaboration should involve the utmost respect and understanding on the part of LIS in preserving digital fan culture.  It is also why I believe that there is a lot LIS can learn from fans, which is why I am researching what I am – and which is what Rogue Archives proves in spades.  I am reminded of the Games Culture Summit earlier this year, where one of the speakers talked about her institution working with gaming fans on the best methods for archiving and preserving videogames.  I think this serves as an encouraging example of what can be achieved when fans and LIS professionals work together.  Pooling together our different but equally important expertise can help create a ‘best practice’ for the preservation and organisation of a growing type of complex and/or dynamic materials that LIS professionals are currently finding a real challenge to deal with.

At the very least, what Rogue Archives proves to LIS is that ‘serious leisure’ (Stebbins, 2001) has been the breeding ground for many new, innovative and significant ways of preserving human culture, methods that it has taken little notice of in the past, but that may yet be able to inform the discipline’s future.

References

  • Adams, S. (2009). What games have to offer: information behavior and meaning-making in virtual play spaces. Library Trends [e-journal] 57 (4). Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1353/lib.0.0058
  • Bullard, J. (2014).  Values and negotiation in classification work. CSCW’14 Companion. Baltimore, USA, 15-19 February 2014 [online].  New York: ACM.  Available through: ACM Digital Library
  • Bullard, J. (2016). Motivating invisible contributions: framing volunteer classification design in a fanfiction repository. Proceedings of the 19th International Conference on Supporting Group Work – GROUP ’16. New York, USA, 13-16 November 2016 [online].  New York: ACM.  Available through: ACM Digital Library
  • De Kosnik, A. (2016). Rogue archives: digital cultural memory and media fandom. Cambridge, MA and London: MIT Press.
  • Derecho, A. (2006).  Archontic literature: a definition, a history, and several theories of fan fiction.  In: K. Hellekson & K. Busse (eds.), Fan fiction and fan communities in the age of the internet.  Jefferson: McFarland, Ch. 1.
  • Hart, C., et al. (1999). The bibliographical structure of fan information.  Collection Building [e-journal] 18 (2).  Available through: Emerald Insight
  • Johnson, S. F. (2014). Fan fiction metadata creation and utilization within fan fiction archives: three primary methods. Transformative Works and Cultures [e-journal] 17.  Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.3983/twc.2014.0578
  • Price, L., & Robinson, L. (2016). Fanfiction in the LibraryFan Studies Network Conference 2016, Norwich, Norfolk, UK, 25-26 June 2016.
  • Stebbins, R. A. (2001).  Serious leisure.  Society, [e-journal] 38 (4). Available through: Springer Link
  • Thomas, P. (2016). Wikipedia and participatory culture: Why fans edit. Transformative Works and Cultures [e-journal] 22.  Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.3983/twc.2016.0902
  • Versaphile (2011). Silence in the library: Archives and the preservation of fannish history. Transformative Works and Cultures [e-journal] 6.  Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.3983/twc.v6i0.277
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A (very) belated report on #FSN2016

They do say that if you want to write a blog post about an event you have to do it straight after, otherwise the glow soon fades.  I regret to say that in the case of the Fan Studies Network Conference 2016, I fell prey to what seems to be the bane of the blogosphere – you go to the event, you leave all jazzed and inspired, you get home and real life distracts you, and then the ship sails and it’s too late.

But they also say ‘better late than never’, and so here I am, writing my blog post on #FSN2016 after nearly 5 months of reflection.

Selfie with Henry Jenkins. It had to be done. ;)

Selfie with Henry Jenkins. It had to be done. 😉

What I will say first is how much FSN had grown even since 2015.  There were so many more people, and the atmosphere was buzzing – there was a general feeling of excitement in the air.  Of course, the buzz may have been something to with the fact that Henry Jenkins was giving the keynote; but in my case it probably also had something to do with the fact that I was presenting this time, along with my supervisor, Lyn Robinson, on the ‘Using the Archive’ panel.  Our presentation, “Fanfiction in the Library”, sought to give an overview of fanfiction in libraries within the UK.  This might seem an unusual area of research, as one is very unlikely to have ever seen fanfiction in a library before.  I feel that our interest was prompted by two main areas:

  • The growing evidence (as seen in my doctoral research) for fans as accomplished practitioners of information work, who build their own collections (both on and offline), who display highly sophisticated information behaviours, and who work collaboratively to create, share and maintain collections;
  • The growing interest in the fanwork as a cultural document worthy of collection, not merely by fans themselves, but by memory institutions (e.g. the expansion of fanzine collections within UK libraries).

Three different methods were used to glean an overview of fanfiction (and fandom) in libraries within the UK:

  1. A literature review of past and present research into the concept of fanworks as documents, or as parts of a wider collection;
  2. A study of the collection policies of 10 UK libraries, and whether the collection of fanworks or fanfiction comes under their remit (it doesn’t);
  3. A survey of current #citylis students and alumni, asking them about their current awareness of fanfiction and fandom, and whether fanfiction or fanworks should be collected in libraries and other memory institutions.

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    Fanfiction in the Library!

The intention was not to promote the collection of fanfiction in libraries across the UK per se; rather it was to begin a dialogue between the LIS and fan studies communities on the subject.  Whilst there seems to be a strong feeling amongst the relevant literature and most of the surveyed students in our study that fanfiction is culturally important and worth preserving, there is an equally strong feeling that collecting it is fraught with issues.  Both fans and librarians can agree that fanfiction is not like the ‘usual’, standard literature one might find on the shelves.  Most fanfiction nowadays is born digital, and is rarely instantiated in one fixed state – it can be constantly updated, edited, reworked, rehashed, removed, and sometimes just never even finished.  What if the author does not care for their work to be collected?  What about the perennially thorny issue of copyright?

These are just a few of the valid questions raised both by the #citylis students and the audience during our panel.  It was heartening to find that there actually was a dialogue to be had about this topic, and that many people in both the LIS and fan communities were interested in preserving fanworks – or at least in entertaining the idea.  During the research phase, I was particularly interested to find that a large proportion of the interviewed students were aware of fanfiction and were fans themselves – and that some of them read or wrote fanfiction, or had created their own fanfiction collections.  This indicates that there will be a sizeable percentage of both future and current library and information professionals who are willing to entertain the idea of collecting, curating and managing fanworks and other non-traditional media in more mainstream and/or professional bibliographical contexts. Likewise, the interest shown from the fan studies audience at #FSN2016 indicated a willingness to start thinking of ways in which fan culture and its many outputs can be preserved for future posterity – or indeed, whether it should be preserved at all.

#FSN16 conference dinner at The Library, Norwich. Somebody knows me well ;)

#FSN16 conference dinner at The Library, Norwich. Somebody knows me well 😉

I think that goal – the goal of starting a dialogue – was achieved in abundance during #FSN2016.  I’m not sure whether the dialogue has continued, but I’d like to see it do so.  At the very least, I feel that there is so much that LIS can learn from the collaborative, participatory, creative and generous model of information behaviour that fans show.  But do fans want to make a concerted effort to preserve their creative work, and should information professionals become involved in that process?  The contributions of volunteer librarians and other professionals, as well as passionate amateurs, on AO3 shows the greatness that these kinds of collaborations can achieve.  The recent publication of Abigail De Kosnik’s Rogue Archives: Digital Cultural Memory and Media Fandom has convinced me that this is a more timely moment than ever for us all to work on the cultural preservation of fandom.  I’d be happy to carry on the conversation with anyone else who’s interested. 🙂

A long overdue thanks to the amazing folks at #FSN2016 and the fan studies community for the fun and intellectually stimulating conference!  I had a whale of a time and yet again met some truly stellar people.  I just wish I’d had the time to meet more.  But then, I guess there’s always next year! 😉

 

The “Fanfiction in the Library” presentation is available here.  (The paper is currently being edited with a view to publication).

You can read Lyn Robinson’s blog post on #FSN2016 here.

The #FSN2016 programme and abstracts can be found here.

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Delphi study findings: the resources fans use

This post focuses on the information sources and resources that the 31 members of my Delphi panel mentioned in their responses.

The main finding in this section of the study found that overwhelmingly, the primary or source text is the key source of information for cult media fans. Whilst online sources take up the largest percentage of sources used by panel members, offline sources, or those that are neither specific to digital or analogue forms, were also widely used, thus supporting the view that fans are comfortable using a wide range of resources to gather news, seek out trivia, research projects, and share information about their fandom.

The first round of this study also seems to show that fans use a wide variety of resources, from ‘official’ sources to fan-made resources.  In the case of official sources, this is not merely restricted to the source text or canon, but also includes such things as interviews, tweets and Tumblr postings from actors/writers/creators/producers, printed art books, promotional materials and other merchandise.  As for fanon and fan-made resources, there are obviously other fanworks, but also fan talk, wikis, rec lists, social media, and so on.

The following table gives a run-down of all the information sources and resources cited by the Delphi panel’s 31 participants. The list is broken down into three sections – online, offline, and specific to neither of these media.

 

Online Offline Non-specific
Fanfiction.net Art books Primary/original source/text
Message boards Comics News and press releases
Fan sites DVD extras/commentaries Interviews
Fanart sites (e.g. deviantART) Magazines Articles
YouTube TV shows/documentaries Promotional materials
Tumblr Library Other fans
Twitter (official and fan accounts) (auto)biographies Friends/family/colleagues
Facebook (official and fan accounts) Radio shows Actors/agents/producers/creators
AO3 Stores and shops Newspapers
Google Drive/Docs Books Scientific/academic papers
Podcasts Movies Fanworks
Social networking sites CD’s/records/soundtracks Reviews (print, AV, digital etc.)
Gossip sites (e.g. Celebrity Dirty Laundry) Overhearing fan conversations
Screenshots (of games, movies etc.) Teachers/professors
Soundtracks Reading groups
Wikis (e.g. Wikipedia, Marvel & DC Comic Databases) Theatre/stage/performance
Databases Imagination!
Spoiler pics/lists etc.
Mailing lists
Archives
Livejournal
Rec lists/link lists
Google search
Mediafire/Dropbox
Dreamwidth
WordPress
Live tweeting
Blog posts
ComicBookResource
Marvel.com
Ebay
Adultfanfic.org
Yahoo
Live-plays/walkthroughs/guides
Kickstarter/Patreon/Twitch
Instagram
Google Translate
Memrise
Comicology/My Comic Shop/Midtown Comics
Rage comics
Memes
Gamespot/IGN etc.
Fic-find communities
Cosplay.com
Game trailers

If you want to read more about the findings of the Delphi study, you can read my paper, “Being in a knowledge space”: information behaviour of cult media fan communities.  The paper is also available through my Publications tab above.

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Cataloguing Fandom – transcript of my interview with the Fansplaining podcast

The following is an excerpt of a transcript of an interview between myself and the Fansplaining podcast.  The interview is about my research into fan information behaviour and is featured in Episode 19 of the podcast, Cataloging Fandom.  The transcript in its entirety can be read on the Fansplaining blog.

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Fans collect… but they also catalogue.

 

Flourish Klink: Hi, Elizabeth!

Elizabeth Minkel: Hi, Flourish!

FK: And welcome to Fansplaining, the podcast by, for, and about fandom!

ELM: This is episode 19, Cataloging Fandom.

FK: And we’re gonna be talking to Ludi Price, who is a PhD student and a librarian and she’s working in information science and she’s going to talk about why fans are interesting in that arena.

ELM: Right, and we’re also going to take the opportunity to exorcise all of my lingering feelings about my master’s degree, which was in this realm.

FK: Oh, exOrcise, not exErcise! Exorcise.

ELM: Yeah, like a demonic possession.

FK: The power of Christ compels you kinda thing.

ELM: Yes. The power of Christ does compel me.

FK: Right.

ELM: Kinda thing. Cause I got a master’s degree in the digital humanities two years ago now, and that’s, at that university it was in the broader realm of information studies, which includes information science, librarians, archivists.

FK: All that good stuff.

ELM: Yeah it’s great stuff.

FK: So you have feelings about that.

ELM: Yeah, I have a lot of feelings about it. No spoilers.

FK: OK, should we just talk to Ludi then?

ELM: OK, um, and after we talk to Ludi we’ll read a couple of—we’ve been tagged in a few Tumblr posts recently and so we wanted to talk about one of them and we got an email that I think referenced, what episode was that where we talked with DestinationToast about yuri?

FK: It was several episodes ago.

ELM: Lord only knows. It was some time ago. So we got a thoughtful email about that so we can talk about that too.

FK: Alright, so, shall we talk to Ludi?

ELM: Let’s call her up!

FK: All right, let’s welcome Ludi Price onto the podcast!

ELM: Welcome!

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Fandom at #citylis: Wolverine and Thor pinatas

Ludi Price: Hello! Thank you! Great to be here, I’m very flattered to actually be asked to come on here, because not many people know what I do or understand what I do, so yeah, it’s great to talk about it!

ELM: That’s a perfect setup for us to say “what do you do?”

LP: Ah, ok. I am many things, but part of what I do right now is I am a PhD student at City University London in Information Science. And I am actually researching the information behavior of fans. But at the same time I’m a librarian part-time. There’s kind of interconnections there. And of course I’ve also been a fan since I was a little girl.

FK: Information science—I understand, I think I understand what a librarian is at least on some level, but what is information science?

LP: Ah, OK. Actually this is a bit of a long story, because library and information science, the two disciplines, there’s a lot of overlap between them and they’re usually lumped together but they are slightly different. So I would say that information science is kind of the overarching discipline. So it’s the science of how we deal with, as human beings, information. So a lot of it is to do with the information chain, how do we create, find, seek and actually find, collate, disseminate, share, and organize information.

So it’s not actually a chain, a linear chain, it’s more like a cyclical chain, so we create, we organize, we share. Library science is kind of, I don’t want to say an offshoot of it because that’s disrespectful to librarians, but it’s, it’s the same but it’s to do with specific collections, basically. So in a library you will have a collection of some books. And then intertwined with that is the idea of documentation and documents themselves of which from my perspective you would consider fanworks as documents, and how are they collected and shared.

FK: OK so fanworks are documents, then what’s interesting about fans and the way that they deal with this stuff—it seems like everybody must, everybody encounters and deals with information, why are fans especially interesting in this way?

LP: Well, you’ve kind of hit the nail on the head because everyone in their everyday lives encounters information, from the books you read to even like bills and just general everyday things like that. Information science in itself as a discipline is more interested in kind of the more professional aspects of that, like how do certain groups deal with finding information. For example how do lawyers find information and what do they do with it. How do teachers deal with information. How do students deal with information.

And it’s only fairly recently that people have started to look into the more everyday aspects of information behavior. How do individuals deal with their own personal information, for example. And there’s also been kind of a movement towards how do people, I don’t know, people who are enthusiasts and hobbyists, how do they deal with information. Because a lot of what they do doesn’t have official channels or official sources, resources to gather information from. A lot of what they do they kind of document themselves and fandom is closely related from an information science point of view to the information behavior of hobbyists and collectors and enthusiasts and volunteers and things like that. Because they work outside of official channels and a lot of what they do is from their own kind of passion about or obsession, dare I say, with something. So yeah, there is kind of an interest in the more informal ways of sharing information in the information sciences. And fandom is a part of that that has been largely ignored, in fact almost totally ignored, and even though people are starting to pick up on that, that’s something that I’m interested in.

ELM: Yeah it’s funny because one thing that struck me a lot while I was doing my master’s was how much of the behavior that was being studied in terms of information organization or behavior seeking online was around academia.

LP: Mmhm.

ELM: And it did seem to me a huge oversight that everything I’ve always encountered in fandom seemed so much more exciting and richly organized and built as opposed to the stuff that we were studying.

FK: But, wait wait wait, actually it would be helpful to me if we could be concrete about what the stuff you’re studying is. Because I just heard a bunch about how people study, yeah, academics or whatever, but they ought to be studying hobbyists and maybe they’re beginning to, but what is the thing that you’re studying? Is it the way that people find fanfic or find fanvids or the way they bookmark them, or like… what is it?

LP: So I’ve taken on a humongous task of trying to research the whole information chain so everything from how fans find fanworks or whatever or information to do with their fandom all the way through organization of these works or whatever to actually how they share them with each other. So this is a really huge topic because no one has actually ever looked, to my knowledge no one has ever actually looked at the whole information/communication fans as fans do it, basically.

But obviously because of time and whatnot I’ve had to focus in on certain areas. So in my first year what I actually did was a literature review which was basically trying to synthesize the literatures of library and information science and fan studies and see if there was any kind of commonality or any research that overlapped on each other. So I’ve found out some stuff from that about how fans tend to go for informal information resources, how they come up with their own vocabularies, ontologies, taxonomies, things like that. They’re very generous with what they share and what they do.

FK: OK so just to make sure I understand, if you’re talking about, like, fans coming up with a vocabulary and taxonomy and stuff, so one thing you might be interested in would be like the Archive of our Own tagging system? Or vidders.net and the way vids are organized within that?

LP: Mm-hm! Yes yes.

FK: OK.

LP: Exactly. And that’s actually something that I’ve started to look at in my third year, which I’m in now,  I’m actually gonna do some social network analysis but not social networks—tag network analysis of Archive of our Own, Tumblr which I just want to give a shoutout right now to DestinationToast cause she’s really helped me with that, she’s come up with some awesome Python scripts to help me collect data from Tumblr which is really difficult to do.

ELM: That’s awesome.

LP: Thanks to her, she’s great! Also I’m looking at Etsy cause another thing I’m looking at is fans who are not entrepreneurs but are fans who sell their work as well. So yeah a lot of what I’m focusing on this year is tagging practices, classification practices, vocabularies, things like that.

FK: Sorry to have cut you off Elizabeth, because I just felt like I had so many questions and you already know what she’s talking about and I have no idea!

LP: (laughs) that’s fine, that’s fine! That’s cool.

ELM: I just wanted to throw academics under the bus—but you’re an academic so maybe I shouldn’t!

LP: (laughs) If you wanna go off record that is absolutely fine! (all laugh) I do not mind at all.

ELM: No it’s just like, I often felt like, you know, say you wanna study how people communicate and organize on Twitter for example, you have to pick a subgroup, you can’t just say you know. And it just felt like the default was to pick academic Twitter, which sometimes I just felt like it was a strange way to draw conclusions. I mean I just—you can see it, in fan studies more broadly, people will in a very social science way focus on a very small fan community and then draw some, I feel like a lot of times they don’t even draw bigger conclusions because they just observe. And you’re like, or like, I would get this in DH—that’s digital humanities, Flourish, just so you know.

FK: (sigh-laughs)

ELM: They’d be like “we studied an email group of 20 people, and 2 of them said this, and 4 of them said this.” And I’d be like, OK. I just—I, you know, I guess cause I was a journalist before and I’m a journalist after and during, I don’t know what this tells us. I don’t want to put you on the spot and make you defend academic study. So. (laughs) I can cut myself off.

FK: But you are a little bit. (Ludi laughs in background)

ELM: No! it sounds like you are, it sounds like you have a bigger scope though, or maybe that’s not true?

LP: To a certain extent. I think with anything in academia, especially with anything in LIS, Library and Information Science, the problem is that it’s such a huge area. Information as you said comes into all aspects of our lives and so by its very nature, if you’re studying it, you have to focus on a certain subset or group. It’s hard to make generalizations from all that.

ELM: Right.

FK: How much do you draw conclusions from, how much of this is about just observing behavior and how much is about improving practice in other areas, so like, learning lessons in one area and then applying those lessons to another? The reason I ask is when, since ebooks have become a thing that everybody does the way that, I really personally wish that ebooks were organized in a way that was a lot closer to fanfic archives. Right?

ELM: Mm.

LP: Yep, yep.

FK: Because fanfic archives are clearly superior at actually directing you to what you wanna—I mean like this is an opinion, but. And it sometimes is irritating when people talk about the “new developing area” of this and it’s like, yeah, there’s been a ton of you know, native online texts that have existed for years that have been in archives that have had this practice. So is some of that work about just like observing even if it’s a small community, a community that seems to have made an innovation or to have something working for it and then applying that to other areas?

LP: Yeah definitely. That is actually one of the aims of my thesis is to see how this work, all these findings can actually feed into the discipline of information science itself, or not the discipline but practical uses of it, basically. Can we harness information practices, the passion, the investment that fans have in organizing their works, which is not—it can be creative but it’s just a practical way of organizing your fanworks. And fans are brilliant at doing that. I might say that some, many, most of are even better than professionals at doing it.

ELM: Yeah!

LP: And (laughs) I really want to make library users and other librarians as excited about the work they do or the resources they’re accessing as fans are. I’m really lucky that actually my PhD supervisor is really supportive and she’s really into the whole fandom herself. She really inspired me because I never even, when I finished my masters I just thought I was gonna go on a library career path, librarian career path. And then she was like, Ah, you know, have you ever thought about doing a PhD? And I was like um, kind of no maybe? And she was like, well, have you ever thought of doing a PhD about how fans deal with information? And I was like say what? This is potentially a thing?! I was like yeah, okay! And luckily she helped me with my proposal and I was lucky enough to get funding for it, so that’s really cool.

And she was really into this idea of new forms of documentation and new forms of looking at works. And I think this is a time of, even though there’s a lot of cuts in the library and information professions, in England anyway probably where you are too, there’s a great push for innovation and a great push for library and I don’t know museum archives. The users of these and memory institutions to actually get involved in helping to organize and share and get people excited about collections. I don’t know if you’ve seen things like GalaxyZoo and the World Archives Projects and stuff like that, TranscribeBentham, these projects where they want people who are really excited, amateur historians and genealogists and things like that to actually come and look at the work, transcribe it, to tag it and stuff like this.

For the library and information professions this is a really exciting and amazing thing! It’s like, we can harness the passion of the public to actually come and do this stuff for us! And it’s like, this is not a new thing, fans have been doing this stuff for years. And they are just amazing at doing this stuff!

ELM: This is interesting to me and I’d be really curious to know, and I don’t want to go too deep in the weeds, but like, so TranscribeBentham is the like—TranscribeBentham, Flourish, is (laughs) is the—

LP: Sorry about this!

FK: (laughs) What’s funny about this is I actually know a great deal about both TranscribeBentham and the digital humanities but I will be the official person who doesn’t know things about things so you can explain them!

ELM: (sputters) No it’s just like we have to explain it for the listener—

FK: We do, we do!

ELM: (doubtful) You know a great deal about TranscribeBentham, really?

FK: Well, I had a long conversation with somebody about it actually when I was in London last, so that’s the only reason I know.

ELM: With someone who was involved?

LP: Oh really?

FK: No, somebody who’s in digital humanities, about it.

ELM: So Flourish, I won’t Benthamsplain to you, but for the listeners, (laughs) Jeremy Bentham is a—

FK: (giggling) Benthamsplain!

ELM: Spiritual founder of—

FK: A corpse.

ELM: —of UCL, he’s not the actual founder of UCL but he’s like the father of UCL, he’s a what, late nineteenth, late eighteenth century early nineteenth century philosopher?

FK: And now he’s a corpse.

ELM: —real chill, and so his body is in the—(Ludi laughing in the background) He was super chill though, that’s his thing, right? Like, and (laughs) he invented the panopticon? Yeah, his body is in the hall at UCL—

FK: But not the head!

ELM: The head is in the basement.

FK: Because people used to steal the head!

ELM: Actually I heard that it was too deformed to show now.

FK: (disappointed) Oh, really? I liked my idea better that people had, like stolen it.

ELM: Anyway.

LP: It’s a good idea!

ELM: As you know, OCR, text recognition software can’t handle handwritten text, particularly from way back in the day. So they have all of his archives so they created this project where it’ll be like fun for the public. I shouldn’t make, sound so flippant, some people enjoy it. Where they transcribe his letters piece by piece and tag it very lightly with XML, and then there’s someone who works on, like, cleaning up the work of the public.

And as far as I know most of it is done by like half a dozen individuals who are just very dedicated. One woman used to watch EastEnders every night and now she, (laughing) now she transcribes Bentham. Just like, fine! That’s cool! It’s interesting! But I, one thing that really struck me, at UCL I had no less than 150 lectures about this project in my various classes. Which was a little frustrating since we all had to take the same classes.

LP: I’m sorry. I’m sorry to bring it up.

ELM: I’m traumatized.

FK: There’s other projects like this too, right? Like the New York Public Library recently did a thing with menus, which also are hard to OCR.

ELM: Right, there are all of these image projects, even Google was trying to get people to tag their shit for them. The thing that really struck me though when I hear about things like TranscribeBentham, and this gets back to what we were just talking about—I kind of bristle at the, like, academic embrace of this unpaid labor. So they’d be like, in what you’re describing they’d be like “the public is gonna love this and we have a free source of doing this work that would take a billion hours and tons of resources that we just don’t have.” I thought that was a weird strategy to kind of, fall, rely on. It was being treated like this was a default thing that was just gonna happen.

In fandom it’s different because I think there’s a lot of interesting questions of unpaid labor in fandom, but like, it never would occur to me to say like, if I was like “oh can we all look through these Sherlock screencaps to see if we can like catalog X, Y and Z,” people would just do it, and you’d be like, of course I’m doing that, I love that, you know? And so that’s the tension and the difference and I’m wondering if you’d care to comment on that. Sorry that was long.

LP: That’s OK! Yeah it’s difficult obviously there’s a tension there. And you know, I was a member of World Archives Project for like three years, and I never saw it as unpaid labor cause it was fun, it was enjoyable, and it was something that I really liked to do, and yeah, I don’t know if there’s any easy answer to it.

FK: Well isn’t there also a question about who it’s benefiting? We all do things that are unpaid labor that make, sort of, the world nicer, right? This is one of the questions about sort of the quote “emotional labor” that people go through, like, when we’re in public, we hold doors for other people even if we don’t know them.

ELM: Is that emotional labor?

FK: I think some people would say it is.

ELM: Aw, it’s not that hard, guys. Who are complaining.

FK: But also when we, you know, like with our friends we share things, in order to make a—like in an office we all agree to do things. And so there’s a question of, like, it’s one thing for Google to ask people to tag things that are then going to benefit Google’s algorithms and benefit Google’s ability to make money off of stuff and it’s another thing to be like, “here is an archive, here are the letters of Jeremy Bentham, they are public, they are for the public’s use, and in order for everybody to get more use of them, which everybody has…”

ELM: I think Google having, like, working on their algorithm for image search is vastly more beneficial to the public.

FK: Yeah but it ultimately results in, Google owns that algorithm. It may be more beneficial for the public but Google still ultimately owns it and makes money off of it.

ELM: Flourish you know that their motto is “don’t be evil,” and so…

FK: Oh yeah, cause that’s enforceable.

LP: I think they got rid of that motto now.

ELM: (laughs) Cause they started buying robotics and weaponry facilities and—

FK: But you see what I’m saying right, because on the one hand it’s beneficial for the public to do that but on the other hand you’re literally giving value to a corporation that you don’t own any part of, whereas Jeremy Bentham’s letters are, I guess I don’t know for sure that this is the case but I assume that they are in a charitable situation, right.

ELM: Cause he was just so chill, right.

FK: Well, most university—

ELM: Right, cause they just own them. UCL has them. This kind of leads back to something that I wanted to, kinda carry along with the comparison between what you were talking about before, fans’ natural inclination to organize and desire to do this stuff, and trying to bring that into the realm of you know professional information organizers, librarians and information scientists.

I have to wonder if you see a tension there too because like, just like I’m saying with I can’t imagine that anyone would want to transcribe Jeremy Bentham’s letters—and I understand that there are people that are and I’m not meaning to disparage them actually, like, thank you for your labor or your passion which is not labor! I’ve had a lot of jobs where I’ve had to organize large amounts of information and I enjoy that in my, like, OCD quelling kind of way, but it’s nothing like the joy that I get in fandom organizing and seeing the way things are organized. And I wonder if you think that that’s something that’s like, that’s surmountable, or… does that make sense?

LP: Yeah it does, it makes a lot of sense. And the more I look at the subject the more I don’t know if it’s achievable. I mean, last year I actually did a talk about trying to harness that passion in your library users that fans have, and they were just like, “we don’t see people becoming that obsessed with what we have.” And someone said, “your users would need to have a huge investment in your collection, like fans have in their fandom.” And is it possible to kind of induce that in your users? When an academic library can’t even get their academics to tag the books in their library system catalog in the area of study that they are seriously invested in and hopefully passionate about? If academics can’t be bothered to do that…

FK: Does it, do you see any difference with genre fiction? Because something I definitely wondered about was, full disclosure the thing that bothers me in the ebook universe is romance novels of which, which I think are sort of the closest officially published thing to fanfic, I mean that’s how I see them.

LP: Yep.

FK: And I enjoy them for the same, for some of the same reasons that I enjoy fanfic, and so it really grates my cheese to not be able to find romance novels in the same way I find fanfic.

ELM: Grates your cheese, Flourish, wow.

FK: Grates my cheese. And I think that there’s a lot of other romance readers who feel the same way, and I know that because romance readers tend to create their own, like, incredibly complex libraries and have extreme ebook cataloging, like, for themselves, but I haven’t ever seen that for a community out in the public.

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Fandom stats – a way of looking at the tagging behaviours of fans on the internet

LP: Yeah, that kind of ties into some of the studies that have been done on hobbyist collectors and stuff like that. And a lot of what they do they do in a very insular world. The difference between the information behaviors of hobbyists and enthusiasts etc. etc. is that fans do it in a participatory way. They will organize and collect and classify and do all this stuff but they will share the fruits of their labor online and say, “this is up for grabs, you can copy this, you can use my vocabulary, whatever.”

Hobbyists don’t tend to do that. I mean they might do in a kind of physical meatspace club or something. But they don’t tend to do it in large scale, en masse movements like fans do. And what you’re saying about romance fiction and stuff like that, I’m sure there are a ton of people out there who have classified and made collections and stuff. But they don’t come together to share that. And I think probably some of the stuff that they are doing would be of great interest to publishers or the ebook creators or whatever.

And I think that this is where the intersection comes with what I’m doing with fans and what we’re saying about romance readers for example.

FK: You know it actually, while you were talking it occurred to me that maybe GoodReads is the closest thing that we have to that.

LP: Yep, yeah, I think you’re right.

FK: It doesn’t have the same robust tagging system but there are things people will make like, a collaborative list of every, here are all our favorite forced marriage romance novels. (Ludi laughs) and similarly Ravelry might be one of the few places where people who are hobbyists share information, in the knitting and crocheting and yarnmaking community.

LP: Mm.

FK: I’m sure it’s the exception that proves the rule, is what I’m saying.

ELM: The interesting question here though is, what is the aim of all this tagging? What is the aim of the way that you’re organizing? Like Amazon organizes their books in a way…

FK: It is a way.

ELM: That exists…

FK: There is some organizational principle.

ELM: They play at having all these deep subcategories like you know, like “#19 in African American-Football-Paranormal Romance.”

FK: That obviously mean nothing to people.

ELM: Which sounds like the most amazing story that I’m going to write right now. But you know, they don’t care—the question is the people doing the organizing, do they care about the person who needs to seek out this information. Like Amazon doesn’t give a fuck, right?

FK: But they should, right? Isn’t their business helping you find the thing you want to buy?

ELM: Not books. (laughs) But that’s fine. They don’t exist to sell books, Flourish! And I’ve been thinking a lot about this and maybe this is taking it too far afield, but I’ve been thinking about how fanfiction categorizes by emotions, right, and you can explicitly seek that out, so it’s a question of like… I think if you don’t understand that some people read looking for angst or hurt/comfort or fluff or whatever, whatever the equivalents would be in the professionally published world, then you’re not inclined to organize that way but maybe that’s what the person who’s seeking out the information wants, does that make sense?

FK: Right or like—

ELM: This is something that I’ve been thinking a lot about but I don’t know why I’m saying this right now.

LP: No no it’s really interesting cause I think fans are you know, they’re so into their little niche interests or kinks or whatever that fan tagging and fan classification is so highly granular, like it goes into really really specific details so you can find exactly what you want as easily and quickly as you want. And the marketing industry is not geared to that. Even though with the rise of the internet you are able to find, the internet better serves the long tail of what you want more easily, you can find really obscure stuff really easily, I think there’s still a tension with the marketing industry at large. They still kind of, it’s still broadcasting to the masses. You could have a potential really small but dedicated community that’s really heavily into this one product. And I’m not sure that many of them have quite grasped that yet. I don’t know, I’m just spitballing.

FK: This is interesting, it puts me in mind of the fact that Netflix recently made a statement that everybody in the entertainment industry is like “ohhhh!” about which is the same thing I’ve been saying for years, which is that gender and age are not good predictors of what you want to watch. Like, this seems like it should be obvious, right? Gender and age are not very good predictors of what you’re gonna want to watch, with the exception of if maybe you’re like a woman of childbearing age you’re more likely to watch instructional videos about baby care, but actually who knows, right?

ELM: Classic Netflix content.

FK: You could be a 16 year old boy who is like about to have a baby sister or brother, who knows?

ELM: Interesting example.

FK: Anyway, this is funny because it—it blows people’s minds still that this might be the case. That’s like the broadest possible categories.

LP: Yeah, it’s true.

FK: So do you think that library, do you think that libraries and the way that information is organized in there, do you think there are biases that come through from the commercial realm over into that realm?

LP: Oh definitely, definitely. I guess that goes without saying. You’ve gotta be, your books, your collection has gotta be used. You can’t just have books just sitting there or else they’ll just be a waste of space. So they get weeded if no one uses them, if they’re not in circulation. So yeah definitely. And that’s also part of what I’m interested in, is the fanwork as a collection. And as part of human culture, libraries themselves think of it as a throwaway culture. And there’s been a movement now to collect fanzines and have fanzine collections, but this is kind of, you know, the fanzine has had its heyday and it’s kind of trying to catch up with something that’s moved on so very vastly.

And so there are huge holes in libraries where fandom is concerned. And it’s a huge part of our human culture, you can’t deny that. Luckily, fans are doing a lot to preserve their own culture and I have an investment in it, so.

ELM: It sounds like there’s a disconnect though between—I feel like this is a theme we keep coming up against. Fans doing it themselves, we were just talking about this, the big episode about TV and film production, it just seems to be this gap between what the establishment is doing in any of these realms and what fans are mirroring but doing for themselves internally. Which is—or I just went on a rant about this about journalism, cause men keep writing stupid articles about fanfiction. Like, why aren’t fans doing it? But then it’s complicated.

FK: And then we have people like Ludi who are trying to bridge that gap, right?

LP: Yeah, for what it’s worth! Definitely. (laughs)

ELM: It’s worth a lot! So I don’t know, I feel like all three of us are in similar positions and I, I’m really tired right now. So I don’t know how you guys feel.

FK: I’m not tired right now, but.

ELM: Great, you had some coffee!

LP: Yes.

FK: You had coffee too, Ludi!

ELM: I haven’t had coffee yet. So one thing that I do see a lot these days, I think as fan studies gets more visibility—do you identify as a fan studies person?

LP: Not completely, I feel half and half. LIS and fan studies have widely divergent, like, backgrounds and methodologies, you just can’t—

ELM: Cause fan studies is usually, it’s social sciency, right?

LP: Yeah it’s more media and cultural studies, yeah.

ELM: OK. So that aside I think because it’s gotten so much more visibility recently I see a lot of younger people writing saying, realizing that this is like a viable thing now, yeah? —Flourish is waving at these metaphorical, or these imaginary young people.

FK: Yeah! They’re not imaginary, they’re real!

ELM: It’s exciting to think about, I am approaching what will be my 10 year college reunion, if I had known 10 years ago that this was something that I could have studied it might have changed everything, you know?

LP: Mmhm.

ELM: And so I’m wondering if you have any, like, advice or resources, I don’t wanna put you on the spot, but in terms of people beginning their academic journeys and wanting to take this stuff seriously, cause I see a lot of confusion.

LP: It’s a very kind of visceral question for me because I spent a lot of my life just feeling really unhappy with what I was doing and where I was going and then I, I just like, I was so fed up I was like “I want to be a librarian!” Because that’s what I wanted to be originally as a kid, right. So I went back to school and I did the master’s in Library Science and then I got a job as a librarian and then in the space of, the same week as getting the job the PhD proposal acceptance came through and I was like “Wow, I’m doing an information science PhD in fans!” And you know, I still can’t really get over that this is a thing. And if I’m doing this weird subject that I love so much, and I do love it despite sometimes feeling like I want to tear it apart, it’s possible, you know? It’s possible to do this if, I mean, a lot of it is luck and circumstance, I never would have gotten into it if I didn’t have a brilliant supervisor who is both a leader in her field, in the field of information science, and also is a fan herself.

But you know, if it’s something that you’re passionate about, if you’re a fan you go and do it, you write your fic, you make your vids, whatever, if you want to go into the academic area of fan studies it’s there, and if you’re passionate about it do what you do as a fan and go for it. Just try and do it, even if things are rubbish sometimes, sometimes you write crappy fic, but you love it, go for it!

ELM: That was a very positive ending!

FK: Thank you so much for coming on the podcast, Ludi, you’re like a little ray of sunshine!

LP: Aw, thank you, that’s really sweet!

FK: You really are.

LP: Thank you for having me, it’s been an awesome ride. (all laugh)

FK: Bye!

This post is an excerpt of a transcript originally published by the Fansplaining podcast on 10 April 2016 on their blog, Fansplaining.  The actual interview can be streamed and downloaded from SoundCloud. A version of this blog post was also published on the #citylis blog.

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Fan gatekeeping at the European Fan Cultures Conference 2015

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Yours truly at EFC15 (left), with Camila Monteiro (right).  (Source: Facebook).

Earlier this month I was thrilled to be present my research so far at the European Fan Cultures conference at Erasmus University, Rotterdam, made possible by the stellar organisation of Simone Driessen, Leonieke Bolderman, and Abby Waysdorf.  I was on Panel 2B, the ‘Fans as Gatekeepers’ track; and as it happens, that was pretty much exactly the title of my presentation, which was Fans as gatekeepers: The role of cult media fans in collecting, preserving and sharing fanworks.  This presentation summarised the research done for my doctoral thesis so far, particularly focusing on the results of a Delphi study conducted between February and September 2015.

I was initially nervous of presenting my findings, since my background, whilst it is the arts and humanities, is not specifically in fan studies, and my current focus is, as I have mentioned before on this blog, on Library and Information Science (LIS).  I therefore cannot pretend to be as familiar with the discipline of fan studies as those who study in the field, and presenting to those who do can be daunting.  I need not, however, have worried.  The conference included presentations from scholars that represented a wide range of backgrounds, from marketing to psychology to human geography.  There was a diversity of theories, methodologies, and practical applications that is rarely seen in other fields; and I think this speaks to the recent growth and huge potential in fan studies to embrace different disciplines – and vice versa.  The conference turned out to be a great space of researchers of different backgrounds to share ideas, find unexpected commonalities, and to broaden horizons by opening up one’s peers to possibilities and ways of working that they might not have previously entertained. Even the live tweeting reflected this:

All this helped to dissipate my initial anxiety, as I was pleasantly surprised to realise that there was a warm openness to these different approaches to fan studies, and that my own LIS approach to fan studies was received with interest.  Even the explanation of the Delphi study – that research method that no one has ever heard of and takes a million years to explain – was met without too much resistance!

Cornel Sandvoss (of Fans:  The Mirror of Consumption fame) gives a fascinating keynote.

Cornel Sandvoss (of Fans: The Mirror of Consumption fame) gives a fascinating keynote. (Source: Facebook)

I won’t go into too much detail regarding the presentation – if you’re so inclined, you can view the slides at this link: Fans as gatekeepers EFC15 (best-viewed when played).  To summarise both the presentation and the results of the Delphi study, consensus amongst panel members was surprisingly high, and, most gratifyingly, the majority of statements in which the highest confidence was placed was on those that regarded the information behaviour of fans.  This means that, amongst the study’s panel, there was an extremely high level of agreement about how fans collect, organise and disseminate fan-related information and fanworks.  It became clear, through these results, that information management, sharing and sourcing are all significant aspects of fan activity, but that it is so intrinsic to it that fans aren’t even aware of it as being ‘information work’.  This became clear during the question section of the presentation and in conversations afterwards, when audience members shared their own recognition of this being a part of fan practice, but not usually in a self-aware way.  This was heartening because it meant that this was an area of research that had little coverage and was worth further investigation.

Lastly, I wanted to add that I was amazed at how much overlap there was between my own research and the research of those present.  My own panel included presentations on fans as producers (produsers?) of user-generated content, and on the ‘fan press’ or fan journalism – all of which are concerns of LIS.  In a wider context, I was surprised to learn that more than one conference attendee had done past research on fan wikis, and that – put bluntly – I was not alone! Which is always a good feeling.

All in all, I can safely say that the conference was a fantastic experience, with a friendly, welcoming vibe and some great opportunities for networking.  Many thanks to the organisers for making this a such a super experience for a first-time presenter and early-career researcher.

(The abstract from the conference can be viewed here).

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“NSFW: Fanworks and the Library” at #citymash

Alison Pope brainstorms Matt Finch's #citymash session, 'Death & Burlesque'.

Alison Pope brainstorms Matt Finch‘s #citymash session, ‘Death & Burlesque’.

On Saturday I had the good fortune to present a talk at #citymash: Libraries & Technology Unconference, entitled “NSFW: Fanworks and the Library” (click the link to download the accompanying handout).  The unconference, held at the City University London Centre for Information Science, was an opportunity for librarians, information professionals, LIS students, and all people with an interest in technology and libraries to pitch their own sessions, share ideas, network and discover. The idea was to learn lots and do it in as fun and engaging a way as possible; and whilst there were some moments of panic (last minute presentations, potential room swaps, and unresponsive computer pod monitors!), I was blown away by the enthusiasm, creativity and intelligence of everyone present.  I was particularly impressed by the willingness of the #citylis Masters students themselves in leading their own sessions and bringing forward some great ideas, both innovative and practical.  A taster of some of the things encountered during the day: a 3D printing maker cart, comics and creativity in libraries, open source software implementation and grounded theory.  So – very eclectic, very fun and very mentally and intellectually challenging.  A fantastic cauldron of stimulating things!

I was a little nervous about my presentation, to be brutally honest.  Fandom in libraries is not very techy and I was concerned that it might not be what participants were expecting from the day.  Nevertheless, the audience were very enthusiastic and had some interesting ideas to put forward that I had not thought of before.  My hope was that, in presenting some of the concepts that I have been exploring in my research (on the information behaviour of cult media fans), my audience would see some ideas and make some connections that I hadn’t recognised before.  The talk provided to be really successful in this area, and I was furiously scribbling notes throughout the hour, trying to get down the fantastic insights that people were able to feed back to me.

Me delivering my talk on fandom in the library.

Me delivering my talk on fandom in the library, via Lyn Robinson.

The great thing about #citymash is that the conversation continued well after the event had ended (and even after the after-event drinks that stimulated further conversation afterwards).  The live tweeting of the event brought some great discussions together, and it was my pleasure to have a fascinating online discussion with Imperial College’s Andrew Preater, library innovator Owen Stephens, and LibraryThing founder Tim Spalding about the usefulness of fan tagging.  This helped me to further articulate some of my ideas about bringing the passion of fans into LIS.  Owen was kind enough to point out to me the Visitors & Residents approach put forward by JISC, which lays out a continuum of information user behaviours: from the visitor, who seeks information to satisfice, to the resident, who is a social information seeker who thrives in a community.  What interests me is: where does the fan fit into this?  Do they fit at all?  And how can the passion of fans be harnessed by information professionals and educators to improve the way we organise, share and create information?

I don’t know yet if there are any answers to this question, but I’m really happy to have had the chance to put those questions out there and get back some fantastic food-for-thought from an intelligent and inspiring group of people.

You can view a Storify of #citymash here.

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Fan info behaviour – Delphi findings update

In the interests of original research, I’ve removed the previous text of this post.

However, I would like to say that so far the findings have been really interesting, and that the Delphi panel’s responses seem to tending more to a consensus.  Fans may not be an homogeneous group, but it appears that there’s a lot they can agree on, especially where their information behaviour is concerned!

I’d like to thank my 31 participants for their amazingly in-depth responses, and for their patience in waiting for me to get Round 2 sent out.  They all went above and beyond the call of duty in sharing their lives as fans with me.

I hope to get Round 2 sent out some time next week, or the week after.  In the meantime, here’s a link to Mason & Robinson’s (2011) list of sources of inspiration for emerging artists and designers (pp. 167-176) – from my perspective, it’s interesting to compare the inspirations of artists to that of fans.  It brings to mind just how much fans also share with creators.

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