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.
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:
- A literature review of past and present research into the concept of fanworks as documents, or as parts of a wider collection;
- 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);
- 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.
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.
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.