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


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.


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.




One thought on “Some notes on what LIS can learn from fan information behaviour

  1. I saw no “message” tab on yr pg? Is that because must follow first? So i thought to try to C+V here

    I beg to introduce my first books written in Japanese for almost 30 years.

    These 4 books introduce about 10,000 kyouka (novel waka, mad-cap verse, eccentric poems). None has an English title and most titles lose much in translation; but those who may enjoy the thousands of rhyming translations and cannot read Japanese might want to know what sort of poem is in each book, so I will do my best to English the titles and subtitles below.

    古狂歌 ご笑納ください 副題:万葉集まで首狩に行ってきました 約六百頁 Old Kyouka Laugh If You Please – head-hunting poems all the way back to the Manyoshu (*”Laughingly accept this please” is a polite expression used for gifting & 31 syllabet poems are counted as “heads”)

    古狂歌 物に寄する恋 副題:託せば思ひも軽くなります 約七百頁
    Old Kyouka Love by Metaphor – playing with trope will lighten your burden
    (*Love and heaviness, ie, omoi, are homophonous so the subtitle itself is light)

    古狂歌 滑稽の蒸すまで 副題:鮑の貝も戸ざさぬ国を祝ふ  約四百頁
    Old Kyouka Droll Toasts – celebrating a country where even abalone stay open
    (*In Japanese, abalone stand for one-sided love so all know they’re open on one side; unbarred=open doors symbolize a peaceful land in the Sinosphere)

    古狂歌 気の薬のさんぷる袋 –「ご笑納ください」の大文字短縮版 約二百頁 Old Kyouka A Sample Bag of Medicine for the Soul – large-print short version of Laugh If You Please (There is a song-bag of a throat on the frog and literally a vessel to store scraps of poetry in for later editing and compilation)

    ※約一万首の主なる出典は、狂歌大観+上方狂歌+江戸狂歌本+日文研の和歌DB。(Most of the 10G poems come from three series of old kyouka books of several hundred thousand poems and one huge online waka databank w/ even more. In other words, these books are selections of poems interesting in one way or another most of which were never selected before.)

    Long explanations of all 4 bks

    “FuruKyouka GoShounou Kudasai”, subtitled “Manyoushuu made Kubikari ni Ittekimashita” has 2-3000 pre-modern poems, both waka and kyouka that cover the seasons, love, travel, religion etc to give a comprehensive sampling of hitherto neglected old kyouka (the free-thinking, free-wording B-side of waka) . This is bringing owls back to Athens, but these wise and witty poems are not just the proverbial bird, they are a whole family of owls that never were properly appreciated in their homeland. Few are known and few find their way into the equivalent of the OED, Nihon Kokugo Daijiten usages. In other words, this is a book to change both the appreciation and history of poetry in Japan by introducing the brave, free and funny side of it. (If you cannot read Japanese, check out Mad In Translation. However, the more recent English translations in the Japanese series is, on the whole, better, and the source is much larger and includes overlooked post-1740 Kamigata kyouka, late-Edo kyouka and more old waka.)『古狂歌 ご笑納ください』の副題は「万葉集まで首狩に行ってきました」。約二千首(+約一千英訳)以上の歌例は、四季と恋の大なる歌部を始めに、旅、神祇、釈教など古狂歌本にある歌部の総合紹介です。ご協力次第、50万語の初版を種本に、ベストセラーを狙う10万語以下の蒸留撰を短縮版に、文庫やE本も、なるべく早く用意して、出したい。 本書は、古狂歌 気の薬のシリーズに属する。

    FuruKyouka Kokkei no Musu made, subtitled “Awabi no Kai Mo Tozasanu Kuni o Iwau.” While tracing back the major lines of trope for celebrating the Nation, the Emperor and/or Ruler and/or the Times, the author who is no authority, did not like the proverbial child notice the Emperor was naked, but did indeed find something experts overlook: good humour – call it “roasts in the toasts” – that suggest even the limited authoritarian personality theory as applied to Japanese might be tweeked (readers: I entertain and demonstrate by the entertaining poems, themselves, so if socio-psychology sounds boring, please, not to worry: I let most such thought stay between the lines. (If you cannot read Japanese, check out Mad In Translation. However, the more recent English translations in the Japanese series are, on the whole, better.)『古狂歌 滑稽の蒸すまで』の副題は「鮑の貝も戸ざさぬ国を祝ふ」。和歌と狂歌を問わず千五百首(約半分英訳)は、塵積もり山を成す、小石が岩になる、御代は動きなくなる等など、君と国を祝う歌の大系譜を遡り、幕末まで続く従来より深き、広き、勿ろん可笑しく追及しながら、天明狂歌の四方赤良の肯定的な志向と「めでた」歌を見直す。本書は、古狂歌 気の薬のシーリーズに属する。

    “FuruKyouka Mono ni Yosuru Koi”, subtitled “Takuseba Omoi mo Karuku Narimasu” traces major lines of love metaphor (and love poems incorporating certain words directly or by pun) back to ancient waka while introducing about a thousand newer ones found only in kyouka, the neglected B-side of waka and essaying the role of humour in love poems coming to the conclusion that even nonsense generally comes from the heart because lovers want to make the person they woo laugh. (If you cannot read Japanese, check out Mad In Translation. However, the more recent English translations in the Japanese series is, on the whole, better.)『古狂歌 物に寄する恋』は、長年 『同 寄○○恋』だったが、丸の字はオンラインで小さくなるから止めた。副題は「託せば思ひも軽くなります」。古代和歌の恋の比喩歌と暗喩を見出した何百恋歌を含む二千首の狂歌の大半が「寄海恋」とか「寄蟻恋」の如く何かの物に寄する題歌が原本のまま、その小半は、著者の勝手に「寄」の題を付けましたが、恋の有心と無心の分けられない関係を突き止める孤悲しながら、あくまでも恋を捨てたくない変な外人は古今の更に変な日本人の恋歌を首狩、解剖、英訳、囃す本。本書は、古狂歌 気の薬のシリーズに属する。

    “FuruKyouka Ki no Kusuri noSanpuru no Fukuro – ” subtitled “Go Shounou Kudasai no Oo Moji Tanshuku ban” is a condensed version of the general introduction and survey, Go Shounou Kudasai with about a fifth as many words, maybe a fourth as many poems and third as many pages. “Go Shounou Kudasai Lite,” you might say. With shorter sentences and less detail, it is easier reading. With more than 500 pre-modern poems, both waka and kyouka that cover the seasons, love, travel, religion etc it gives a pretty good sampling of what hitherto neglected old kyouka (the free-thinking, free-wording B-side of waka) were about. This is bringing owls back to Athens, but these brave, wise and witty poems are not just the proverbial bird, they are a whole family of owls never fully appreciated at home. This book, together with others in the series, may well change the appreciation & history of poetry in Japan. (If you cannot read Japanese, check out Mad In Translation, but the more recent English translations in the Japanese series are, on the whole, better and the poems selected from a far larger pool.)
    『古狂歌 ご笑納ください』の大文字短縮版。文字数が約五分の一、解釈が四分の一、頁数は三分の一。秀歌の大半とその英訳を残しながら、多くの首を落とし、長書苦手の若者と分厚い本を遠慮したいお年寄りも笑いながら読める、すっきりした本です。

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