Fanfiction in the Library

LR:LP title slide #fsn2016

Image of title slide, created by @ludiprice

Here is a brief synopsis of the paper which @ludiprice and I presented at the Fan Studies Network Conference, University of East Anglia, 25th-26th June 2016. We are hoping to publish the full paper in the conference proceedings. Further information about the conference can be found on the Fanstudies Network site, and on Twitter #fsn2016 .

In our 20 min session, we outlined and discussed the results of a small study that aimed to take a snapshot of the extent to which libraries within the UK collect fanfiction, and to gain some insight into the reasons behind this.

The study is part of a wider investigation into the information behaviour of cult-media fans. The first two stages of this three-part research project are described in:

Price L  and Robinson L (2016). “Being in a knowledge space”: information behaviour of cult media fan communities. Journal of Information Science (in press).


The question of fanfiction in the library arose from a somewhat anecdotal feeling that general knowledge of, and interest in, fanworks has increased significantly over the past five years. This time period is notable to us as the timeframe during which we have discussed and collaborated on communication of fanworks. Over this time, there has been an increase in reporting of fanwork related news and issues in the media, doubtless fuelled by the encroaching of a previously niche domain into mainstream concerns including copyright and publishing, media industry interest, education, and policy development.

Additionally, conversations with Library School masters students over the years revealed increasing awareness of, and active participation in fandom, although we have no hard data to enable us to compare cohort awareness and involvement over the past 5 years.

Despite the expanding reportage, discussion and engagement with fanworks, collections and collection policies for fanfiction, perhaps the most notable subset of fanworks, within memory institutions in the UK seemed scant, although we were aware of  notable zine collections in the US, and the zine/fanzine collections at the London College of Communication, and at the British Library.

In order to gather some empirical evidence about the extent to which fanfiction is considered by the library and information (LIS) sector, we carried out a small investigation comprising a literature review, examination of a sample of collection policies, and a survey of members of our Library School cohort.


Our survey of both the LIS and fanstudies literature found very little on the generic concepts of collecting fanfiction, confirming our view that formal collection of fanfiction, let alone fanworks, is somehow overlooked by the mainstream LIS sector, and that there is little dialog between the LIS discipline and the community associated with fanworks. We did find some papers concerned with the specific zine collections that we were aware of, (Sandy Hereld, University of Iowa) and we also encountered reference to the ‘anti-collection’, where archives and collections are maintained by those outside the main memory institutions; in this case, the fans themselves. Indeed, fans do an excellent job of collecting and organising fanworks; some collections, such as Archive of Our Own rival professional digital archives. Nonetheless, most such collections rely on ad hoc funding and resources, often personal, and can disappear overnight.

The literature gave us several indications as to why fanfiction is largely ignored by libraries:

  • Not proper books
  • Does not fit library processes
    • No ISBN
    • No standard metadata
    • Not available through standard acquisition processes
  • Concerns about intellectual property

Nonetheless, despite the lack of representation of fanfiction collecting or collections in either the LIS or fanstudies literature, there was evidence that libraries are showing an increasing interest in catering for fans as library users: recommending sources and examples of fanfiction, using fanfiction as literary instruction, and running in-house fan events.

Examination of a representative sample of of UK library collection policy documents confirmed what we found from the literature, that fanfiction is not formally collected. The main fan-related collections in libraries are fanzines.

In order to understand the reasons behind this paradoxical situation, where there is a noticeable body of work and interest in fanfiction, and yet a limited interest from the LIS community, we invited our current library school students, and alumni to complete a short, online questionnaire. The idea here being that our cohort represents the next generation of library and information professionals, and their views on fanfiction would therefore be likely to be representative of future collection policy.

The survey showed that although 88% of the 25 respondents had heard of fanfiction before joining the course, and 59% read or had read fanfiction, only 52% felt that memory institutions such as libraries should collect fanfiction.

Thus, despite a high awareness and engagement with fanfiction, opinion on its value as cultural heritage was mixed. Reasons for this correlated with the reasons ascertained from the literature review. One participant suggested:

 I’m torn on the subject. On the one hand it is an important cultural institution at this point, and provides wonderful insight for those studying fanworks, feminism, LGBT issues among other subjects. On the other hand, part of the reason fanfiction is so diverse and weird and sprawling is its inherent illegality and not-for-profit status.


There are no national plans or policies for the collection of fanfiction within the UK. At institutional level, some collections of fanzines exist, but the limited collection, indexing, archiving and preservation of a wider selection of works leaves a black hole in our cultural heritage. Fanfiction, and indeed all fanworks, instantiate a significant body of creative talent across a wide variety of disciplines including art, creating writing, poetry and music. The technical skills needed to create fanworks can be considerable, involving sound, video, animation and a high degree of internet, web and social media savvy. It is perhaps worth considering whether more should be done to comprehend the scope of fanworks, and to at least understand what we are not collecting.

The issues associated with collection of fanfiction and fanworks are inarguably complex. The body of work is enormous, and institutions are pressed for resources. Funding for this type of research and practice is minimal to non-existent. There are not just digital works to consider, many works exist only in printed, analogue format, often in limited quantities.

Two main areas for further investigation arise from this study.

First is the set of questions regarding copyright and publishing. Although fanworks are challenging restrictive limitations on creativity, distribution, and commercial activity, little seems to be changing in reality, and the issues surrounding the rights of canonical authors are important and valid.

Secondly, is the question of how we define documents. Although memory institutions include analogue and digital media, such as images, audio and video, in addition to printed documents in their collections, the rapid escalation of digital resource formats is challenging how we define a ‘document’, and hence what we collect. Many fanworks are multimodal texts, and others can include art installations, performance art and performances. The increasing availability of technologies associated with virtual and augmented reality offer yet more possible media formats for fanworks. The question is not only should we collect and preserve these works, but how.

The initial question of fanfiction in libraries is deceptively simple, and not one which will be answered by either the LIS or fanstudies disciplines alone. We suggest that it is a conversation that we should have together.


Photos by @lynrobinson cc-by




Core Collections

Collections are anarchic, they exist for and are defined entirely by their own purpose, they have their own identity and exude individuality.

Collecting is not just about acquiring everything. Collections can be very small, representative (core) rather than comprehensive. Collecting is about making connections, considering relationships and rearranging until the collected items sit in the ‘right’ order – this latter being open to interpretation. When looking at a collection, it is possible to gauge how one thing relates to another, to see where there is duplication, and where there are omissions. Good examples make themselves known, as do poorer contributors. Collections are aesthetically pleasing to behold, and they exude a calming stability in a world of dizzying change. Although as living entities, collections may have to be restructured and reinterpreted over time, at least at any one moment, collections are finite and thus comprehensible. I have made collections from just about all of the things I possess. I seek out items I gave away years ago in order to ease the pain of the ‘gap in the collection’. Books, of course, but also old magazines, items of glass, crockery and anything from Liberty’s. I am immediately interested in someone who has a collection of their own. The whole is always greater than the sum of the parts, and collections tell us things that isolated items cannot.

Which leads me to core listings, and resource lists. These surrogate collections furnish us with a manageable format via which to comprehend the real thing – they are often used to facilitate assembly of an actual collection, and they have traditionally been valued for their integrity and the effort expended over their construction.

The creation of resource listings is one of the fundamental areas within library and information science, (one of Hjorland’s1 eleven aspects of domain analysis) and yet very little is written about their construction – there is no definitive way for them to be produced. Nor, I am rather sorry to say, is it entirely clear today that listings of any sort are valued in the face of ‘go google’ – the land of instant lists.

I have a longstanding interest in listings. I started my career thinking about the ideal (comprehensive) listing of toxicology resources, at a time when it was feasible to contemplate such a thing. Once the Internet rendered our world global instead of local, any hope of a comprehensive resource listing within any subject area vanished. Instead we were left with the representative listing, the expert listing, the popular listing or the ‘here are some resources you could try’ listing.

As part of my doctoral research, I scoured the literature for methodologies relating to the compilation of resource lists and subject guides. As a response to the void I postulated (Robinson2) that ideal resource lists could be created by locating items via a cascade style of hierarchical searching; one would search first for lists of lists (quaternary resources), then for lists (tertiary resources), then for value added (secondary resources) and finally for the first instantiation of a work within the literature (primary resources). I called this hierarchy the ‘fundamental framework of resources’

The idea was academic, because in the real world resource creators do not adhere to my framework. They often create hybrid resources (a list containing other tertiary as well as secondary items for example), and not all resources are entered into a higher resource (not all lists are listed in a list of lists, not every article is indexed in a database …) which make a systematic cascade impossible to follow. It would be great if we had a single world list of lists for every subject – a bit like the gopher system – alas a distant memory. Nonetheless, I concluded that searching systematically, across databases, the internet and within ‘level specific’ resources, for resources within each of the four categories, would result in a representative listing of resources within any area.

The problem, as exemplified by my attempt to create a toxicology listing, was one of overload. There were simply too many resources to make even the term ‘representative’ an obvious way to go on its own. It thus became necessary to apply some selection criteria, whereby an item was included in the listing if it was the only one of its kind, or it was exemplary in some way. Me-toos were cut out, so that the list offered good examples of resources from categories such as books, journals, library collections and databases. This particular piece of work was carried out a decade ago; today we are faced with many more modes of dissemination. And a much bigger task.

So how then, to create resource listings in 2010? My interest has been stirred by joining the working group behind the creation of an updated edition of the Core Collection of Medical Books, under the auspices of CILIP’s Health Libraries Group. The last Core Collection3 was published by Tomlinsons in 2006.

The idea is to stick to a listing that just covers books, in order to bring the project within a manageable framework, but even then we come up against the issue of e-books and electronic access. The group favours including only works available in print, although some of these may be available as electronic editions, and in time, it may be that some works are missed if they are only available in electronic format. It was thought that this decision could be revised for a future edition.

Other considerations were the intended audience, previously stated as small to medium libraries, and the level of texts to include. It was considered that any constraints on potential audience should be removed, and that even though the listing would have a UK focus, it may be helpful to libraries internationally. The size of the listing was considered, currently around 1000 items, and the method of publication – another printed edition was favoured unanimously, but the group are using LibraryThing to solicit new items to be considered for inclusion, and comments on items in the existing list. It was suggested that if items received no comments, that they should be removed, but this was undecided as ‘no comment’ may not mean that an item should no longer be considered core. A date of no earlier than 2005 was mooted as a limit for publication date, as medicine progresses rapidly and texts date quickly. It was thought that this would be waived in a few cases where older texts are still believed to be valid (in psychotherapy for example).

Finally, the methodology for creating the listing, which for now is constructed from the last listing, plus any additions sent in by volunteer LIS workers contacted largely via lis-medical. This method was agreed to be limited, and an extension to the deadline for comments/submission was proposed so that more LIS professionals could be asked to contribute (CHILL and UHMLG members). The group also conceded that input from clinicians would be valuable, although probably time consuming to extract. I raised the issue of systematic searching by expert LIS staff within each category, but this was perhaps expecting too much time and effort from already time-poor staff. It was felt that an expert eye (LIS professional in our group) should assess the entire list in order to identify any obvious gluts or gaps; this highlights the strong desire of the group to bring the core collection into being as this is quite an onerous task. The third part of the methodology would be editorial, checking the text for publication etc.

The final aspect for consideration was the categorization used, or tags (the latter used with LibraryThing). The current tag list has been copied from the last edition, and the group will consider whether any changes should be made in the form of new tags or division of older joint tags such as ‘pharmacology and toxicology’ into separate headings. The tags have not been taken from any existing medical vocabularies, and the group has no plans to change this at the moment. It was decided, however, that we would not encourage free tagging, and that anyone suggesting an item for the list should use an existing tag.

The ease with which LibraryThing can be updated and maintained raises the question of whether the list needs to be finite – as theoretically new suggestions can be added in at an time – there is then the question of a mechanism for editorial control though.

So, the group intends to make a final call for comments and additions, whilst the group lead will look over all the entries to identify subjects (tags) where input is needed. We will meet again in the new year to consider our final material, and our options for producing a printed version, which despite the ready availability of the core collection on LibraryThing, was felt to be highly desirable.

Two companion works are already available; the Nursing Core Collection4 and the Mental Health Core Collection5. Further details can be found on the CILIP HLG website, from the link above.

It was my pleasure to meet a group of like-minded collection and resource list lovers, and I wholeheartedly admire their dedication to this project.


1) Hjorland B (2002). Domain Analysis in Information Science: eleven approaches, traditional as well as innovative. Journal of Documentation, vol 58 (4) 422-462

2) Robinson L (2000). A Strategic Approach to Research using Internet Tools and Resources. ASLIB Proceedings, vol 52 (1), 11-19

3) CILIP Health Libraries Group (2006). Core Collection of Medical Books 2006 5th edition. Tomlinsons

4) CILIP Health Libraries Group (2010). Nursing Core Collection 2010 4th edition. Tomlinsons.

5) CILIP Health Libraries Group (2009). Mental Health Core Collection 2009 2nd edition. Tomlinsons

I Collector

Mimi Troll in one of my earliest outfits

So, December 31st, and all the books lying on my attic floor are still there. They have progressively accumulated since last January, and whilst I have every good intention of promoting them to their ‘proper’ place on the shelves, they remain where I first put them, in little huddles on the floor. The reason they are still resident on the carpet, where the Bad Persians spitefully spike their corners, is that I have no more room on my shelves.

I get older painlessly, endlessly absorbed with taking everything off one shelf, dusting, and believing that it will now be possible to squeeze more in than before. As I return the volumes I become distracted by something as I leaf through the pages, and time slips away as I engage with something I have owned for ages, but never focused on before. There is then the dilemma of whether a book should be in place A, with X Y and Z, or in place B with E F and G? Should my books on Lithuanian libraries stay alone in my attic with LIS related material, or should I unite them with their natural co-habitees of books on Lithuanian places, folk tales and cuisine (currently downstairs with travel, fiction and cookery respectively..)? Should my Ladybird book of ballet stay here with the other ladybird books or should I separate it from its same size siblings and put it downstairs with the other books on ballet? Maybe I should have two copies of these things..? No. Definitely no. There is no more room on my shelves.

In his book ‘The Library at Night’, Alberto Manguel devotes a whole chapter to ordering (The library as order). His dilemma in arranging his collection offers me some solace.

He writes that as a boy, he would decide:

… to place them by size so that each shelf contained only volumes of the same height.

But that

… sometimes this order would not satisfy me and I’d reorganize my books by subject: fairy tales on one shelf, adventure stories on another, scientific and travel volumes on a third, poetry on a fourth, biographies on a fifth. And sometimes, just for the sake of change, I would group my books by language, or by colour, or according to my degree of fondness for them.

Once a category is established, it suggests or imposes others, so that no cataloguing method, whether on shelf or on paper, is ever closed unto itself.

And  later, in adulthood, when creating his own library, he writes on the subjective and personal nature of the organization of private collections:

Why stash the works of Saint Agustine in the Christinianity section rather than under Literature in Latin or Early Medieval Civilizations? Why place Carlyle’s French Revolution in Literature in English rather than in European History, and not Simon Schama’s Citizens? Why keep Louis Ginzberg’s seven volumes of Legends of the Jews under Judaism, but Joseph Gaer’s study on the Wandering Jew under Myths? Why place Anne Carson’s translations of Sappho under Carson but Arthur Golding’s Metamorphoses under Ovid? Why keep my two pocket volumes of Chapman’s Homer under Keats?

Ultimately, every organization is arbitrary.

Not just me then.

Then there is LibraryThing – and the need to not only to add in all my books (scanning in the covers for the more ancient or foreign ones), but to devise a scheme to tag them all according to where they are on the shelves, and consequently to which category I feel they should belong. Although any electronic catalogue allows for the possibility of placing an item in more than one category by adding multiple tags, this does not help in my quest to create the ideal collection, in the ideal order, with all the books on the shelves. And sadly, on the topic of social networks for books, Alberto Manguel is silent.

But, dear reader, there is more to this prose than the story of how I maintain a collection of books rather than just a stash beside my bed. The truth is I collect quite a lot of things. I mean collect them rather than just happen to give them space in my house, because they are obtained specifically in relation to the other things which I possess. They are organized. I organize them. Endlessly, never to my complete satisfaction, and occasionally (designer handbags) to facilitate gloating. And there is never enough space to present my collections on the shelves and in the cupboards, in the way in which I would like.

I have been driven to contemplate my true nature as I read “An Infinity of Things: How Sir Henry Wellcome Collected the World”, written by Frances Larson, in which she investigates his compulsion to collect just about everything. Whilst the word ‘obsessive’ is not mentioned, the negative consequences of Wellcome’s desire to collect ‘everything’ are painful to read about.

His marriage failed; his need to control not just the objects his buyers found, but any subsequent research ideas that ensued, caused significant friction between Wellcome and his employees, and perhaps most sadly of all, he collected too much. The process of collecting overshadowed the desire to learn from, or enjoy, the things collected. Most of his collection was in storage, destined to be partially dismantled after his death.

Wellcome believed that only a complete collection would be worthy enough to display, one which would truly tell the story of the history of medicine. He believed that by arranging the items in his collection, contrasting and comparing, making connections, previously unknown facts and understanding would be revealed. But in the meantime, he died:

… Wellcome ran out of time. The story that might have emerged from all his frantic collecting – the great history ‘of the art and science of healing’ that he intended to depict through his rarities – was never finished. The collection was never exhibited en masse, polished and consistent, as he intended it to be.

Yet, perusing the fantastic legacy that is now the Wellcome Collection and Library, it is impossible to say anything other than that Henry Wellcome’s activity was worth it.

So what about my collections? Well I don’t think I collect anything with a view to having everything. I think I first thought of this when attempting to compile a list of toxicology resources for my PhD – too many even a decade ago for the most ardent of resource collectors. My approach has evolved to aspire to a representative sample of what is available (e.g. LIS books, colored frock coats and SpaceNK products). After all, there is no more room on the shelves. And I doubt that anyone will consider my collections a legacy.

But I do enjoy being organized and I naturally form collections from the things I have. I have to put like things together and take great pleasure in thinking of ways to do this. My great uncle’s bible and his stereoscope, for example, may seem unlikely shelf sharers, and yet I place them side by side in the cupboard because they are the only things of his that I posses, and so even though I have other bibles, this particular one sits alone on a box of cards intended to generate 3D images at the beginning of the 20th century.

Sometimes I discover new things from arranging the old things. Recipes for example. All the cut out ideas from magazines and newspapers could so easily sit in a heap, good for nothing except artful clutter. Yet when organised according to savoury or sweet, and even crudely subcategorized, I find a pattern in the type of food I felt drawn to, and a renewed interest in cooking something nice to eat. And then who hasn’t enjoyed making playlists from all the CDs which lay forgotten in their rack, as soon as all the tracks are loaded onto iTunes – the software arranging the random pile of sound history into something new and attractive – hateful to those who admire the concept of an entire album, but smashing for those of us who only ever liked one track anyway. And the same for photos, and papers as well as books. What about all those old letters and postcards? Is there anything that cannot become a collection? Cleaning products, the contents of the fridge, knitting patterns, crockery … mmm  I can see where Wellcome had a problem – its all so interesting, placing like things together, establishing differences, seeing what is missing, and what has previously passed unobserved.

My earliest collection was one of books by Enid Blyton – and then when I was eight, I started to collect trolls (see Mimi above) – each named and dressed in clothes I designed and made myself. Easy to see where I came from.

But it is December 31st , and so before another year passes, I am going to the fridge to find cheese and champagne – and yes … the cheeses are stored according to country of origin… but no – I don’t collect champagne – I drink it as soon as it is chilled. Happy New Year.


Larson F (2009). An Infinity of Things: How Sir Henry Wellcome Collected the World. Oxford University Press: Oxford.

Manguel A (2006). The Library at Night. Yale University Press: New Haven and London.