The Professionals Circuit
|Name:||the Professionals Circuit, the Circuit Library, the Online Circuit Library, the Professionals Circuit Archive|
|Dates:||1980s - present (circuit); 1996 - present (archive)|
|Type:||Fan Fiction Archive|
|Click here for related articles on Fanlore.|
First, there was the Circuit
Zines were already common in Star Trek and Blake's 7 fandom, yet in the mid-'80s, when stories were first being written for The Professionals in Britain, fanfic was mostly just shared from fan to fan. The "circuit" was thus a way of trading stories around without the formality of publishing them as zines. (Pros began as a slash fandom, and the vast majority of Pros fanfic has always been slash, but the circuit had both slash and gen stories.)
Issue 6 of the The Hatstand Express (1985) was the first issue of that zine that that uses the phrase "the circuit" -- up until now, fans used the terms, "the network," "the usual sources," and "making copies for people."
Then the Circuit Library
By the late 1980s, Professionals fandom had begun to offer zines, but most of the fiction was still on the "circuit," which by now had been gathered together in the Circuit Library. in the U.K. run by Sara S/Gryphon Press, and the primary U.S. version run by Nancy Arena and then later by Karen B. The US library was initially called "The Hatstand Press Lending Library," but it too came to be known as the "Circuit Library. While the US and UK circuits had significant overlap, time, distance and the informal nature of distribution meant there were differences in what was included in the circuit library in each country. In addition, in the early days of the fandom there was some resistance to sharing UK circuit stories with the Americans. According to one UK fan, distribution of stories to the US was slow to start. There were tensions between some British and US fans regarding the quality of the US written fiction, the inclusion of Americanisms in US fiction, and the "right" of those not living in the UK to write about a UK show. To ease tensions, some UK fans increased the number of copies they mailed to the US.
The majority of circuit stories were slash and were passed from fan to fan either in person or through the mail. The stories were written under pseudonyms such as HG, O Yardley, Meg Lewtan and Agent 6.9. Copies were originally printed using typewriter carbon paper but as the number of UK readers grew fans mailed their stories to a UK fan who had access to a photocopier at work. As an interesting side note: UK circuit stories were printed on A4 paper so when the stories were copied in the US onto smaller letter sized paper, the titles and the author names were sometimes cut off. Fans would write what they thought were the titles and names in the margins with the info scratched out and corrected by subsequent readers. Pages grew more and more faded after multiple copying and, on occasion, the top and bottom lines were cut off during US photocopying. Some of these factors led to the creation of the US electronic circuit library (see below).
In the early 1990s, the U.S. library had over 1,000 stories. You could order up to 10 stories at a time once a month. It cost $12 a year to join, plus mailing fees both ways. (At 10 stories a month, it would take about 10 years to read them all.) The library worked best when you worked in unison with a partner or two, so that fans could double, triple, or quadruple the amount of stories they could receive per month. Fans would photocopy the stories and bind them. These bound stories would often be lent locally to other fans in effect becoming their own mini-circuit library.
Since the composition of the circuit was fluid and ever changing, it was often hard to keep track of what was legitimately included and what might be a photo-copied story from a published zine. In May 1993, Karen B, the US circuit librarian, included the following in her updated circuit Library Master List:
- "There's been a lot of talk lately about zine pirating, and the Library has been mentioned unfavorably. So this is a good time to re-state policy - it is not and has never been Library policy to distribute stories taken from in-print zines. That doesn't mean it never happens; as I no longer buy Pros zines I'm not always aware that a story sent to me - sometimes with no name and no indication where it came from - might not be "eligible." If any of you see a title in the Library that doesn't belong there, because it's still in print in a zine, please let me know! It will be immediately removed - but someone has to tell me about it.
- I've also heard that the Library might be banned from MediaWest Con—this is very strange, as the Library hasn't officially been at Media West for some years. The only official appearance of the Library (in terms of selling off excess copies of stories) is at ZCon. No exceptions. What people choose to do with their own individual copies of stories, whether obtained from the Library or not, is their own business."
The U.S. Circuit Library closed down in ??
The U.K. Circuit Library is still going as of 2008, distributing stories to subscribers by physical post. It is still run by Sara S.
One note: the library was the formal way of interacting with the circuit -- it was not the circuit, itself.
A Note About The Transition Of The US Circuit Library
The first US circuit library, started by Nancy Arena was informal and did not advertise. It was only with the transition to Karen B that the collection took on its more 'library' status and begin advertising in adzines. The US circuit library was "formally" announced in June 1985 (although much of the work of organizing and copying and mailing took place in 1984). By April 1986, the subscriber base of the new US circuit library reached 70 people.Nancy Arena remembers:
In about 1980-81 I began to collect some of the few British Pros stories through American friends. With permission from the writers, many of whom were using pseuds, I started copying those stories and charging $.03 a page (which is what it cost me) plus postage .It was all done as a matter of trust - I sent the stories, then I was paid. I never asked for anything for my time except for the opinion of the person of the story. This actually worked very well. At first this included only a couple of friends, but gradually the number of stories grew (American, British, Australian, French) and so did the number of people asking for stories. In those days there were no Pros zines, and using actual names of actors was strictly underground. Everything was by word of mouth And there were no computers.
When we got into the 400s in the way of stories, I began to be overwhelmed. Fans would write and just casually ask for all the stories, and I'd have to copy 400 some-odd stories. I kept a chart of who had what and whether I had been paid. I did all this while working full-time...[and raising a family].I had met Karen at a small con in LA, where she was introduced to the Pros. This was around the mid-eighties. She offered to take over, using her library system. I asked the fans (which had become a rather huge number) and only a couple disagreed, so I happily handed over all the stories and the names and addresses."
But What Is This "In the Circuit?" That You Speak Of?
As soon as stories began circulating beyond a few friends, the question of whether s story was "in the circuit" or not (and therefore could be freely copied and shared) became tricky. Overseas communication in the 1980s was done by mail and many, if not most, stories could not be traced back to an author who could be contacted to clarify the story's status. Even circuit librarians struggled with separating stories as fans pulled them from the circuit to be republished in fanzines and then later released them back to the circuit.
In December 1995, fans began debating on Virgule-L whether the novel Master of the Revels could be considered part of the circuit library and was therefore eligible to be retyped electronically. Confusing matters was that there were two different versions of the novel: one published in fanzine format in the US with color art and another version published in the UK without art and which was part of the UK circuit library. Even after fans confirm that the novel was typed and release chapter by chapter to the UK circuit and then, only later, was it put into a more legible zine format with color art, other fans insisted that the story should not be returned to the circuit. Complicating matters is the fact that the US publisher announced the zine would remain out of print (although she would sell photocopies at full price). The matter was finally resolved in early 1996 when the UK circuit librarian announced that she pulled the story from circulation after it was published in zine format. This exchange once again illustrated that the debate over who defined "circuit stories" could not be easily resolved.
As fans on both sides of the Atlantic became more adept at using e-mail in the later 1990s, both readers and librarians found they could better keep up with the changing status of circuit stories. The problem of anonymous stories and of stories written by fans who had long since gafiated would mean that the status of a certain portion of the library would always remain unresolved.
Next came the Electronic Library
In 1992, Virgule-L was formed. Almost immediately, the Pros fans on the list started to pimp Pros to the Star Trek and Blake's 7 fans on the list. Alexfandra was one of the first converted, and quickly became Primary Pros Pimp of the list. She and other list members occasionally typed stories in so they could email them to each other to make pimping easier. Alex maintained a list of these stories and coordinated typists, so that no one typed a story twice, and by late '93, it was known as Alex's electronic Pros library. (People also typed in stories when they noticed the Library copy they had was almost unreadable -- clean copies were made available to Karen B to use in the circuit as she saw fit.) When a typist sent Alex a new story, Alex sent the story out to everyone on the Professionals story list. (This list, now called Proslib after many hosting changes, still exists, and is still used to distribute newly typed-up circuit stories, as well as for posting of new stories.) At this point, there wasn't an organized effort to put all of the Circuit Library online. (A side note is that many fans at that time were still wary of the Internet, and one person called Alex a "danger and a menace to fandom" for making the stories available electronically.)
Alex explained the operation of the electronic library in an email to the Virgule-L mailing list on December 27, 1994:
"The Pros Email Library consists of circuit stories typed in for distribution via email (logically enough). There are currently 120 stories and novellas available. Up until now, I've maintained a list of library "subscribers", who automatically receive any new story as soon as it's been typed in. I now see the need for two lists, one the same as described, and a second "update" list.
The update list would be for people who don't want to automatically receive stories but, instead, prefer a periodic update of what's been added. They could then individually request a story, and it would be sent on. This should work well for fans who a) already have most of the stories we're typing in and don't need new copies, or b) have some kind of pay service and don't wish to pay for stories they don't really want, especially since much of what we're working on now is novella/novel length.
So, if you are already on the library list and wish to continue receiving all newly input stories automatically, you don't need to do a thing, I'll just leave you on there. If you wish to be switched over to the Update list instead, let me know.
If you're not on the library list and wish to be added to either the regular subscriber list or the Update list, please let me know and I'll do so.
The first message I'll send to the update list will be a listing of all current stories in the library, as well as works-in- progress. After that, I will try to send out an update every 6-8 weeks; even if nothing new comes in, I'll send a brief message letting you know that we're all still alive and still typing/scanning/proofing like mad.I hope this will work better for people than the current system-- seems more sensible to run it closer to the way Karen B. runs the regular snail mail circuit library."
In May '95, with about 140 stories, novellas, and novels typed in, Alex gave up the Online Circuit Library and D. Ramsey took it over. D. Ramsey was the new broom, motivated to "make something" of the library. A month later, in June '95, D. Ramsey mentioned on Virgule that she was planning to acquire a password-protected FTP site, so that people could download their own Pros stories instead of making her mail them out.
A firestorm erupted over placing the works of writers into cyberspace without permission. (The level of hysteria was high: "All it would take would be an English-speaking hacker to get in, recognize the characters and splash it all over the news.") There were complaints that these fen generously offered their creations to Karen B's library, to be PRIVATELY circulated among Pros fans; to which other fans responded that circuit does NOT equal "Karen B's library."
Others pushed back, saying that any story that couldn't be verified as having permission (something virtually impossible to do what with pseudonyms and the huge number of stories labeled as being by Anonymous) shouldn't go into any electronic storage/distribution site. The argument finally broke into two sides -- did we have the right to move other people's intellectual property to a new format? And was putting stories on the 'net, even on a protected site, taking the chance of "outing slash" in some horrible way?
In the face of this, the FTP plan was abandoned, and old Pros writers started making their wishes known about electronic copies. In January 1996, authors O Yardley, HG, E.T. and several other British authors asked not to have their stories emailed, but they were okay with them being snail mailed on diskette. 
Back to work
Some of the typists deserve fan awards -- for example, Jan Levine typed the 615 pages of Waiting to Fall (at the time, probably fandom's largest novel, and still more than twice as large as any other Pros story in the Professionals Circuit Archive).
In October 1995 Morgan Dawn brought the Pros Online Library on her laptop to Zebracon for people to copy for themselves. In February of '96, she did the same at Escapade. There were roughly 200 stories, and they fit on 11 formatted IBM diskettes.
The diskettes remained a key way to distribute the Online Library for years; after signing up for the email story list, you could send D. Ramsey either a set number of blank disks (which grew as the Online Library grew) or enough money to cover the costs of disks, and she would send you the entire library back, catching you up to the point where you'd joined the email list and started saving them yourself. (This provided a very handy way to locate stories -- each disk was numbered, and the same stories were always added to the same disks, so you could tell someone to check Disk 17 for the story they were looking for.) Later, when home-burned CDs became available, the Online Library switched to CD for distribution -- but still in "disk #" folders, to keep things consistent. A story on diskette 17 would be in folder "Disk 17" on the CD.
As of September 2013, the Pros CD is up to Disk 125. 
In Mar 2000, Deb R. created the Yahoo email group Proslib to distribute the stories online. As of March 2012, it's still active and under moderation by The Hag who continues to send out the Pros Circuit stories on CD disks. The Proslib mailing list remains, however, the main method of distributing both old and new circuit stories. Still, with the explosion on websites, Livejournals and online archives, most new stories are posted online and never make it into the "circuit."
The Professionals Online Circuit Archive
Later in 1996, Meri began the Sisyphean task of getting permission from Pros authors to put their stories on the web as The Professionals Circuit Archive (wayback archive links here). Pros fandom was still somewhat suspicious of the Internet, and it was her tireless efforts to contact authors personally (often through snail mail) and persuade them of the benefits of permitting their stories to be archived online that made the archive possible. It was slow going, not just to find authors to agree, but to get the stories themselves typed up. The online archive went live on April 19, 1998 on Geocities. By December 31, 2003, there were approximately 700 stories in the archive. By 2009, that number had grown to 1900.
In 2004, the archive was turned over to Justacat. She completely redid it as an automated archive, with a search engine to make stories easier to find. Unlike most other automated archives, though, Justacat didn't open uploading to anyone else; she still uploads every story herself. This is to prevent fans, in an attempt to be helpful, from adding circuit or zine stories to the archive that their authors haven't given permission for. Stories from the circuit are still being added as well, with permission. Currently, from drabbles to novels, the archive has 1,963 fanworks archived -- not just fanfic, but also fanart and vids, making the Circuit Archive one of the most complete fandom archives on the web.
And yet, even in 2008, the electronic library (available by joining the email group, or ordering a CD of its contents) has many stories that are not (yet?) available on the online Archive.
The Circuit Archive may have fallen into limbo as the last story that Justacat uploaded was in 2009. In the meantime, The Hatstand Automated archive opened in 2008 and is still allowing authors to upload their own fiction directly.
The Circuit vs Fanzines
Perhaps because Pros fandom started off by exchanging fanfiction through the circuit, the introduction of fanzines was not greeted with open arms. There was extensive discussion of this issue in the issues of The Hatstand Express. Below are only a few selections from that discussion, covering a wide range of topics.
- a fan is conflicted about the idea of Pros zines: "I'm a little troubled too, at the prospect of B/D zines. If zines are likely to mean a reduction in the number of stories that are passed around the circuit, I shall regret it very much. I enjoy putting my own ideas into words, enjoy even more sharing my ideas with friends, and if my stories give a much wider circle enjoyment as well, well that's terrific. But the best aspect of this fandom is the informality of it all - l love that and the way stories will arrive in ones, twos or threes, instead of me having to wait months for a zine. And although it's tempting to have a go at submitting to a zine, I don't think I'd like anything of mine tied up for very long. I don't write very quickly, but when I do finish something I like it to go out as soon as possible." 
- more on zines, and this fan focuses on cost: "On the topic of zines versus the circuit — zines do have the advantage of giving readable copies. I have not done a price per zine page comparison to the price per photocopy cost, so I can't figure if any price difference would enter into it. The circuit does give you the option of only paying for copies of stories you want to keep, assuming you are able to borrow and do your own copying. This is the first fandom I've encountered with the photocopy circuit, so I'm still not sure if I like this better or not. In its favour is the faster writer to reader time over the more conventional $10-$20, year late, and two years after submission type zine. With THE [The Hatstand Express], coming out on an on-time quarterly basis, that does not affect its stories so much. I am a bit disappointed when I see reruns in THE, but since they are clearer copies than the originals I saw, and I've pre-paid for them at almost a postage only basis, I haven't minded so far." 
- a fan writes of the democratic nature of the circuit: "I think we should remember one thing: a zine is under the control of the editor(s) and their concept and ideas will be what's presented. The 'circuit' embodies the idea most of us have been preaching since the beginning, and that is 'everybody has the right to write'. Everybody who wants to should be encouraged to write, and everybody who writes has the right to write what they feel is right!"
- about zine and exclusivity: "The exclusivity of zines is a fallacy. Zines are far less exclusive than circuit stories. Anyone can buy a zine, anyone can lend it to their sister or best friend or lover or funny uncle William. But the author who sends her story out on the circuit (not the library but the circuit, which is not quite the same thing, appearances to the contrary) can say 'this story cannot go to Wyoming,' or 'you can read it but not copy it,' or 'your eyes only.' Not very friendly, eh? But it's being done. Ask around, and then tell me that zines are more democratic than the circuit."
- regarding zines and the threat of change to some fans' influence: "I can't understand why people are so violently anti-zine. At times, I wonder if the hostility towards zines is not a result of misdirection. Much of the hostility seems to come from older fans who are watching their fandom grow beyond them. Zines, as a symbol of the new wave, provide a convenient target. What I don't understand, beyond the fact that you don't want change, is why you object so strongly to the new wave. Many new writers have come into the fandom bringing many excellent new stories with them. Surely you can't object to that? Do you object to the supposed loss of intimacy? Did you really know everyone in the fandom or did you just have your own little circle that is now no longer quite so little? Don't you find it stimulating to have new ideas, new perspectives, new stories? S/H fandom would kill for an influx of people into their ranks such as B/D has witnessed." 
- a BNF writes: "... on the subject of zines versus the circuit - again, of course, everyone is welcome to act as they wish, which they would anyway. I don't kid myself that anything I say is going to affect world opinion, I merely wish to state that I will not write for zines as I am still waiting for some of my K/S stories to be printed and I haven't written one in over 3 years. I need feedback a great deal quicker than that and have found the circuit to be a very satisfying method if dispersal." 
- another fan writes: "Zines are more democratic in that anyone who has the money can buy the zines; however, they are also less democratic because what is published is subject to the individual whims and policies of the editors. What you see on the circuit is dependent on 'for your eyes only' and 'read but don't copy', etc., but then those who don't wish others to read their stories don't send them to zines either. A zine doesn't spring forth by osmosis. What has always concerned me about the circuit, though, has been the potential for a resurgence of the cliques and "play by my rules" power games that were here in the early days. I do not wish to see that."
... the circuit fandoms may have harmed the zine fandoms. Fans who had only known the free stories saw nothing wrong in copying zines. These people only copied the stories they liked....There is a real irony in this whole situation, in that as more and more K/S fans drifted into B/D, they wanted to see a more familiar form of stories (with art!), and many B/D zines are springing up. This is causing the circuit to suffer to the point where I have had discussions with fans as to if the zines are killing the circuit! 
The truth fell somewhere in between - while fanzines did cut into the availability of circuit stories, the Internet had a bigger impact on both the paper circuit and printed fanzines. In the end, the direct reader-writer connection via electronic means won the hearts and minds of fandom.
Notes and References
- There were short-lived lending libraries in other fandoms: (Prydonians of Prynceton Lending Library for Blake's 7); a FK library; Camille Bacon-Smith's book mentions the lending library for K/S zines. Many cons have/had zine libraries, often including boxes of old circuit stories. Until recently, Ming Wathne tried to manage a fanfic archive, the Fanzine Archives for zines from all fandoms. None of them worked as well, or for as long, as the Pros Circuit Library.
- Source: Email from Nancy Arena dated July 16, 2012 stating she handed the US paper circuit off to Karen in the 1980s.
- Southern California Pros fandom created their own satellite circuit to take some of the stress off of Karen.
- Article in Discovered In A Letterbox, Issue 13.
- Article in Discovered In A Letterbox, Issue 13.
- Karen's letters to The Hatstand Express #2-4 (1985-1985).
- Karen's report in The Hatstand Express #9. Even though Karen had begun advertising the circuit library in 1986, when she learned that an Australian zine Syndicated Images was running an ad for the US library, she asked that they cease and desist. See The Hatstand Express #12 (1987).
- According to Karen B. herself, writing in issue 2 of The Hatstand Express, she became involved with The Professionals at CopCon which was held in October 1983.
- Email sent to Fanlore dated July 17, 2012.
- Source: Morgan Dawn's personal notes, accessed March 29, 2012.
- The first set of stories were offered to the Virgule-L mailing list in July 1993. Many were typed up by the "Houston Crowd" and included: Endgame, Consequences, The Anniversary, Siren, Hyperion to a Satyr, and Wrapped Around Your Finger. The majority of these circuit stories had no identified authors at the time. One list member forsightedly suggested that somebody should put an ad in a letterzine asking for copies/disks of typed stories as a way of leveraging circuit stories that were already sitting on hard drives.
- Other names were initially suggested (most in jest): "Project/Slut-enberg" (named after Project Gutenberg which had just started; "PROSE - PROfessionals Slash Endeavour"; and "Project Scottish Cow" (after Cowley).
- Source: Alex's email, quoted with permission, accessed April 15, 2012.
- They may have been confused over how the electronic circuit worked, not understanding that stories were only being shared by email or mailed via floppy diskettes. The fact that few of the UK writers had access to email or the Internet made communication difficult and rife for misunderstandings. D. Ramsey promptly removed the stories from the electronic circuit and with the help of a long-time fan who knew the UK authors, sent them a paper letter introducing herself, outlining the now three year old project and answering any questions and concerns. All four authors eventually allowed their work to be be both emailed and later posted online, but it took years before they were comfortable enough to allow it. Source: Morgan Dawn's personal notes; D. Ramsey's message to fandom re the status of the online circuit dated January 26, 1996, accessed April 12, 2012.
- Link will take you to the current version of the Proslib CD Index; reference link; reference link (September 21, 2013).
- About the Professionals Circuit Archive, accessed October 31, 2008.
- The Hatstand Automated archive]
- The Hatstand Express #7 (1985).
- The Hatstand Express #7 (1985).
- The Hatstand Express #7 (1985).
- The Hatstand Express #8 (1986).
- The Hatstand Express #8 (1986).
- The Hatstand Express #9 (1986).
- The Hatstand Express #10 (1986).
- from The LOC Connection #58