10,000 zines and counting: a library's quest to save the history of fandom

From Fanlore
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Title: 10,000 zines and counting: a library's quest to save the history of fandom
Commentator: Adi Robertson
Date(s): September 4, 2015
Medium: online
External Links: 10,000 zines and counting: a library's quest to save the history of fandom, Archived version
Click here for related articles on Fanlore.

10,000 zines and counting: a library's quest to save the history of fandom is an article by Adi Robertson. It has the subtitle: "The University of Iowa's fanzine collection is going digital before it falls apart."

The focus is on the digitalization of the science fiction zines and material that had been collected by Rusty Hevelin.

Some Topics Discussed

Some Excerpts

In July, UI digital project librarian Laura Hampton officially began [1] the long process of archiving the Hevelin Collection. The library is partnering with the fan-run Organization for Transformative Works to collect more zines for eventual digital archival, but Hampton is currently focused on material from the 1930s to 1950s, spanning the rise of zines and the Golden Age of science fiction. The vast majority of the images will stay offline, but

an accompanying Tumblr has given outsiders a peek into the roughly 10,000 zines that Hevelin donated — and into the communities that helped create science fiction as we know it, from fandom clashes to fan fiction.

Fanzines feel almost designed to resist archival. "Creators were working with what they had, often within pretty tight budgets, and producing fantastic images with relatively cheap materials," Hampton tells The Verge. Many of Hevelin’s zines were hectographed — copied by pressing paper to an inked gelatin pad. The medium produced brilliant purples and blues that can still be seen in some of the illustrations. But it favored cheap, highly acidic paper, and images could fade within hours under direct light. "There are rusty staples, tape — all these material things that make a fanzine a fanzine are also what make them difficult to preserve." Each zine is photographed page by page as quickly as possible, supported by a specially designed cradle, until it can go back in storage.

"One of the things that surprised me most about the fanzines is their personal nature," says Hampton. "While some editors primarily published fiction, so many of the fanzines are personal accounts of cons, events, reviews of other publications, reviews of pulps. There is a dialogue that emerges, between publications and across years."

Digitizing the Hevelin Collection is a long-term project, but it’s merely a part of the University of Iowa’s whole fandom archive. And the archive itself captures only pieces of fandom history. Zines still exist, but future archivists will face the challenge of collecting stories, videos, podcasts, and art spread across hundreds of fan sites and larger repositories. They’ll have to decide what to preserve and how to present it — the equivalent of fanzines’ personal conversations might now take place in a LiveJournal comment section, or the reviews of a story on FanFiction.net.

Fandom itself has been dealing with these questions for years, and the Organization for Transformative Works runs its own fiction archive and fandom wiki. But libraries have to work with longer-term solutions in mind, ones that aren’t dependent on outside hosting services or current computing platforms. "This is one of the central questions of the profession today, and answers are varied and ever-changing," says Hampton.

Even with these limits, the Fan Culture Preservation Project is stopping a key part of fandom history from disappearing. But in doing so, it’s using the zines in a way that their creators may never have envisioned or intended, and the effort hasn’t sat well with everyone. As the project progresses to newer material, it will also shift into more sensitive territory. Where early zines might have published gossip and reviews, later ones circulated the first slash fiction — stories, often explicitly sexual, about romances between male characters.

"I don't want my fanzines included in any way," wrote one commenter on the Organization for Transformative Works’ [2009] announcement post. "I keep in print those I want to keep available, and some have purposefully been taken out of print and allowed to quietly fade away. If I wanted them made public and accessible, I'd have done it." [2]

Some of the complaints hinge on how accessible the zines will be. While the archives are being digitized, only small pieces like the Tumblr photos are being put online. A group of volunteers will transcribe the text and upload it into a searchable directory. If researchers want specific material, they can visit the library or request scans of limited portions, a standard archival practice. To some people, that’s enough; to others, it’s tantamount to letting someone photocopy and redistribute their zine.

Hampton says that anyone who is uncomfortable with their work being digitized can contact the library, and they’ll try to work out a solution. But she also says that there hasn’t been much resistance to the project. She hopes that some creators might even want to make their zines publicly available, something the university is in a uniquely strong position to do.

And for every hesitant author or editor, there was one enthusiastic about the project. "Sure, I'm slightly embarrassed, in an amused way, by the zines I published up to 50 years ago," wrote a fan who said they’d seen at least one of their old zines in UI’s library. "But I published them — typos, grammatical infelicities, naiveté, and all — for people who might enjoy them, and that still holds."