An archive is an online collection of fanworks, usually fanfic, providing a centralized place for people to post and look for stories. The term generally means a multi-author collection, most likely open to anyone to submit stories, occasionally moderated for content or quality. Most fanfic archives focus on a specific fandom, or a genre or pairing within that fandom, although some are open to all fandoms, such as the Archive Of Our Own or animemusicvideos.org.
Archiving can also mean preserving and saving print/hard copy fannish materials, including costumes, vids, convention program books, zines, con badges, and more.
Another form of archiving is when fans save fanworks to their hard drive, personal devices, and print out physical copies of fic to read later or share. For a 2005 peek into this practice, see To Save or Not To Save (Fanfic); archive link page 1; archive link page 2; archive link page 3 by bethbethbeth.
Fans have also been active in archiving fanworks in general, such as other fans' websites, Tumblr pages, screenshots, and more. See: Archive your fandom stuff - dispatches from the ironsands
Archiving, Permanence, and Loss
Archives are generally intended to be at least semi-permanent, but time, money, and interest can affect their lifespans. Archives may fall victim to lack of funds, changing interests both on the part of contributors and maintainers, quick-moving technology, and fannish culture and expectations. Sometimes these archives shut down, with or without warning. Sometimes they are passed on to another archivist. Many older archives continue on but do not accept new submissions.
One option for preserving online archives is the OTW's Open Doors project. The OTW also assists fans in finding archives to preserve hard copy/print zines, fannish flyers, paper memorabilia, con programs, and other physical materials through the Fan Culture Preservation Project.
Who Does the Archiving?
- an archivist or team of archivists who upload their own fanworks and/or the fanworks of others, the latter with specific permission (examples: Me and Thee Archive, Hexwood)
- automatically handled by a list server under the assumption that anyone posting to the list knows in advance that their posted work will be logged for future access (examples: Gossamer, Trekiverse)
- fans themselves, using archives that allow them to archive their own fanworks (examples: Archive of Our Own, FanFiction.Net, The Kirk/Spock Fanfiction Archive, 852 Prospect, Blackraptor, Wattpad)
Archive policies regarding what they will and will not accept varies widely.
The earliest fanfiction archives were created by hand, with archivists collecting submissions via email and uploading, coding and creating appropriate links to relevant internet pages both inside and outside of the archives.
Although this can be a time- and labor-intensive process, some archives continue to work on this model.
Gossamer, and X-Files site also began in 1995. A list of active X-Files archives from 1995 can be seen here. Most were ftp sites with a few web enabled sites. The Highlander mailing list HLFIC-L also had an FTP archive by 1996. Other mailing list archives in 1996: - jadfe Forever Knight slash, dsx (Due South slash), hlx (Highlander slash), dief (Due South), and fkfic-l (Forever Knight). The Due South fanfic archive moved twice in 1996 from the University of Maryland to a server in Australia and then on to the Hexwood Due South archive.A fan remembers a different time:
Another comment about early archives: was the era where themed fanfic archives were a thing. Some were ship specific. Some were fandom specific. Some were kink specific. Sometimes people just created archives to gather all their favorite fic in one place, manually recruiting authors off of other fiction archives, fan forums, web searches, etc. The upside of that is a lot of the good fic from that era was crossposted to 6 different archives...
I wasn’t going to put this in the hella long answer that I just posted because it’s not really relevant, but does anyone else remember the old archives? The really ancient ones? That looked like this?
That was all. No description, no author, no pairing, no rating, no tags, no warning. You didn’t even get a hint as to which version of Star Trek the fic was about. Just a blank page with a line of document names. It took forever to download them only to find it was a NOTP or kinky or what. And I’m not saying y’all have it easy, but…
Y’all have it easy.# the good thing is # i have it easy too # which is awesome # fandom history # oh captain my captain was het # my fair jeanne was what we called genderswapping # it's about time was k/s # she moves in mysterious ways was m/omnipotent being in female form 
Early archiving was often a bit of a free-for-all. Authors often put disclaimers on their fiction saying it was okay for others to archive their work, but that they wanted to know where the stories ended up. Other authors didn't require the stipulation of notification. It wasn't uncommon to see comments by authors saying they had no idea where all their fiction was posted.
Archive sites had a variety of levels of permission. Some had none at all: one example of the latter is this disclaimer: "Due to the number of closed sites and absent authors these days, no attempt was made to get permission to archive. If any author finds a fic here that they don't want to have included on the site, email me and we'll discuss it."  A fan in 1997 stated in her fiction header: "I'm happy for the story to be circulated uncommercially, intact and with my name still attached." 
In 1998, JenRose, an archivist at Idealists Haven, attempted to tame the X-Files wild west a bit with a post to alt.tv.x-files.creative. Comments below are from ARCHIVISTS AND AUTHORS!; archive link with the comments expanded.
A fan, Loch Ness, addressed some fans' concerns regarding this post:
This thread is specifically designed so archivists in the process of linking to authors rather than gossamers can have a fairly relatively up to datish source.
As it will be archived at dejanews, it will also be quite searchable.
If anyone else would like to compile the list, feel free. I don't have time.
My original motivation for this was.... <drumroll>
Gossamer archivists suggested that other archivists either host the stories themselves or link to the authors sites.
RATHER THAN forcing each and every archivist to email each and every author and ask them permission for this, I thought it would be really cool to have that information readily available. A lot of us couldn't care less who archives our stuff and where, and others of us care very much. If I were an archivist, I'd want to know.
So this *may* reduce the workload involved in shifting links and downloading stories, by reducing the numbers of permissions people have to ask for.
If someone says, "Yes, I have a web page, and it's okay for people to link to it with permission", and someone already has permission to link to that story on Gossamer and wants to move the link, they know that: 1. The author *does* have a web page 2. The author is willing to have people link to it 3. The author has a current e-mail address
Thus, it is easier for an archivist to know it's okay to move the link or archive the story, and Gossamer's load is reduced.
This is not a "permanent" or "complete" solution. It's a temporary and useful tool to help ease the work load a bit.If you were in the process right now of shifting links for 200 stories from 30 authors, wouldn't it help if you could find the web pages, permission status, etc. right here, rather than opening each and every story and praying that the email is still good?
I think is a valid point if you assume that these messages will be the *only* source for distribution information. But they're not. Almost everything posted these days contains some kind of distribution statement at the top, whether it's "do not archive" or "only at Gossamer" or "archive anywhere" or whatever. IIRC, the Gossamer FAQ requests/requires that, and my personal view is that if you don't put that statement at the top, any archivist is free to do whatever he/she wishes. I don't think JenRoses' intent was to eliminate those distribution statements - I doubt any of us really expects that archivists are going to check DejaNews every time they want to add a story.
Of course, I've been wrong before... :-)
Lord knows, as an author, I'm not going to stop putting a distribution statement on top of my stories, and as an archivist, I'm going to check the story itself first.
Archivist mode off; author mode on. I know, but some of us have a problem with that attitude. I have occasionally objected to the way a non-Gossamer archive presented my stories - the one that sent me ballistic was one that, cavalierly and without my knowledge or consent, changed the rating on one of my pieces from NC-17 to R. That was the point at which I started posting things with a notation that said "do not archive without author's express permission." Mainly I want to know where the stories are, so I can have a look and correct any problems (and not end up getting surprised by a flame from somebody who finds NC-17 material in a story someone else opted to rate R).
And yes, all my stuff is at Gossamer. I post with a "do not archive," then send it to Gossamer in a separate mailing, with an e-mail that gives permission and asks them not to remove the "do not archive" statement - in what now appears to be a vain hope that specialty archivists will see the statement and either ask for permission or take a pass on the story.FWIW, I don't believe I've ever refused permission when somebody asked. And the only time I've ever insisted someone pull a piece out was the by-now-notorious rating fiasco.
JenRose added some clarification:
A grateful fan, Pyrephox, points out:
ARCHIVISTS AND AUTHORS!- A Small Observation I designed the form with that knowledge. The fact of the matter is that some people just don't want to be archived that way, and I respect that. Some authors have retracted their permission for Gossamer to archive simply because they wish to retain more control. This is why I put "Notification preferred" or "Notification required".
This is a tool which is designed to make it a bit easier for smaller archives to find out quickly if the author they want to link to has a blanket permission for them to do so.
As for larger projects, as far as I know they don't have the "blessing" of the community for assumed permission anyway. Things like Dejanews are so automatic that if one is serious about not being archived, one must do the x-no archive-yes deelybop.
People who decide to do large archives with a large number of stories can't assume blanket permission. Gossamer already has it, with an established way of saying "Don't archive".
This is merely intended to help archivists who are looking to move their links from gossmaer to author pages to know when it is okay to do so. It is helpful for them to know what the author's general opinion is on the subject, so that they don't accidentally archive someone who does not want to be archived.
Putting authors' homepages in this highly searchable format makes it much easier for archivists to switch links from gossamer to individual author sites. This benefits the community greatly by taking the stress off of Gossamer.
No archive is "complete". Not even gossamer. I think the uncertainty principle explains this well.<G> You can never know exactly where all of the stories are, because some are not posted here, others are posted with a no-archive, and some simply never get to gossamer at all even if they are posted here. Authors have an absolute right to control where their works are archived, even if it is inconvenient to the community.
I want to make sure that people don't cavalierly start archiving without respect to the authors wishes. Yes, it makes it more difficult. But that's the way it is.
There are some really fantastic authors out there who specifically don't want their stories archived willy-nilly all over the net. Some who are not included at Gossamer at all by their own request. I personally would love it if all stories were on Gossamer. But as long as people don't respect the author's wish to notify, some authors will chose not to be archived at all.That's where the community loses.
Another fan, Circe, adds:*blinks* I just like knowing someone enjoyed my stories enough to archive or link to them... it makes me happy. I don't suppose they *have to* if it's really that much of a problem, but since I don't really have the time to check all the fanfic archives out there, I might never know where my stories have gone...
True, but it's nice to at least attempt to ask permission, especially when the author has requested notification. I've never denied anyone permission, but I like to know where my stories are. I don't think it's too much to ask for the archivist to drop me a line and let me know they've archived my story.
Modern archives are more likely to use some form of automated archiving software, allowing authors to upload their own stories. These archives often feature convenient functionality that hand-coded archives do not have. Some of the most common automated archive software packages are the Automated Archive and eFiction. On archives that use the Automated Archive software, a reader can input a search for very specific types of stories. On the Smallville Slash Archive, for instance, a fan might feel like reading an R-rated, angsty futurefic First Time for the Clark/Lex pairing, and easily be able to find every story in the archive that fits all those criteria. The eFiction software also lets readers filter stories through various criteria, and has many other appealing features, such as the ability to upload stories in chapters.
A Snapshot: Archiving in 2009
The biggest archive in 2009 was FanFiction.net. It had over a million registered users. Some fandoms set up efiction archives and hung out on the attached forums, and some forums set up multifandom archives to house the works of their members.
Archive of Our Own had been created the year before, and was just getting started.
Amongst what was then LiveJournal-based fandom (including fans who have moved to LiveJournal clones or forks such as InsaneJournal or Dreamwidth), archives have steadily declined in popularity since the late 90s. Some LiveJournal-based fans maintained personal archives on their own webpages and post announcements of their stories to LiveJournal mailing lists and other fan networks. Others used LiveJournal as their primary archiving site, hosting their fic as LiveJournal entries (rather than hosting them on an archive).
Posting fic to LiveJournal had disadvantages, principally that LiveJournal does not automatically searchable so stories must be manually indexed using newsletters, themed masterlists, and noticeboards; also, many stories are too long for a single LiveJournal post and had to be posted in parts or chapters. But authors kept control of their stories, so they could be easily edited or deleted, presented in an individual style, or locked to select audiences. And, critically, LiveJournal's comments system made it simple for readers to leave feedback, and for authors and readers to interact socially.
This scattering of fanac across multiple archives, social media sites, and message boards can made it hard for readers and writers to find each other. It resulted in a lot of fannish infrastructure devoted to collecting and archiving links to fanworks, rather than the fanworks themselves. On LiveJournal and similar sites, there were numerous noticeboard and newsletter communities, and, especially in HP, reccers like Painless J, who compiled themed lists of works. Social bookmarking sites like delicious, Gennio, and Stumbleupon were widely used to collect everything from personal recs, to all fanworks in a fandom/ship/kink/genre.
Archive Of Our Own
Archive Of Our Own is a project of the Organization for Transformative Works (as is the Fanlore wiki). It is a pan-fandom, multilingual fanfic archive, which features an innovative tagging system, the ability to bookmark stories, and enables challenge moderators to host and collect challenge stories in special collections. As of the mid-2010s, it became the biggest fanwork archive, surpassing FanFiction.Net.
Brainstorming for the Archive Of Our Own began in May 2007, and coding began early in 2008. By September 2010, the archive contained over 100,000 works in over five thousand fandoms. The archive reached three million fanworks as of 28 April 2017.
Archive of Our Own has also become a dominant archive regarding fannish cultural expectations and demands regarding tagging, warnings, format, feedback and kudos, and visibility.
Meta/Further Reading: Archives
- How Other People Wreck Up Your Favorite FanFiction Archive by Randi DuMois (2003)
- 'Elite' archives? (2004)
- To Save or Not To Save (Fanfic); archive link page 1; archive link page 2; archive link page 3 by bethbethbeth (August 2005)
- History of Fan Fiction Archives; WebCite by fanthropology (May 23, 2007)
- Fandom 1994-2000-ish/Part Two - 2012
- If you don’t support AO3′s policies, then don’t post your fic there.; archive link (January 2019)
- This is probably a very silly question but how do you know which fan works are 'worth' saving... choose-your-muse asked at prismatic-bell.tumblr (March 16, 2022)
Meta/Further Reading: Archiving Archives
- What's With IOHO?, a fan discussion about archiving, permissions, and fans as both providers and consumers of fanfic (1999)
- Ephemeria and fandom; archive link by aelfgifu (2005)
- Ownership and the (im) permanence of a fic after it's been posted. ; archive link by profshallowness (2005)
- Silence in the library: Archives and the preservation of fannish history by Versaphile in Transformative Works and Cultures, Vol 6 (2011).
- Xie - Preserving fandom history and heritage, Archived version (2008)
- Avoiding Kamino’s Fate: Archives, Archivists, and the Preservation of Works of Fandom, Archived version (March 3, 2016)