Why Study Fan Archives: An Interview with Abigail De Kosnik

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Interviews by Fans
Title: Why Study Fan Archives: An Interview with Abigail De Kosnik
Interviewer: Henry Jenkins
Interviewee: Abigail De Kosnik, (Gail DeKosnik was used incorrectly on part three)
Date(s): posted in three parts: October 4, 6, 10, 2016
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Why Study Fan Archives: An Interview with Abigail De Kosnik was conducted in 2016 by Henry Jenkins for the blog Confessions of an Aca-Fan.

The interview's focus is on the historical and cultural importance of fan archives, fan activism, digital culture, and popular memory, and the book Rogue Archives: Digital Cultural Memory and Media Fandom.

The interviews referred to in the interview: Fan Fiction Oral History Project.



In my interviews with fan archivists, I was struck by how passionately they felt about digital preservation of fan works, how important they thought it was, how deeply they thought about how the structure and functions of their archives. All of the fan archivists that I spoke to had strong technical skills ­­ that’s one reason that I call them “techno­volunteers,” they volunteer because they have an intuitive sense for how technology could be used to make enduring cultural archives, if only a volunteer stepped in to make that happen ­­ but not all, or even many, of them were professional programmers.

The reward of archiving, it seems, is largely the endurance of the archive itself, because what all archivists talked about was how appalled they have been at seeing fan works, or even large fan archives, disappear. Another reward that many interviewees spoke of was the relationships they got to build because of their archival activities, and also what archiving had taught them about the diversity of fandom.

As for compensation, well, almost every archivist said that their fan archives cost them money, because they have to pay for server space or simply because they have to pour time and effort into these non­income-­generating projects. But the compensation that I would like to see for fan archivists is simply greater recognition. I wish that fans valorized their archivists the way they valorize their favorite fan artists and authors and vidders.

Techno­volunteers tend to be invisible because many users assume that online archives are automated to the point that nobody in particular needs to actually own and operate the archives, and make regular decisions and oversee them and steer and guide and maintain them, and that simply isn’t the case. Even a highly automated archive has at least one person, and usually more, working hard behind ­the­ scenes, at the “back end.”

In other words, I argue that digital archive users tend to confuse the “servers” (the people who volunteer to serve them by building them working archives) and “servers” (the hardware that serves up fan works on demand). Fan archivists are humans, not machines. They deserve as much respect and admiration as prominent fan creators.