Preserving the Image of Fandom: The Sandy Hereld Digitized Media Fanzine Collection at Texas A&M University
Media fandom - the cultural practice of active interest in various movies or television shows - is a widespread and vibrant part of American popular culture. Fans create all sorts of artifacts related to the objects of their affection, including fanzines. Media fanzines are amateur publications usually (though not always) containing works of fan fiction. Fanzines have been important aspects of fandom for decades - many were created as ephemeral, impermanent print objects, while others were born digital. In either case, whole generations of media fanzines are disappearing and with them, the creative record of this colorful phenomenon. Texas A&M University is involved in creating a unique digital repository consisting of thousands of scanned and archived fanzines dating from the 1960s to the present.
Preserving and providing access to fannish materials presents several unique challenges beyond the merely technical. There is the issue of copyright and appropriate permission: most fanzines were copyrighted by their creator and therefore require permission in order to make them accessible. Older fans have often drifted away from their informal creations and many good-faith efforts to locate them are necessary. In addition, many media fanzines are actually anthologies with multiple authors and artists, requiring an untangling of rights and permissions from a single product. Efforts at graceful diplomacy are often necessary, because fans are often very protective of their fannish identities and activities, and reluctant to have those "exposed" to the outside world. We are obliged to explain our motives and our belief in the strong research potential of fans' creations.
Metadata creation raises the issue of fannish anonymity. Some fans - those who used pseudonyms or entirely separate cultural identities as fans - do not want their legal names revealed or used, and the desire for continued anonymity requires metadata decisions that reflect this motivation. Media fanzines can be classified under many different subjects and genres - in constructing the metadata structure for the repository we have this ongoing issue of limiting vocabulary to deal with as well.
Finally, we were faced with the issue of how to provide access. Online access would, of course, vastly increase potential audiences, but secured onsite access would assuage privacy concerns of many fannish donors. The Hereld DMFC operates now under secured onsite access, but as progress on the collection is made this decision may change.
The construction of the Sandy Hereld DMFC provides a number of interesting questions (and some answers) relating to digital archiving and how institutions can successfully build and maintain repositories of digital material, material with incredible potential for institutional and collection promotion and outreach.