Fanfiction in the Library

LR:LP title slide #fsn2016

Image of title slide, created by @ludiprice

Here is a brief synopsis of the paper which @ludiprice and I presented at the Fan Studies Network Conference, University of East Anglia, 25th-26th June 2016. We are hoping to publish the full paper in the conference proceedings. Further information about the conference can be found on the Fanstudies Network site, and on Twitter #fsn2016 .

In our 20 min session, we outlined and discussed the results of a small study that aimed to take a snapshot of the extent to which libraries within the UK collect fanfiction, and to gain some insight into the reasons behind this.

The study is part of a wider investigation into the information behaviour of cult-media fans. The first two stages of this three-part research project are described in:

Price L  and Robinson L (2016). “Being in a knowledge space”: information behaviour of cult media fan communities. Journal of Information Science (in press).


The question of fanfiction in the library arose from a somewhat anecdotal feeling that general knowledge of, and interest in, fanworks has increased significantly over the past five years. This time period is notable to us as the timeframe during which we have discussed and collaborated on communication of fanworks. Over this time, there has been an increase in reporting of fanwork related news and issues in the media, doubtless fuelled by the encroaching of a previously niche domain into mainstream concerns including copyright and publishing, media industry interest, education, and policy development.

Additionally, conversations with Library School masters students over the years revealed increasing awareness of, and active participation in fandom, although we have no hard data to enable us to compare cohort awareness and involvement over the past 5 years.

Despite the expanding reportage, discussion and engagement with fanworks, collections and collection policies for fanfiction, perhaps the most notable subset of fanworks, within memory institutions in the UK seemed scant, although we were aware of  notable zine collections in the US, and the zine/fanzine collections at the London College of Communication, and at the British Library.

In order to gather some empirical evidence about the extent to which fanfiction is considered by the library and information (LIS) sector, we carried out a small investigation comprising a literature review, examination of a sample of collection policies, and a survey of members of our Library School cohort.


Our survey of both the LIS and fanstudies literature found very little on the generic concepts of collecting fanfiction, confirming our view that formal collection of fanfiction, let alone fanworks, is somehow overlooked by the mainstream LIS sector, and that there is little dialog between the LIS discipline and the community associated with fanworks. We did find some papers concerned with the specific zine collections that we were aware of, (Sandy Hereld, University of Iowa) and we also encountered reference to the ‘anti-collection’, where archives and collections are maintained by those outside the main memory institutions; in this case, the fans themselves. Indeed, fans do an excellent job of collecting and organising fanworks; some collections, such as Archive of Our Own rival professional digital archives. Nonetheless, most such collections rely on ad hoc funding and resources, often personal, and can disappear overnight.

The literature gave us several indications as to why fanfiction is largely ignored by libraries:

  • Not proper books
  • Does not fit library processes
    • No ISBN
    • No standard metadata
    • Not available through standard acquisition processes
  • Concerns about intellectual property

Nonetheless, despite the lack of representation of fanfiction collecting or collections in either the LIS or fanstudies literature, there was evidence that libraries are showing an increasing interest in catering for fans as library users: recommending sources and examples of fanfiction, using fanfiction as literary instruction, and running in-house fan events.

Examination of a representative sample of of UK library collection policy documents confirmed what we found from the literature, that fanfiction is not formally collected. The main fan-related collections in libraries are fanzines.

In order to understand the reasons behind this paradoxical situation, where there is a noticeable body of work and interest in fanfiction, and yet a limited interest from the LIS community, we invited our current library school students, and alumni to complete a short, online questionnaire. The idea here being that our cohort represents the next generation of library and information professionals, and their views on fanfiction would therefore be likely to be representative of future collection policy.

The survey showed that although 88% of the 25 respondents had heard of fanfiction before joining the course, and 59% read or had read fanfiction, only 52% felt that memory institutions such as libraries should collect fanfiction.

Thus, despite a high awareness and engagement with fanfiction, opinion on its value as cultural heritage was mixed. Reasons for this correlated with the reasons ascertained from the literature review. One participant suggested:

 I’m torn on the subject. On the one hand it is an important cultural institution at this point, and provides wonderful insight for those studying fanworks, feminism, LGBT issues among other subjects. On the other hand, part of the reason fanfiction is so diverse and weird and sprawling is its inherent illegality and not-for-profit status.


There are no national plans or policies for the collection of fanfiction within the UK. At institutional level, some collections of fanzines exist, but the limited collection, indexing, archiving and preservation of a wider selection of works leaves a black hole in our cultural heritage. Fanfiction, and indeed all fanworks, instantiate a significant body of creative talent across a wide variety of disciplines including art, creating writing, poetry and music. The technical skills needed to create fanworks can be considerable, involving sound, video, animation and a high degree of internet, web and social media savvy. It is perhaps worth considering whether more should be done to comprehend the scope of fanworks, and to at least understand what we are not collecting.

The issues associated with collection of fanfiction and fanworks are inarguably complex. The body of work is enormous, and institutions are pressed for resources. Funding for this type of research and practice is minimal to non-existent. There are not just digital works to consider, many works exist only in printed, analogue format, often in limited quantities.

Two main areas for further investigation arise from this study.

First is the set of questions regarding copyright and publishing. Although fanworks are challenging restrictive limitations on creativity, distribution, and commercial activity, little seems to be changing in reality, and the issues surrounding the rights of canonical authors are important and valid.

Secondly, is the question of how we define documents. Although memory institutions include analogue and digital media, such as images, audio and video, in addition to printed documents in their collections, the rapid escalation of digital resource formats is challenging how we define a ‘document’, and hence what we collect. Many fanworks are multimodal texts, and others can include art installations, performance art and performances. The increasing availability of technologies associated with virtual and augmented reality offer yet more possible media formats for fanworks. The question is not only should we collect and preserve these works, but how.

The initial question of fanfiction in libraries is deceptively simple, and not one which will be answered by either the LIS or fanstudies disciplines alone. We suggest that it is a conversation that we should have together.


Photos by @lynrobinson cc-by