This week you can find me over at @wethehumanities, a rotating Twitter account where people working in the humanities get to share ideas, experiences, and stories. I’m using my week to talk about the grey areas between fact and fiction, dream and experience, stories and everyday life – as well as people who cross back and forth over the walls of universities and academic institutions.
Today I’m joined by Ludi Price, who is a fanfiction writer, doctoral candidate at City University’s School of Library & Information Studies, and also works as a librarian in the Far Eastern Languages collection at London’s School of Oriental and African Studies.
Ludi began by telling me about her doctoral thesis.
In a nutshell it’s about the information behaviour of fans on the internet. That means, how fans create, collect, organise, disseminate and share information on digital platforms. Of course, information can be instantiated in many different forms, from books to magazines to wikis to library catalogues – and much, much more. A lot of the information fans deal with are fanworks (what might be termed derivative, fan-created works, such as fanart and fanfiction), and, almost by their very nature, the circulation of these cultural artefacts is through, for and by informal channels. In an age of crowdsourcing and social tagging, this is something that is very interesting to me.
How did you come to choose fandom as a topic?
In short because I’m a fan myself! It’s been a huge part of my life since I was a child, when I used to write Malory Towers and Sailor Moon fanfiction, and draw Little Mermaid fanart. When I started the Library & Information Science (LIS) Masters at #citylis (based in City University London), I was fully prepared to just learn about indexing and cataloguing. What I discovered was that information is an integral part of all our everyday lives. For the first time I became aware that fans engage in semi-professional type behaviours with regards to information work, without even knowing it. But they don’t do it for a wage. They do it out of love – because it’s a passion. I became interested in my own information behaviour as a fan, and, by extension, how we can harness this passion in other areas of the LIS world. This is particularly relevant in a time when the GLAM (Galleries, Libraries, Archives & Museums) sector is searching for ways to engage the public in the management and organisation and indexing of their collections.
How has fandom changed in your lifetime?
I think I’ve been a fan during a time of transition for fandom in general. Of course, a lot of that has to do with the internet. For a long time, fandom was either practiced exclusively in private, or through the fanzine circuits and conventions. The internet has changed all that. Fandom has not entirely migrated to the World Wide Web, but many new practices have risen on there that are now a huge part of what it means to be a fan. The internet went mainstream when I was a teenager, just at the time when I would have started to become interested in joining zine circuits and sharing my work through ‘traditional’ channels. Instead – when I realised that I wasn’t the only person who wrote fanfiction out there! – I started sharing my work on Fanfiction.net, therefore reaching a much wider audience than my forebears could ever have imagined.
I’d say the biggest change is that fandom is much more visible. A fan is never alone now. It’s much easier to find your niche on the internet, and it’s much easier to participate.
You’re a researcher who is also a librarian, a creator of fan works, and you’ve worked in education too. How does these roles & identities overlap and inform one another? Do they conflict at times and if so, how?
Interesting question! I feel like all these parts are just different facets of my character. I’m particularly because I really enjoy both my job and my research, even though fandom and academic libraries are completely disparate spheres. Being a librarian, however, does inform a lot of what I bring to my research. There are a lot of parallels between what I do as a cataloguer and what I used to do, for instance, as the administrator of a forum that collected and archived game assets for The Sims. The way I organise bibliographic records at work overlaps in some way the methods fans use to tag and organise fanfiction on Fanfiction.net and Archive of Our Own. There are lots of parallels one could draw.
As for my time in public (and private!) education – I don’t want to say too much, but it was incredibly rewarding, but even more incredibly frustrating. I don’t particularly want to be controversial, but honestly I felt that the education system was turning into a big, bureaucratic, consumer-driven machine, and that is why I left. It is ironic that I left that world to join the world of the research student, where lecturing is a given! The big difference, however, is that I can bring my passions and interests into what I teach, and where students want to learn.
What do “the humanities” mean to you? Where does information science fit in?
I feel that the humanities are the study, appreciation and creation of human culture, and of what it means to be human. As a writer and an artist, naturally the humanities is very important to me, but I don’t actually think that the humanities and the sciences are strictly disparate entities because the sciences can inform us as creative beings and thus inform the creation of human culture, for better or for worse. I prefer to think of the humanities and the sciences as part of a wider symbiosis of all the disciplines. The sciences are naked without the impetus of human culture – inspiration, creative drive, emotion, curiosity. Fact, logic and Nature likewise ground the humanities and give it substance.
My own idea about information science is more complex. Information – as an entity, rather than a science – is in many way the overaching umbrella that encompasses both the sciences and the humanities. Information is almost like the bits and bytes of the universe – the raw data that then goes into forming what we know about human culture and the way the universe works. Understanding the ways in which information is collated, organised, managed, interpreted and disseminated is understanding the way we choose to organise the world itself – and that’s information science. It’s such a ubiquitous part of our everyday lives that we don’t even realise it’s a ‘thing’ until we really look into it – if that makes sense!
What’s your favourite thing about what you do?
My favourite thing about what I do is that I enjoy what I do! I’m lucky enough to have a job I really love and which makes me feel useful – I’m able to use my language skills to deal with a niche collection of books and artefacts that I feel privileged to work with; and I’m performing a service for the students and academics that need those works. As far as the research goes, I’m researching what I enjoy being a part of -fandom – and though there are moments where I sometimes get ‘fan overload’, on the whole it’s an exciting and fascinating ride.
More importantly, though, it makes me feel more and more proud of the fact that I’m a creator of fanworks.
If I were to send @wethehumanities followers to one place on the Internet to find out more about you and your work, where would you like me to send them?
One place? That’s really hard in an age where everyone has about 10 social media accounts to keep up with! I wouldn’t like to pin one down, but if I had to, it’d probably be my Fanfiction.net profile. I think I’ve put the most of myself into my writing. Not to mention which, FF.net is the one and only site I’ve been an continuously active member, for the longest amount of time (since 2001). I think that says something in an age where attention spans are supposedly so short!
Thanks to Ludi for the interview. Go follow her at @LudiPrice on Twitter, or check out the links above.