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Associations and InstitutionsAnnual 

64th IFLA Conference Logo

   64th IFLA General Conference
   August 16 - August 21, 1998


Code Number: 020-123-E
Division Number: VII.
Professional Group: Education and Training
Joint Meeting with: -
Meeting Number: 123.
Simultaneous Interpretation:   No

The bibliographical structure of fan information

Chris Hart,
Michael Shoolbred

David ButcherŠ
School of Information Studies
University of Central England in Birmingham
Perry Barr
Birmingham B42 2SU
United Kingdom
Tel; +44 0121 331 5629 or 331 5625
Fax: +44 0121 331 5675
Email: christopher.hart@uce.ac.uk


The paper suggests that information generated by fans has traditionally been of little concern to the Information and Library(ILS) professionals and educationalists. However, developments on the internet have meant that fans are generating a huge quantity of information, far in excess of the time when fan literature was purely in paper formats. the bibliographic structure of fan information is discussed through two case studies on popular music and Star Trek. The paper concludes that the ILS community can help fans by knowing more about the vast extent of fan information


Introduction This paper is not about how information technology might be employed in teaching; it is about an opportunity that information in the electronic age has provided to the ILS profession and educationalists alike. That opportunity consists in understanding the nature and structure of a substantial yet largely unacknowledged population of information seekers and creators, those people who are a fan of someone or something. This paper is therefore based on the following argument.

Library and information science education, acting as one of the epistemological reference points for ILS knowledge and development, has the responsibility to introduce members of the profession to the growing sub-cultures of electronic information that have been, until recently, largely outside of conventional bibliographical control and bibliographical structures. This paper therefore argues that the use of the Internet by organisations and individuals to provide a wide range of interest groups with information has made visible a substantial amount of information. This information is (a) outside of normal bibliographical structure and (b) been largely ignored by many mainstream ILS practitioners and educationalists alike.

What are fans?

The standard dictionary definition of fan shows the word to have its origins in the word fanati c. The fanatic is defined as someone "possessed" by a spirit that dominates their existence. The word is used to refer to a person possessed by demons; making them frenzied and mad, excessively enthusiastic. The main feature of the fanatic is therefore a display of excessive enthusiasm. Such enthusiasm is said to characterise unreasonableness that is allied to non-conformist behaviour. In keeping with the methodological assumptions for this research no moral, political or religious notions, especially prejudice, will be used to characterise the phenomenon of fandom or the psychology of fans. Hence, a fan might be described as a person that exhibits an attitude of passionate enthusiasm towards a topic; a dedicated devotee who indulges excessive amounts of time and effort into a topic; to such a degree that their interest is or borders on an obsession that dominates a large proportion of their life. A rather more mundane definition of fan is: "devotee of specific amusement, performer, etc.". (Pocket Oxford Dictionary, 1984). We would like to suggest a difference between fans and similar special interest groups.

You can be a fan of say, Frank Zappa, Frank Sinatra, or Frankenstein's monster, but few people would call themselves "fans" of philately, physiognomy or photography, trainspotting, yoga, private painting lessons or rambling. These people are enthusiasts or hobbyists. Fans are to a large extent, self-defined. Fans are often associated with entertainment and so it has been argued that being a fan implies passivity (Caughey, 1978) or even madness (Schickel, 1985). However, the activities that fans engage in suggest a different view. Fans produce things. They produce a literature which is similar to the literature of hobbyists or enthusiasts, but rather less accessible to the uninitiated. Fans generate information. They create and manage printed and on-line fanzines, newsletters, chat groups, reviews, quizzes, guides, directories, encyclopaedia and an incredible amount of fiction.

What material do fans produce?

Fans and hobbyists are amongst a category of information consumers and generators which may be described as special interest groups. The materials created and disseminated by special interest groups has not normally been visible or available to information providers. This is because the bulk of it consists typically of newsletters, guides and materials that individuals produce in their own time on a do-it-yourself basis. Increasingly, information technology has enabled hobby-interest cultures to produce materials that are of a high standard in terms of information content and design. Many of the printed fan magazines or "fanzines" produced by fans a few years ago have become "netzines" or webzines". A person no longer has to join a club or society to get access to information on their interest. A person can be a solitary fan simply by using the internet to access fan sites.

Grey literature and fan literature

Grey literature is difficult to define and to locate. The material frequently has patchy listing and poor bibliographic control. In general it refers to material that is published outside the mainstream of publishing, although some of the material may be recorded in certain abstracts and indexes. Conventionally, grey literature is taken to include reports, conference proceedings, theses and other research publications, trade literature and product information and community information. All of these have, to a lesser or greater extent, a bibliographical structure that has been well described in the literature (Auger, 1996). However, electronic grey literature is even more challenging to describe and document, partly because of its inherently ephemeral nature. Fan literature is a largely unexplored branch of grey literature. The bulk of fan information continues to be outside normal bibliographical control and structures.

Methodological assumptions

Initial research, on which this paper is based, led to the working assumption that fanzines, newsletters and listings produced in print and via electronic means are a major source of information for fans of most interests. Subsequent research shows that there are a number of possible reasons for the lack of bibliographical control (indexing and abstracting) of fan produced information. One is the ephemeral nature of newsletters and fanzines. Secondly there is the lack of awareness among many fan clubs of national and international bibliographic numbering systems through ISBNs and ISSNs, and of bibliographies which identify individual items. Fan produced materials like so much other material labelled as ephemera, have become very collectable. Materials produced on all manner of interest from Batman, Valentino, Munro, to Barbie Dolls and teddy bears have in themselves become topics for fan writing and collection. A number of mainstream publishers produce information guides to ephemeral materials on a range of topics, for example Collector Books, Antique Publications, and Dover Publications . Hence, it can be initially stated that some commercial publishing houses take fan and hobby interests seriously. A cursory analysis of British National Bibliography shows that the number of publications on both fan and hobbyists interests has increased each year for over a decade. The number of publishing houses producing interest related publications has also increased. Publications are wide in both the range of interests covered and in format.

Broadcast media have also increased the number of productions about topics aimed at special interest groups. In addition, there is the special interest periodical market. In the U.K. the number of popular magazines that use special interests as their topic are numerous. For example,

Category		Number of titles	Category	          Number of titles

Antiques			10		Motor cars			114
Bicycles & cycling		10		Music			 	 78
Boating & sailing		42		Nature			 	 15
Camping & caravaning		27		Painting	    	    	  4
Cinema & films			15		Pets				 29
Collecting			10		Sports				287
Computers			63		Stamps			  	  4
Gardening			25		Trains		 		 14
Models & modelling		27		Weddings	  		 12

	(Adapted from: Market Intelligence. Special interest magazines 1995)

Finally, the effort and cost of producing publications for fans must, it can be assumed, have a commercial rationale for commercial media organisations. Publications would not be produced if there were not a sufficient readership and audience to make the product viable.

Two case studies

Most librarians, unless they are fans themselves, will have had little access to fan information. The Web, however, has created the opportunity for the ILS profession to access and acquire an understanding of these information sub-cultures. If the profession is to understand the nature of information creation, re-packaging and dissemination in the age of the Web, then ILS educationalists need to show a lead by researching and demonstrating an awareness of the nature of these information cultures. Through the use of case studies, we will now illustrate the potential that an understanding of fan information provision can have for (a) understanding the nature of information outside the scope of conventional bibliographic control, (b) the ways in which the Web has made visible the kinds of information wants currently not fulfilled by mainstream information providers.

Case Study 1 - Music

Music libraries cater well for some aspects of the needs of music fans. But it is of very limited help to the obsessive popular music fan. A fan of Frank Zappa will find limited bibliographic information in a few reference books, perhaps a copy of his autobiographical sketches. But search for Zappa on the Internet and you can join several fan clubs, get the complete lyrics for all his albums, get listings of everything he ever recorded, including bootleg versions, find information on impending releases, and find non-profit-making listings of commercial and bootleg tapes. Site such as
can open the door to a massive quantity of fan literature. Fan electronic grey information also exists for lesser known artists. For example, the Misfits were a seminal punk band formed in the late 1970's who re-formed several years ago. A search on Misfits on a search engine such as Metacrawler offers scores of web sites devoted to the band, including both official and unofficial sites, sites for collectors of rare and deleted material and so on. This search is an example of how a band not particularly well known outside the alternative music scene can nevertheless generate sufficient enthusiasm for thousands of electronic pages of information. To get a sense of the range of information available, try a search on the Dead Kennedys or Canadian band DOA . Another area of web fanaticism concerns the separate world of new bands without recording contracts. "Unsigned bands", as they are called, can include bands keen to secure a recording contract, record albums and tour nationally and beyond, and those whose goals may be simply to play once or twice a month to a room of friends in a local pub. Websites help ardent fans to keep in touch with their band while they seeks stardom. In the United Kingdom there is a website for unlisted bands at:

Case Study 2 - Star Trek

Star Trek fans have developed sophisticated world wide fan organisations and many internet sites. Star Trek is responsible for what is probably the largest fan following of any phenomenon. The original Star Trek series has been broadcast many times on terrestrial and satellite television. The original series has given rise to numerous other television productions such as Star Trek: the next generation, Star Trek: Deep space nine, Star Trek: Voyager , nine cinema films, over 100 novels, videos, commuter games, CD Roms, magazines, books, directories and encyclopaedia. One can even access on the Net detailed dictionaries on how to teach oneself Klingon! Star Trek fans were some of the first to exploit the internet. In 1997 (19/9/97) there were over 1,700 Star Trek related sites on the WWW.(Aiken, 1997). Some examples of the most popular fansites are:

To bring some kind of organisation to the sites a simple classification was used that can be seen in Table 1. As we can see, a simple grouping of the information can be a starting point suggesting bibliographic structure for this information.

Table 1: Star Trek related subjects on which fan produced information is available at specific locations on the Internet

Web Sites			Mailing Lists/newsgroups	Fanzines	Fan clubs
Academic articles/essays	Aliens				Articles	Newsletters
Alien specific sites		Character/actor specific	Artwork		Club merchandise
Book reviews			Fan activities			Merchandise	Club news & 
Campaigns			Fan club administration		News		Club personnel
Cartoons			Fan writing			Poetry		Club projects
Character/actor specifics	Foreign language discussion	Reviews		Activities
Directories of SF resources	General SF discussion		Stories		Items for sale
Downloadable files		General ST discussion				SF movie news
Episode guides			Humour						Collectibles
Fan club sites			Jewish perspective				ST news
Fan fiction			News
Fanzines - articles/news	Publishing 				Information packs
Guides to fan fiction		Role play games				Articles of the 
Guides to specific series	Romance specific			Organisational structure
Humour				Series specific				Star Fleet Academy 
Links 				ST with other SF shows			Cadet training manual
News				Technology				Orientation manual
Original artwork		Trading and selling			Bibliography
Pictures (including Trivia						Training examination
Role play games
Romance specific sites
Scheduling information
Series specific sites
Star Trek resource directories			
Story cycles
Technical information
University society pages
Viacom protest

While Table 1 gives an indication of the range of information produced by fans examination of individual sites shows the depth of this information. If we look at the Shakaar Society pages then we seen something of the detail and quality of the information provided by fans for other fans.

Close examination of WWW sites produced by fans has begun to show us that there is a highly organised and sophisticated structure to fan information. We are at the stage in our research where we can begin to postulate through inductive observation ideas for a bibliographical structure for fan information. From the standpoint of the ILS practitioner, it may be useful to sketch out a working structure of the bibliographic terrain of fan information. Table 3 shows the main elements of the artefacts and activities in which fan information exists.

Table 3: The structure of a fan information

Information seekers and Producers
(Special Interest Groups)

Books	        Magazines	 Fanzines	Electronic	Events	      	Trade Literature

Biographical    Serial		 Official 	Web sites	Meetings   	Advertisements
Chronologies    Special interest Unofficial	E-Mails		Clubs		Posters
Directories     Limited editions Guides		Chat groups	Swops		Catalogues
Encyclopaedia   Part works	 Listings	CD Rom's	Auctions	Specifications
Dictionaries			 Letter-zines	Conferences	Brochures
Guides				 Images		Discussion	Performances	Products
			         Chronologies	Sound files			Collectibles
				 Biographies	video clips 


The importance of ephemera and grey literature as resources of information with real practical value is now being recognised. Nigel Cross's plea that librarians take fanzines seriously as an information resource was made over fifteen years ago, and was set against a background of an increasing acceptance of popular music as a serious subject for study (Cross, 1981). In many libraries within the U.K., people have access to the WWW. But what knowledge do librarians have of the content and structure of information on the WWW, especially for fan sub-cultures? We found little knowledge of fan information or of the information needs of fan sub-cultures. We did find, however, an understanding of conventional bibliographical structures. This knowledge, we argue, is directly transferable to fan information. It can be the basis for understanding the structure of the information on WWW sites produced by fans.

In conclusion, our brief investigation of the substantial amount of fan information available on the net suggests that fans may not need libraries in order to use electronic grey literature. However, librarians can help fans through increased awareness, and by signalling what a huge richness of richness, is hidden away amidst the dross on the net.


Aiken, Rodney. Fan information: a study of non-bibliographically-controlled information . School of Information Studies, University of Central England in Birmingham. (Unpublished MA/MSc dissertation.).

Auger, C. P. Information Sources in Grey Literature (3rd ed.), Bowker-Saur, London, 1994.

Bellos, Alex; Oasis webzines warned of action on Net copyright, in The Guardian , 16th May 1997.

Caughey, P. Media mentors. Psychology Today . 12 (4) pp.-49, 1978.

Cross, Nigel; A survey of Fanzines Brio ., vol. 18, no. 2, Autumn / Winter 1981, pp. 1-9.

Gibberman, S. Star Trek: an annotated guide to resources on the development, the phenomenon, the people, the television series, the films, the novels and the recordings . Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 1991.

Ricketts, E. Creative thinking . Net ,issue 7, June 1995, 40-41.

Schickel, R. Intimate strangers: the culture of celebrity . Garden City, NY.: Doubleday, 1985.


The authors of this paper would like to acknowledge the ideas and enthusiasms of a younger generation of fans who contributed to this paper:

Rodney Aiken (Star Trek), Mike Howe and Carrie Weekes (Popular music).

Dr. Chris Hart. MA (Econ), BA (Hons)

Chris is the Reader in Information Studies at the School of Information Studies at the University of Central England. He has worked in several U.K. universities and collages of further education. His background is in the social sciences. His particular research and teaching interests are currently: ethnomethodological studies of information in narrative and organisational communication; the history of library architecture in relation to technology and culture; information in popular periodicals; the classification of fragrances; and information sources on industrial archaeology, especially related to historic vehicles. He has published on a wide range of topics. He is a fan of anything absurd.

Michael Shoolbred. BA (Hons), M.Phil, ALA, Cert. Ed., MIPD.
Michael is a Senior Academic at the School of Information Studies at the University of Central England. He had fifteen years' experience in further education and polytechnic libraries before taking up a teaching post. His particular teaching and research interests are in information design, the presentation of information and in information resources, and he has run many l continuous professional development courses for information practitioners. He works closely with the Centre for Information Research & Training (CIRT) at UCE. He is a fan of popular music.

David Butcher. BA, ALA, MIInfSc.
David is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Information Studies at the University of Central England. He had several posts as a reference librarian in public libraries before joining the then Birmingham Polytechnic. His many professional interests include information resources, both printed and electronic, official and legal publications and private presses. He has run various continuous professional development courses for information practitioners. He has written widely, and his book on official publications is a standard text.

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