Fan Magazines vs. Fanzines: Another Voice

Hi! Inspired by Jenna’s call to action, I took a stab at writing a letter to LOC on the fan magazines vs. fanzines issue myself. I’ve posted the letter, like Jenna’s addressed to Barbara Tillett, below. Not being a cataloger or someone who deals with cataloging issues on a regular basis, I realize my letter lacks the cataloging expertise, temininology or sourcing that Jenna’s does or I’m sure yours will. But hopefully every voice helps the cause…

Jeremy B.

Dear Ms. Tillett,

Good morning. My name is Jeremy Brett, and I am an archivist with Special Collections, University of Iowa. One of my projects over the last two years has been to acquire and process materials for our growing archival collections of zines. Special Collections is making a concerted effort to collect zines in all formats in order to preserve these materials and make them accessible to wider popular and research audiences. Zines are windows that provide glimpses into fascinating and often-under documented social worlds, worlds that we believe deserve to have their voices rescued from obscurity.

At the present time, we are not cataloging zines in any sort of traditional library format. However, as an information professional who deals with zines in an institutional setting I am interested in the ongoing development of uniform cataloging standards for zines. I recognize that this is more an art than a science, because of the peculiarly idiosyncratic nature of the zine medium. However, I also understand that such standards are useful both to catalogers and to interested readers and researchers. Subject headings that accurately reflect zines and related publications are key tools in the provision of access to those materials.

Thus, I am concerned with the Library of Congress’ recent decision to eliminate “Fanzines” as a 150 field and replace it with the term “Fan magazines”.

I believe that this decision represents a misunderstanding of the nature of both types of materials. Fanzines are decidedly not fan magazines, but separate and independent materials with their own particular history. Fanzines are non-professional publications that relate to a particular cultural genre, subject, product or phenomenon. They are most associated with science fiction fandom, within which fanzines have formed an active and integral source of fan communication since the early 1930s. In science fiction and related fandoms today, fanzines continue to be a popular mode of personal opinion and expression.

However, fanzines are not limited to science fiction fans. As an example, many members of the vast and varied world of music fans have also embraced the medium. Music fans continue to use fanzines as methods of publicizing their own musical works and those of others, particularly
those considered “underground” and who stand outside the traditional corporate music scene. For these artists and fans, fanzines are a vital method of making their voices heard.

For members of these and many other fandoms, the term “fanzine” has a storied intellectual and emotional association. It is a popular term that accurately describes a particular family of publications and that is universally recognized among, across and beyond fandoms. To replace this term with a less adequate one, I believe, does a disservice to fans and to researchers who, because of the long use of the term “fanzine”, are much more likely to search for materials primarily under this term than under the term “fan magazines”.

A fan magazine is a professionally produced publication devoted to some aspect of popular culture. While fan magazines may deal with some or all of the same subjects, topics or genres as a fanzine, the former are distinguished from the latter by their for-profit status and their more typical concern with mainstream rather than fringe aspects of their subjects. A fan magazine is a perfectly legitimate form of publication, but it is not a fanzine.

In my opinion, the Library of Congress should retain “Fanzine” as a 150 term rather than relegate it to the 450 field as a UF term under “Fan Magazines”. To continue using fan magazine as a term for fanzines (as opposed to recognizing fan magazines as a genre generally associated with fanzines) is misleading to researchers and readers alike. The two types of publications are dissimilar in their production, their authorship, their professional status, and, very often, their intellectual and creative focus. Both types deserve recognition by the Library of Congress cataloging authorities as discrete media and each type deserves its own 150 field.

Thank you for your attention.

Yours sincerely,

Jeremy Brett
Special Collections Project Librarian
Special Collections and University Archives
University of Iowa
University Libraries
100 Main Library
Iowa City, IA 52242

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