I'm coming up on the end of my three-year term as an OTW board member. I'm incredibly grateful to have had this chance to give my time and my energy to an organization that I love.
In the time I've been in fandom (about 12 years -- not very long, I realize!), many of the first websites where I first encountered fandom have disappeared. A lot of the stories I initially fell in love with are no longer online. I am so grateful for the existence of the Archive of Our Own
, for the servers which fans bought to host our creativity, for the fact that the stories I read now on that archive aren't going to go anywhere.
In the time I've been in fandom, some of the people who were a major part of my entry into this world have died. I am so grateful for Fanlore
, where a record of our work and our ideas and our conversations can persist, where we can post memories of fandom as we've known it, where we can tell our own story in our own many voices, where we can record what's happening right now alongside our memories of those we loved who are gone.
In the time I've been in fandom, fanzines have gone from being something every media fan knew and read to being an artifact of a disappearing fannish past. Only one of my stories appears in one beautiful zine -- one of the last of its kind. I came into fandom in the late 90s, at the tail-end of the zine era. I am so grateful for the OTW's Fan Culture Preservation Project
and for the fact that we've saved thousands of fanzines from the dustbins of history.
I've been involved with the OTW from the beginning of the org: as a volunteer, as a committee member, as a committee chair, ultimately as a board member. I'm insanely proud of everything we've accomplished. The AO3 is a gorgeous archive which does things no archive I've ever used before can do (subscriptions to individual authors! ease of creating collections and running challenges!) It's being built by an amazing coalition of people, many of whom have learned to code specifically in order to be part of it, and it's going to be online for as long as we can continue to raise the funds to buy and maintain its servers -- which I hope will be forever. I hope that if my toddler son grows up to be a fanboy, and grows up to dig fanworks, he will grow up seeking out awesome things on this very archive that my friends and the friends of my friends have helped to build.
The AO3 is probably the OTW project I use most often. I'm a word person; I groove on stories. But I'm proud of our other work, too: proud of Fanlore and its many articles about the arcane things we love, proud that our Legal team has been able to offer advice and counsel and support to vidders whose work has been summarily (and unfairly) taken down by YouTube, proud that we've played such a major role in arguing for a Digital Millennium Copyright Act exemption for vidders and other makers of transformative video.
We have done some amazing things in our first few years. And our dreams are longterm; they're practically infinite. We want this org to be around, making things for fans, helping fans as we are able, promoting and supporting fans and fanworks, forever. It's kind of a radical notion in the ephemeral online sphere, where fandom's shapes and activities change and where websites come and go faster than anyone could possibly catalogue. But as the sages of Pirkei Avot famously wrote, even it's not incumbent upon us to finish the task, neither are we free to desist from beginning it.
Being on the board of the OTW requires a leap of faith. One has to have faith first and foremost in the org's mission
; in the org's projects; in the fans who are building, and who continue to work on building, the org's tools. And one has to have faith in the fans who will come next, who will continue the work which has already begun. Every now and then I take a step back and look at what's involved in making this org happen and keeping it alive, and I am more than a little bit awestruck by who we are and what we can do when we pull together as the volunteers and staffers of the OTW have done and continue to do.
I see the OTW as an org dedicated to preserving and protecting (and celebrating) the corners of fandom we know and love...and to making our tools available for those who want to preserve, protect, and celebrate other corners of fandom too. And I think we're going to pull it off. I think my kid -- and who knows, maybe even his kids, if they turn out to be geeks or fans or the kind of people who care about these things as I do -- will be able to draw on the resources we're collecting and creating now. And I think that is awesome beyond the telling.
Obviously it's going to take an enormous amount of work. The startup phase of this org has involved uncountable hours of planning and thinking and meeting and coding and problem-solving and laughing and crying and tearing our hair out when things went badly and clinking virtual glasses of champagne when things went well. And now we're in the somewhat unfamiliar position of moving from being a startup to being an established organization. If we want our projects to be around for our kids and their kids to enjoy, we have to be sustainable; we have to lay the groundwork to be here in the long term.
Groundwork is a big piece of what I see as the board's job. The board needs to be involved with all of the org's projects -- and also taking the big-picture, bird's-eye view. Board members need to be thinking about how the org sustains itself (on at least two levels: how to keep volunteers happy, how to avoid burnout -- and also how to raise funds to pay for our servers and our projects and our work). We have to keep tabs on what's happening now and
to think about what's coming in a year, five years, 25 years. We have to be able to face both inward (toward fandom in its many forms and communities, toward our volunteers, toward our member base) and outward (toward the broader world of other orgs whose work aligns with ours -- like the Electronic Freedom Foundation, with whom we lobbied for that DMCA exemption a while back.)
It's wonderful to see six people running for the four available board seats. My deep hope is that all six of them will remain active and involved with the org, even though only four of them will sit on the org's board of directors in the coming year. (Hell: I hope the other two will run again next year!) I'm grateful for these six fans and for their desire to give their time to the org and to the communities that the org aims to serve.
I know I've said this already, but it bears repetition: we're working to build fannish infrastructure which will last. Fanlore will be here to hold our memories, God willing, for years to come. The AO3 will be here to hold our stories (and someday our fanart and our vids), God willing, for years to come. We own the servers; no one can boot us or our work! And we're willing to stand up for the awesomeness of the transformative works which we create. I think of all of the fannish websites which disappeared (despite our best efforts
to preserve them) when Geocities went belly-up, the fannish websites which disappear when their maintainers get tired or move on or run out of hosting funds -- the endless library of creativity which has been lost, and which continues to be lost as fans gafiate or pass away or disappear -- and I'm proud and honored to be a tiny part of an organization trying to keep fannish cultures, stories, art, and memories alive.
I see the OTW as tool-makers. We make things which we offer up in service of fandom. Not everyone "in fandom" (almost too broad a term to be useful) is going to want to use our tools -- and that's okay; more than okay, it's a good thing! Fannish diversity means we don't all want the same things, and I think that ultimately helps make fandom stronger. But it's important to me that we create tools (like the archive, like Fanlore) which are available, free, for any fans who want to use them. We make them out of love and we share them out of love. In that sense they are among our fanworks.
I'll miss the friendships and cameraderie I've experienced over my three years on the OTW board; I won't miss the thick concentration of meetings, the sometimes stress and frustration. But I'm planning to stay involved with the org, so it's not as though I'm leaving altogether -- just leaving this particularly labor-intensive role.
I hope, so much, that the people who will take my place and the place of the other board members who are timing out or stepping down this year will find some joy in the work of pursuing the org's mission and being of service to fandom as best we can, of creating and sustaining things for the fannish community which we love.This is a general post full of general thoughts. Later this week, when RL (hopefully) permits, I'll make another post wherein I talk about my own choices in the upcoming Board election...