OTW Guest Post

OTW Guest Post: Nicole Saylor

From time to time, the OTW will be hosting guest posts on our OTW News accounts. These guests will be providing an outside perspective on the OTW or aspects of fandom where our projects may have a presence. The posts express each author’s personal views and do not necessarily reflect the views of the OTW or constitute OTW policy. We welcome suggestions from fans for future guest posts, which can be left as a comment here or by contacting us directly.

Nicole Saylor is the head of the American Folklife Center, part of the U.S. Library of Congress. Back in 2015, the OTW announced that its Fanlore project had been chosen for inclusion in their Digital Culture Web Archive. Today, Nicole talks about why that happened and what their work is like.

How did Fanlore get chosen for inclusion in the digital culture web archive?

When we were defining the Web Cultures collection, fan fiction and other kinds of fan works were identified as significant because fandom enacts so many of the key elements of folklore and vernacular culture. As a result, there are a range of fandom-focused sites that were selected for the collection. We were also interested in harvesting sites where communities had worked to synthesize, organize and collect examples of practice.

Fanlore is part of the Web Cultures collection, begun in June 2014 and co-curated with scholars who study digital culture. We are harvesting almost 50 sites that document and serve as platforms for:

  • creating and sharing vernacular cultural forms such as reaction GIFs, image macros and memes;
  • establishing, shaping and disseminating tropes and themes in communication on the web;
  • vernacular language like Leet and Lolspeak, and icon-based communications like emoji;
  • DIY (do it yourself) movements such as crafting and making;
  • documentation, development, proliferation, distribution and discussion of digital “urban legends” and lore, such as creepy pasta; and
  • the development and dissemination of vernacular creative forms such as fan fiction.

This collection is not yet available on the Library’s website, but online access is in the works. (See more about the Library’s Web Archiving program).

What was your background before you began work on the project?

I have previous work experience developing web archives. Now, as the head of the archive at the American Folklife Center (AFC) at the Library of Congress, I must help ensure that AFC fulfills its Congressionally mandated mission to preserve and present folklife. Of course, with the proliferation of smart phones, tablets, and wireless Internet connections, network communication is increasingly where people create and share folklore.

AFC staff have long recognized the need to preserve folk expression on the web. In fact, during the early days of the Web, AFC staff amassed a small but respectable collection of 419 Scam emails that are printed out and saved in archival boxes. Since 2000, the Library has been collecting web archives and has a well-established practice of acquiring, processing and making accessible archived sites. The Library has developed thematic web and event-based archives on topics ranging from the United States National Elections to the Iraq War and the events of September 11.

What is a typical workday for you?

For curators like me, web archiving work is fairly easy at the Library. We evaluate potential sites and add them to the Library’s system for managing site nominations. There is a certain amount of quality assurance work, making requests to site owners to include their sites, but really it’s our Web Archiving team that does all of the heavy lifting. Abbie Grotke, who leads the Library’s Web Archiving program, sums up the work this way:

A typical day on the web archiving team involves managing the workflow for a number of collecting activities, not only for the Folklore archive but for a number of other event and thematic collections being developed by Library staff. Tasks can include anything from reviewing sites that have been nominated for archiving to make sure that they can be preserved (and writing instructions for the crawler that will help do that); performing quality review on archived websites; and ensuring the archived content is copied to long-term storage.

We also take steps to prepare the content to be ready for public access, from indexing the content and working with others to create the public interface, to tracking (in a custom-built tool) responses from site owners regarding required permissions gathered during the process. All this is to say, there is no “typical day” with Web Archiving –- the web is a fluid, ever-changing beast and the work involved in trying to preserve it is always evolving as new challenges arise and we figure out new ways to accomplish the tasks at hand.

If you had to hashtag the Digital Culture Web Archive with just three tags, what would they be?

#vernacularweb #folkcultures #onlinecommunities

What would you point readers to so they could learn more about preservation issues?

There are a couple of fantastic blogs written by Trevor Owens, who helped AFC establish the Web Cultures collection, that get at why it is important to study and preserve “the vernacular web.” One post is an interview with folklorist Robert Glenn Howard. Rob studies online communities. The other is a Q&A with Trevor J. Blank, a folklorist and frequent collaborator with Howard.

When it comes to the importance of archiving the web in general, the Library recently hosted a symposium on preserving the web. There are several great presentations that can be viewed online.


Catch up on earlier guest posts