April 19, 2018

University of Iowa Libraries Begin to Digitize Decades of Fanzines

A selection of Hevelin fanzines

A selection of Hevelin fanzines

Every library has a sci-fi section, but not many can compete with the collection of speculative fiction that has been growing steadily at the University of Iowa (UI) in recent years. While the UI Libraries boast an impressive collection of works by notable authors in the genre, it’s not the focus of UI’s universe-spanning sci-fi collections.

Instead, Peter Balestrieri, Curator of Science Fiction and Popular Culture Collections for UI Libraries, and his colleagues are working to preserve the writings and records of fan communities. While these fandoms have become increasingly accessible and well known since the advent of digital communication, they are nearly as old as the genre itself—and in some cases, nearly as storied.

“Our collecting emphasis on fandoms and fan-created/related materials is solid and ongoing, as is our connection to fan communities and our dedication to helping them preserve and provide access to their histories for research and pleasure,” Balestrieri told Library Journal.

Those connections to groups like The Organization for Transformative Works, and the library’s emphasis on, for lack of a better term, fan-service, are helping the new collections to snowball. In just the last few years, the University of Iowa’s libraries have received numerous collections from lifelong sci-fi fans and avid collectors, amounting to thousands of volumes of both professionally produced titles like the long-running sci-fi magazine Analog, and fan-made content. Most recently, Sioux Falls collector Allen Lewis donated to UI his collection of 17,500 books worth an estimated three quarters of a million dollars. Most are hard bound, first editions, first printings.

Now, the pulps and passion projects alike will be getting properly preserved and digitized so they can be made accessible to readers and researchers the world over. The library’s digitization efforts are led by Digital Project Librarian Laura Hampton. She’s just a few weeks into the first leg of the project, digitizing some 10,000 titles from the collection of Rusty Hevelin, a collector and genre aficionado whose collection came to the library in 2012. You can follow along with Hampton’s work on the Hevelin Collection tumblr.


“These fanzines paint an almost outrageously clear picture of early fandom,” said Hampton. “If you read through every single fanzine in our collection, you would have a pretty solid idea of all the goings-on that shaped early fandom—the major players, the dramas, the developments and changes, and who instigated and opposed them. There is an incredible cultural history here that cannot be replicated.”

Labors of love driven by community rather than commerce, fanzines were often printed on the cheap using technology like mimeographs and hectographs, and held together will staples or tape, said Hampton, noting that “all the material things that make a fanzine a fanzine are also what make them difficult to preserve.”

Decades after they were produced, preserving these magazines is both a challenge and a priority for Hampton. High acid paper is flaking and finely rendered illustrations are fading, and with them, the records of thriving fan communities stretching back as far as the 1930s, predating heated debates over Kirk vs Picard by decades. These communities were as lively as any message board conversation or LiveJournal debate. That preservation is especially important in the case of sci-fi, saidHampton, because of the genre’s rich history of fan interaction and contribution.

“This is not an overview or analysis of science fiction; these are the very objects that built it, publications made by fans for fans, in basements and living rooms across the world—this is the material history of the genre,” she said of the Hevelin collection and others like it. “Science fiction is an immense tapestry, and all of these publications must be recognized as threads in order to better understand the whole picture.”

Once the titles are digitized, they’ll become the basis of a searchable database that UI is counting on volunteers to develop through crowdsourced transcription, a method that has proven successful for other similar projects under the auspices of UI Libraries’ DIYHistory project. That database, Balestrieri hopes, will be a valuable resource for the growing number of scholars interested in studying not just science fiction, but the way that fans interact with the genre and how those interactions have evolved over time.

“These fandoms are increasingly impossible to ignore,” said Balestrieri. “And the move to study them seriously grows with every PhD candidate that gains permission to write her dissertation on zombies.”

Ian Chant About Ian Chant

Ian Chant is a former editor at LJ and a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in Scientific American and Popular Mechanics and on NPR.

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  1. This is fantastic. As a longtime sf fan and writer of fanfiction, as well as a PhD candidate who’s getting ready to write a dissertation on fanworks, I am super, SUPER excited about this project.

  2. Cochituate says:

    I’m curious to know if the ‘zines are being indexed? I’m curious to look myself up as the fanzines they work on get into the 1970s. This is looking for what we at the time called egoboo (fanspeak for Ego Boost).

  3. Delphi Psmith says:

    As a fan, as a librarian, as an archivist, as someone who has been involved in six-figure digitization projects and knows just how complicated and expensive this is (and what a huge long-term commitment is involved), I am practically giddy with excitement! I can’t wait to help out with the crowd-sourced transcriptions :)

  4. Taral Wayne says:

    Ironically, as these ancient collections are donated to institutions such as the University of Iowa, where they will be preserved for future study, it is modern and contemporary fanzines that are in danger of being eventually lost. I knew a lot of those old collectors — I’m on the verge of being one myself, age-wise — and in most cases they stopped actively collecting fanzines at some point often decades in the past. Their collections include the 1930s, 1940s, 1950s and sometimes up until the 1960s… but then the collections generally begin to fail. In future it is likely fanzines from the 1970s and onward that will be most obscure.

    • I donated 15.50 feet of zines, and my collection spans from 1974 through 2005, so don’t worry… I’ve got you covered. ;)

      What you appear to be worried about here seems to be the loss of female-dominated fandom, which is media-oriented and starts with Man from Uncle and Star Trek in the early 70s. Those older zines you refer to are very different from what had been published previously–as an example, a teenaged Harlan Ellison was a fanzine publisher and editor, and his fanzines were mostly comprised of letters of comment and original fic (generally space opera) written by him and his fellow male writers who aspired to one day go pro as sci-fi writers. Their fanzines and conventions were male-dominated and literary-oriented.

      I remember we female fans, as a class, being insulted by some male fans at an early Lunacon (an early convention that tried to mix literary and media fandoms). The guys told us to our faces that literary fandom was legit and honorable, and our girly media-devotion to Star Trek and Star Wars was embarrassing and shallow. (It’s okay, I’m not bitter… I think we won!)

    • I also wanted to add: check out http://fanlore.org/wiki/Main_Page for a great wiki on the kind of fandom I’m talking about.

      Also, fix a typo in my previous message, what I mean to type was:

      Those older zines you refer to were very different from what we female fans published and read–

  5. Taral Wayne says:

    Anyone interested in old fanzines should also refer to the excellent site run by Bill Burns, eFanzines.com. Most of the posted zines are contemporary, but some are of much deeper historical interest. The scans are made by dedicated amateurs — mostly readers and publishers of fanzines. I am a regular contributor myself.

  6. Rob Hansen says:

    It’s also worth checking out those websites where people have been preserving early fannish materials for a while, such as:


  7. J Dudley says:

    How are they handling any later fanzines which are still under copyright? To digitize in this manner… is this allowable on copyright materials without permission of the copyright holders?

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  10. Karen Stewart says:

    As a fan who was active in the ’70s, ’80s, and early ’90s in writing for, editing, and collecting fanzines, I’m thrilled to learn of a fanzine digitization project. I know there are other universities with special collections of fanzines, but to my knowledge none of them has any plans to digitize those collections. I too would be happy to help with transcription in my various universes of interest. If anyone wants another source for older zines, I’ve seen quite a few of them on eBay, but of course donation is the best way to go if you can find people willing to donate!

    Congrats to the University of Iowa for this excellent project, from an Iowa-born and -bred librarian now living in Florida!

    And remember: FIAWOL (Fandom Is A Way Of Life)!

  11. Mike Horvat says:

    I should just keep quiet…but now I’m seventy and don’t care much what people think of me.

    I was disappointed not to be mentioned in this article. I believe my fanzine collection was the first one given to UI. It was fairly large, two or three (I forget which) 24′ trucks worth. Collecting them was very time consuming (although I loved doing it!). My stuff was 1938 to 1979 or so. The Sixties and Hippies was especially fun!

    Just a bit of egoboo that would have been nice.

    Best wishes,

    Mike Horvat

    • Karen Stewart says:

      I’m sorry you weren’t mentioned in the article, Mike. It certainly sounds like you should have been. Donating such a large collection was a wonderful thing to do, as so many fanzines are endangered and unappreciated. So here’s a bit of egoboo from me!


  12. I soooo wish I could visit and see this collection…but, I would be too tempted to steal em all! Fanzines were a big part of my childhood into high school and early college in the 70s and 80s, so much so that I write a monthly column on the subject called Ink Stains. I try to involve the original participants as much as possible and include a pdf of the whole zine. If anyone is interested, you can access all the past columns (over 80 so far) and pdfs on my site at http://www.kenmeyerjr.com/ink-stains.html