On the Labour Day weekend of 2014, as they do every year, just over 100,000 people gathered at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre to celebrate their fandom at the FanExpo convention, I among them.
As a librarian, I have a twofold interest in this sort of event. I am, on the one hand, a lover of books and fiction generally. I am, on the other hand, the product of a profession which is specifically interested in creating spaces for the appreciation of books and fiction.
FanExpo is right up my alley in both regards. It is an attempt to create a space for an emphatic and personal encounter with popular media. And that exercise is not just something I can enjoy, but also something I believe I as a librarian can learn from.
Anyone who attends a convention of this sort comes to it with particular interests. When I attend FanExpo, I’m looking out for opportunities to interact with the Star Trek fandom, in particular. Others are after Star Wars, Doctor Who or superhero comic collection and costuming opportunities. But as for me, if I’m to go home with merchandise, it’s likely to be a phaser, or a tricorder, or a 24th century Starfleet uniform.
As natural as this sort of preference is (i.e., I am more a fan of one thing than I am of all things generally) it seems to me it raises questions with respect to an event like FanExpo. Namely, why should fans gather at an event which celebrates fandom generally, if they are in fact fans of certain works particularly? There are, after all, conventions serving each of the fan bases I name in particular. So if such a thing is possible and furthermore available, why encounter all of them at once, jumbled together so haphazardly?
There is indeed an appeal to a Star Trek convention, which does not share its spaces or premises. But I believe that some of us really are fans of fandom itself, at least in part, and we need a time and a place to explore that in a broader context. Just as we love our libraries, not merely because they house some particular book we’re fond of, but because they are a space for the appreciation of books, a fan convention is a space for exploring the enjoyment of fiction worlds, more than it is an opportunity to purchase a certain work in which they are portrayed.
Furthermore, the fans of these franchises are often fans of worlds more than they are fans of works. For my own part, as a trekkie, I would say that I am more so a fan of the Star Trek universe, than a fan of any given products of the Star Trek franchise. Similarly (and admitting my divided loyalties), I appreciate the Star Wars universe even despite fairly limited interest in the films. The fandom, and the world of ideas in which it plays, is far more interesting to me than the work which spawned it. And a fan convention is just the place to see these worlds at play, performed, extrapolated and examined by those who love them.
Consequently, FanExpo is one fashion in which I will continue to seek encounters with well-loved fiction universes. Because the culture of fandom believes in an enthusiastic imaginative engagement with popular media which is a sort of engagement libraries can and do aspire to. And because the spaces it creates are something we ought perhaps to imitate, as we look to draw in the next generation of book fans.
Aaron Kimberley is Digital Literacy Librarian at the Oshawa Public Libraries, where he has worked primarily in the development of database and web services, and the support of eReader and eBook services. He has a particular enthusiasm for English historical linguistics and computational linguistics, and finds that literature and coding come together in librarianship very nicely indeed. Aaron can be contacted at me [at] askimberley.com or akimberley [at] oshawalibrary.on.ca.