Our Reading Lives

Librarian Meets Fan: Fueling Fandom through Fundamental Librarian Skills

If you’ve been on the Internet for more than a minute and are a member of a fandom, you know that there are some crazy talented/deductive/knowledgeable people out there. People like Rebecca Sharrock, who has memorized all of Harry Potter. The countless individuals who created incredibly complex explanations for how Sherlock Holmes survived The Reichenback Fall. The (anti) fan who spent over five years pulling apart the Twilight books for every grammatical error, every syntactical misstep, and every overly wrought sentence. And, if you’re like me, sometimes you’ve felt extremely jealous of these people. How are they that dedicated? How are they that insightful? How do they keep all the little bits and pieces straight?

Naturally, librarianship offers a solution.

One of the most fundamental pieces of librarianship (or at least, library school) is learning how to create a thesaurus, which is a compilation of terms about a particular subject showing the relationships and dependencies between said terms (In library school/indexing, a thesaurus is not a book of synonyms.). It’s meant to help indexers and users find information about different subjects and map out their terms. For example, a thesaurus about dentistry might have categories for different metals or tools and then link those metals or tools to specific procedures, painkillers, or country of origin. This would help users figure out how all these different things relate to each other.

One of the best-known thesauri is the Library of Congress’ Thesaurus for Graphic Materials, which has over 7000 subject terms and 650 genre/format terms to help index visual materials. It’s an extremely complex piece of information meant to make indexing easier. Check it out. It’ll blow your mind.

But thesauri aren’t just the purview of authoritative organizations like the Library of Congress. Fans can benefit from utilizing thesaurus methodology to better understand their fandom of choice. For example, using this Harry Potter thesaurus can teach you more about the various types of magic, magical creatures, food, and dwellings in the books, which you can then use in writing your steamy Drarry fics or crafting your dissertation (Or, if you’re like me, you can feel soothed from looking at beautifully organized lists.).

So how do you make a thesaurus and what do all those terms mean? One of the best and simplest explanations I’ve seen is this introductory tutorial on thesaurus construction by Tim Craven. It tells you what a thesaurus is, tells you how to collect terms, and tells you how to use the acronyms. If you’re looking for an extremely complex (but extremely thorough) read with tons of examples, you should try Vocabulary Control for Information Retrieval by F. Wilfrid Lancaster. You can also try the Guidelines for the Construction, Format, and Management of Monolingual Controlled Vocabularies, produced by the National Information Standards Organization (NISO). (If you Google it, you can access it for free!). Finally, if you’re still confused, you can ask a librarian! All MLSL-holding librarians had to do one (unless they were extremely lucky).

So what do you think, Rioters? Would you like to try making a thesaurus? What would you make one about? As for me, I’m off to write out a 100 flash cards of terms from the Sailor Moon manga. It’s time to map out some magical girl attacks!

Happy indexing!