International Archives Day: Archives are Magic

It’s International Archives Day, and the theme is “Archives, Harmony and Friendship.”

A blog post seemed appropriate, but on what subject? As the parent of young children, the theme immediately suggested My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. Twilight Sparkle’s performance as a librarian has already been analyzed, and she is not herself an archivist—though her use of special collections material is often pivotal to the plot and, on occasion, the fate of Equestria. My Little Pony can therefore be added to the list of fictional works depicting the public good of archives, and rather refreshingly avoids presenting them as universally dusty and boring to all major characters.

But I’d like to step back from the show and instead take a quick look at fandom.1 Bronies (loosely defined as adult male fans of the show) emerged online as a self-identifying community thanks to message board postings, made accessible and retained for future users. Unboxing videos reflect personal opinions and also capture details of material culture, not simply consumer goods but also their ephemeral packaging. Fanfiction online aims to transcend the ephemeral, as indicated in the name and mission of Archive of Our Own, launched in the wake of content and community purges on commercial sites.2 Six pastel Ponies have inspired an awful lot of community archiving.

I find that heartening. Every time I think of Digital Dark Ages, organizations that are careless or malicious with their records management, and the challenges of preservation, I also think of the people who really want other people to hear their opinions about Hasbro properties…and the people who do, in fact, want to hear their opinions…and the people who want to make sure content is classified in an appropriate manner…and the substantial number of people who may not all have the technical skills to design and maintain data repositories, but certainly have the savvy to use and adapt them as needed. People are documenting themselves, in ways trivial and significant, and future historians will have a blast. Material is out there, and if it’s not as permanent as some creators may think, neither is it quite as ephemeral as archivists may fear.

  1. I intended to do some of this in a more extended fashion, once upon a time; we’ll see if I ever get around to assembling the scattered little bits into a presentable whole. 
  2. Admittedly, My Little Pony accounts for a small fraction of the material on that particular site; but it’s a handy intersection of the more feminized realm of fanfiction and the more masculine Brony set. And though my encounters with copyright concerns are primarily filtered through Section 108, I’m also interested in how “transformative” is deployed.