UI to digitize 10,000 fanzines


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On the third floor of the University of Iowa Main Library, in a room full of winding bookshelves and boxes, Peter Balestrieri, the curator of science fiction and popular culture at the UI Libraries, arranged a few stacks of pulps, fanzines, and convention materials according to size and date.

After that, he will sort through the collections, scan the fanzines, and then transcribe them to be put online.

The UI Libraries, in a joint effort with the Office of the Vice President for Research and Economic Development, will soon begin digitizing a collection of more than 10,000 fanzines, pulps, comics, and convention materials.

The collection belonged to James “Rusty” Hevelin, born in 1922 in Imperial County, California. He began collecting in the early 1930s up through the 2000s, until he passed away in 2011.

Fanzines were small, amateur publications, made by fans of science fiction and fantasy, containing letters, essays, stories, and artwork.

The project was of interest to the Office of the Vice President for Research and Economic Development, which provided $40,000 for the endeavor.

“We’re delighted to be able to support the digitization of these fan-produced publications in collaboration with the UI libraries,” said Stephen Pradarelli, the strategic communications director for the Office of the Vice President for Research and Economic Development.

Balestrieri said despite several thousands of zines to sort through, he isn’t discouraged, and he speaks highly of Hevelin.

“Rusty Hevelin was a consummate collector, and he had everything,” Balestrieri said.

Balestrieri started going through the fanzines and pulp magazines of varying skill and quality a little more than three years ago, after Hevelin passed away and Greg Prickman, the head of Special Collections and University Archives, packed up the collection and brought it to the UI.

Prickman said the sheer size and scope of the collection provides an excellent window into the history of science fiction.

“This is sort of the raw material for what over time turned into what we now know as genre fiction, and pop culture, and conventions, and media,” he said. “It’s taken a long time to get to the point where it’s a mainstream phenomenon, and that entire process is documented in these fanzines.”

Beyond that, Prickman said the fanzine community could do what social media do today, albeit at a slower pace, in terms of fan and creator communication, fan expression, and the general community.

“When you read the fanzines, there’s nothing new about it, it’s just moved into a different medium,” Prickman said. “If you want to know how online communication works, you can just look at these fanzines, because it’s all there.”

Because the fanzines and other materials from Hevelin’s collection fall under copyright, the UI Libraries can’t simply upload them online.

But library officials have figured out a way to make them available to people while still protecting copyright and privacy laws.

Once they begin scanning the materials, they will be made available online for a specially selected group of people, who will then transcribe the text to put on the UI Libraries’ DIY History site.
Once the transcribed materials are online, people will be able to search for key words and concepts from Hevelin’s collection, giving them the chance to search through decades of materials he collected.

“Science fiction and fantasy is now totally mainstream, and that means that we have to seriously look, if we’re thinking about where it’s going to take us, we have to think about where did it come from, and when you think about where did it come from, you have to look at fandom,” Balestrieri said.

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