The expanding universe of Sherlockian fandom and archival collections

Timothy Jerome Johnson and Cheryll Lynne Fong

University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States

[0.1] Abstract—Since 1887, in sometimes cosmic fashion, nearly every medium and format has been used in sharing the original 60 Sherlock Holmes adventures along with their pastiche and parodying offspring. Such creative energy is evidence of a literary big bang, and an expanding universe of creative possibilities, many of them now born digital or residing on digital platforms. We trace older and newer Sherlockian enthusiasms; their points of entry; the creative manifestations of these fandoms over time and through various media; and the emerging challenges and opportunities presented to library and archival professionals by the explosive growth of creative works, especially those produced during the last decade. Curatorial actions involving acquisition, preservation, description, and user discovery of these materials are considered alongside the relationship building necessary between curator and fan in acquiring evolving, dynamic new Sherlockian expressions and insights.

[0.2] Keywords—Archives; Born digital; Canon; Collection development; Conventions; Film; Libraries; Literary societies; Mass media; Parody; Pastiche; Sherlock Holmes; Social media; Television; Translation

Johnson, Timothy Jerome, and Cheryll Lynne Fong. 2017. "The Expanding Universe of Sherlockian Fandom and Archival Collections." In "Sherlock Holmes Fandom, Sherlockiana, and the Great Game," edited by Betsy Rosenblatt and Roberta Pearson, special issue, Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 23.

1. Introduction

[1.1] Long ago, on cheaply printed and paperback-bound pages, readers first encountered Sherlock Holmes, along with his friend and confidant, Dr. John H. Watson. Over time, the Beeton's Christmas Annual for November 1887—identified as the original space-time singularity for Sherlockian bibliomania—became "a rare collectible and considered the most expensive magazine in the world" (Stock 2012). Since 1887, in cosmic fashion, nearly every medium and format has been used in sharing the original 60 stories in addition to their pastiche and parody offspring. This explosive growth, especially in the past decade, and with a new generation of Holmes fans, presents archival challenges unlike anything seen before by professional librarians, curators, or archivists working in a Sherlockian context (note 1). These challenges are part of a larger, complex agenda facing information professionals in the 21st century that also includes managing electronic content such as research data (data sets, big data), e-mail, faculty papers, theses, dissertations, portfolios, streaming video, and other creative works. These information management scenarios also require modified work flows, digital/electronic infrastructure, and robust metadata creation. This newly created electronic material—fan fiction, podcasts, videos, artwork—and the people creating it intertwine or fall outside earlier norms. Something like the Grand Game or Great Game may or may not be known to this new generation. New fan communities and cultures move beyond prior models or understandings of literary or scion society structures, bypassing traditional hierarchies. From a curatorial perspective, what we are witnessing is a different ordering of the world, both real and creative. Creative works in this new universe are often anonymous and fugitive; they are generated on an order three to four times greater, and in a much shorter time span, than experienced with traditional Sherlockiana. Ronald B. De Waal's (1994) magisterial bibliography, documenting creative output from 1887 to 1994 and listing nearly 25,000 items, pales in comparison to the 90,000+ works found in Archive of Our Own (AO3; concerning Sherlock Holmes and related fandoms, all produced in less than a decade.

[1.2] If Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's 1887 Portsmouth draft of A Study in Scarlet represents a singularity in space-time from which all things Sherlockian originate, then this literary "big bang" continues to expand from that moment (note 2). Doyle's continued creative output over the four decades after the initial big bang expansion ultimately resulted in distinct, observable bodies such as stars (Father Ronald Knox, Christopher Morley), gas clouds (the Great Game), and galaxies (the Baker Street Irregulars [BSI], the Sherlock Holmes Society of London [SHSL], fandom communities). The mass annihilation of matter/antimatter particles during the initial cooling period postulated in the physical theory corresponds to Moretti's (2000) literary slaughterhouse. Moving ahead in time, if the BSI and SHSL represent galaxies, and if galactic centers contain black holes, then these gravitationally bound systems have attractive (and possibly creative or destructive) capacities. Enthusiast activities in the 19th and 20th centuries orbited around these centers. The London and New York gravitational fields pulled individuals and groups toward core British and American devotee identities. At the same time, they spun satellites and other Sherlockian cosmic debris far and wide in the form of publications and nascent scion societies.

[1.3] Still further ahead in time, another astrophysical model presents itself, one based on the recent discovery of gravitational waves. If the BSI and SHSL represent galactic centers (that is, black holes), and if those massive centers are gradually moving toward each other to the point of merger as one massive center—which may or may not be observationally verified—then will our detectors hear the sound of the ripple created by this collision? Or has the collision already occurred? Are AO3 or results of this collision? Or are they something else entirely? Without distorting the metaphor beyond what theoretical physics allows, we have a Holmesian universe that continues to exhibit both creative and destructive energies. Physicists remind us that the big bang "is not an explosion in space, but rather an expansion of space" (Anderson 2015, 24). For librarians collecting data and observing phenomena in a 21st-century Sherlockian universe, this is both a rewarding and challenging time.

[1.4] After 130 years of creative, expanding Sherlockian energy, we offer observations and commentary from the perspective of librarians responsible for a principal Holmesian repository operating within one of the larger academic research libraries in North America on the challenges and opportunities for preserving, describing, discovering, and collecting the objects that each generation of Sherlockians creates, even as the Sherlockian world continues to expand and evolve. The expansion of this Sherlockian space—this literary big bang and its attendant library/archival challenges—provides our framework. Running through this expansive universe are additional themes, including how librarians/curators attempt to keep ahead of collecting/acquisitions/digitizing processes by anticipating future researcher interests and needs; types of items produced in each era, with special attention to those newly created, born-digital objects residing on the Internet or other digital platforms; and the types of fans/enthusiasts who create the stuff. Our focus is more on product than people, but we cannot forget individual inventiveness.

[1.5] For librarians or collectors observing this expanding universe, a number of progressively emerging markers help delineate areas for acquisition. On the established front are materials generated by Doyle and early Game players. Boundaries for this incunabular period might count 1887 as the genesis, through early Eille Norwood-Hubert Willis films, to the founding of the BSI in 1934. A second era is delineated by early BSI and scion society activities; radio (William Gillette, Edith Meiser); film (Basil Rathbone-Nigel Bruce); and early television (Ronald Howard-Howard Marion Crawford), up to the appearance of The Seven-Per-Cent Solution by Nicholas Meyer in 1974—a book (and later film) that seemed to reawaken a slumbering Sherlockian community. A third age—one that included Granada Television's Jeremy Brett, David Burke, and Edward Hardwick but also embraced the first mass marketed personal computers, early automated bulletin board systems, CompuServe, AOL, and arguably the first social media site, Six Degrees—extended to 1997. We are now in the fourth epoch, one marked by Guy Ritchie, Steven Moffat, and Mark Gatiss along with robust technologies, seemingly endless debates on the death of print, born-digital creations, and a surprising volume of squabbling between newer fans and older devotees. Cons, cosplay, and ships (relationships) collide with book and paper scribblers. A challenge for librarians, who have observed the rise and fall of Holmesian enthusiasms before, is to stay above the fray; to observe; to attempt to take in as much as their missions, pocketbooks, or creativity allows; and to plan for an ever-expanding universe (figure 1).

Timeline of various eras in an expanding Sherlockian universe. Image of blue arrow pointing right. Dots on arrow indicate various eras. From left to right: 1887–1934. Incunabular: Beetons to BSI. 1934–1974. Early BSI and Scion Activities. 1974–1997. Mass-Marketed PCs to Social Media. 1997–present. Robust Technologies.

Figure 1. Timeline of various eras in an expanding Sherlockian universe. [View larger image.]

2. Forms of Sherlockian fandom culture

[2.1] Fandom as concept or reality is not new, but the word did not enter the English language until the late 19th or early 20th century. The Oxford English Dictionary ( pins the first use of the word "fandom" to 1903, but various searches reveal appearances as early as 1895 (Boström, personal communication, 2016). An early example cited by the Oxford English Dictionary is a 1903 headline in a Cincinnati Enquirer article on American baseball ("By Windtown Tales" 1903). While many early mentions of "fandom" are associated with this sport, use of the word quickly spread to other sports, entertainers, literary characters, radio, movies, and television. A 1958 Times article on science fiction noted that one editor calculated "that at least half his British writers have been recruited from 'fandom'" (Our Special Correspondent 1958).

[2.2] On the Sherlockian front, Mattias Boström reported that the word "is not to be found in any of the three first volumes (i.e. 1881–1893)" (personal communication, 2016), referring to the ambitious and extremely useful Sherlock Holmes and Conan Doyle in the Newspapers (Boström and Laffey, 2016). At the bibliographic level of the title, De Waal (1994) recorded the first use of "fandom" as occurring in a 1980 article on "Mystery Fandom" (Bishop 1980). Douglas Greene's 1982 introduction to John Dickson Carr's "Speckled Band" script marks the first appearance of the word on the pages of the Baker Street Journal. It reappears again in a 1987 obituary (Lellenberg 1987) and a later BSI reflection by Michael Dirda (2000). Fandom is not a word associated with, or much used by, traditional Sherlockians. Newer entrants to the cult of Mr. Holmes are happy to appropriate this identity (note 3).

[2.3] Current excitement surrounding Holmes obscures a simple fact: readers become enthusiasts. Victorian Holmesian readers were our protofanatics. Beyond Doyle and his editors, we have no exact idea who first experienced this secular form of lectio divina (Latin, divine reading) while paging through Beeton's Christmas Annual, Lippincott's Magazine, or The Strand. But we should be clear: Sherlockian enthusiasm, at its origin, was rooted in printed text and images—at least for the first few years. However, once the first pastiche—or derivative work in another medium—was created, all fields of creative endeavor opened to exploitation. Holmes and his fanatics moved beyond the published page.

[2.4] Newspapers and other accounts provide some examples as to how individuals self-identified (or were identified by others) relative to the Holmes phenomenon during the Victorian-Edwardian era. "Readers" was a commonly used term. In reference to Doyle (which might also apply to Holmes), an 1891 article in the Birmingham Daily Post spoke of "a distinct public of his own" ("Advertisements and Notices" 1891). In Liverpool, the Mercury exclaimed that "Sherlock Holmes is now a household word" and that "all who want to read one of the most exciting detective stories ever penned" should get their hands on a copy of A Study in Scarlet ("Advertisements and Notices" 1892). An 1893 article entitled "The Literature of Crime" in the Leeds Mercury described an enthusiastic reader as a "spectator," "ardent admirer," "the evening newspaper reader," "comrades on terms of the most friendly intimacy," and "the most sensitive schoolboy." Clearly these words and phrases reverberate with our current notion of fandom and conventions.

[2.5] People read—on tablets, smartphones, and other devices as well as books. Sherlockians create—fields for their endeavors are boundless; their enthusiasms come from multiple sources, exist in various guises, and commenced concurrently with the original tales. Holmesians also play—the Great Game began early on, and the rules of play are straightforward. First, Holmes and Watson are considered real people, not fictitious characters. Second, Watson (with a few exceptions) is viewed as the author of the original adventures. Conan Doyle is merely the literary agent. The Game's goal, fueled by authorial inconsistencies and a fascination with Victorian-Edwardian England, is to construct robust biographies of Holmes and Watson.

[2.6] As evidence for the first rule—on the reality of Holmes and Watson—enthusiasts point to the index volume of the 14th edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica (in which Holmes is listed as a real person) and a noticeable lack of an obituary in the paper of record, the Times (Smith 1946). Further proof might be found in the large archive of mail, posted to Holmes's 221B address, much of it seeking his assistance, or the Royal Society of Chemistry's 2002 posthumous award to Holmes of an honorary fellowship. Even Library of Congress catalogers have come round to Holmes's reality. Previous name authority headings listed our consulting detective as "Holmes, Sherlock (Fictitious character)." Now this heading reads, "Holmes, Sherlock" with a birth date given in code as 18540106 (i.e., January 6, 1854). Watson, alas, has yet to receive the same treatment (Library of Congress 2015).

[2.7] Arguments persist on when the Great Game began. Claims to its origins date from as early as 1902 to as late as 1932 and include writings, criticism, and commentary by Ronald Knox, Arthur Maurice, Christopher Morley, Dorothy L. Sayers, and Frank Sidgwick (Lellenberg 2010). By 1946, Sayers could note that the Game had "become a hobby among a select set of jesters" in the United Kingdom and America, and that it "must be played as solemnly as a county cricket match at Lord's; the slightest touch of extravagance or burlesque ruins the atmosphere" (7). By present-day standards and praxis, Sayers's provincial observations no longer hold. Her select set of British and American jesters—primarily white, Anglo-Saxon Protestant men—find themselves supplanted (or at least supplemented) by a globally diverse and critically deft audience, many of them women and/or members of marginalized communities.

[2.8] With the advent of the Great Game came the rise of Sherlockian societies. Peter Blau (2016), doyen of Sherlockian society information, records 925 Sherlockian societies in his most current census. Of these, 416 are active and 509 inactive. Among active societies, 275 are defined by Blau as geographical (192 of these are located in the United States), 18 professional (all American), and 123 "other" (of which 96 are based in the United States). Mother of North American societies is the Baker Street Irregulars, founded in 1934 by New Yorker Christopher Morley. That same year, Holmesians in London founded the Sherlock Holmes Society. Their activities, however, were cut short by World War II. After the war, and coincident with the 1951 Festival of Britain, a new but descendent group emerged, the SHSL. Together, these two societies are major guiding lights in the historic Sherlockian universe, with both claiming global membership.

[2.9] Having earlier noted the origins of the Great Game, BSI, and SHSL, it is not necessary in this context to expound those histories. Sources and stories are well documented by the BSI (Baker Street Irregulars Trust,, SHSL members (, the pages of the Baker Street Journal and the Sherlock Holmes Journal, or in writings by William S. Baring-Gould, Michael Dirda, Jon Lellenberg, and others. Morley's observation that "never has so much been written by so many for so few" or W. T. Rabe's (1958, 61) variation that "never has so much been inferred by so many from so little" confirms New York and London as centers of the Holmesian universe in the 20th century ("Whodunit" 1947). Or does it? Do London and New York still occupy pride of place? Or does the astrophysical theoretical model of the big bang, as well as observed realities, provide us with an alternative cosmology?

[2.10] Creative and destructive powers are evident when observing formation and decay of Sherlockian societies. Of the 925 organizations tallied by Blau (2016), more than half (55 percent) are inactive. This formation and decay creates an immediate problem for any librarian or collector seeking information on or materials produced by these organizations. Founding dates, membership totals, and other demographic data for many societies are not readily available. A sample (n = 144, 34.5 percent, confidence interval 6.62, confidence level 95 percent) of the 416 active societies for the year a society was established, based on data acquired from individual organizational Web sites or aggregated (Sherlockian Who's Who,, reveals a median date of 1987 (average = 1984.8). In other words, roughly half the societies in this sample were founded before 1987 and the other half after. Extrapolating across the entire range of active organizations, we might conclude that approximately half these societies came into being after April 1984, the initial broadcast date of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes starring Jeremy Brett (1984–94).

[2.11] Within conventional Sherlockian culture, women are sometimes marginalized or excluded entirely. A prime example might be found in the relationship between the BSI and the Adventuresses of Sherlock Holmes (ASH). Founded in the late 1960s, ASH "achieved early notoriety when its members picketed the Annual Dinner of the Baker Street Irregulars in protest of the BSI policy of excluding women" ( Following traditional forms, ASH members communicated poetry and other writings through their journal, Serpentine Muse. In 1991, women were finally invited to participate in BSI activities and were invested as members. While some scion societies of the BSI, including early groups formed in the 1940s, exhibited inclusivity from the start, we might think of ASH's welcome into the BSI as a first major expansion of the Sherlockian universe in terms of marginalized groups. This expansion toward greater inclusion should continue—explicitly stated through collection development policies—to correct earlier unperceived or naive biases in the holdings of existing archives that reflects their privileged or exclusive nature.

[2.12] Other marginalized groups or communities—LGBTQA and/or nonwhite, for example—found new, nontraditional ways to create and communicate Holmesian experiences. Innovative technologies and platforms such as blogs, podcasts, social media, fan fiction, and fan art merged with an evolving popular culture/convention milieu to create opportunities for unconventional, extracanonical expression. Failing to find narratives that mirrored their own life experience, emerging fan communities created new expressions of a Sherlockian world. These newer, diverse, and increasingly virtual communities added a vitality sometimes unappreciated or unwelcomed by an older demographic. Destructive, creative, and expansive capacities evident in our cosmological big bang model played out in print (Philip Shreffler's 2013 "The Elite Devotee Redux" in the revived Saturday Review of Literature) and online (Kristina Manente's Baker Street Babes post "The Elite Devotee, or How the Sherlock Fandom Is a Horrible Embarrassment to the Sherlockian World by Phillip Shreffler"; The University of Minnesota's Sherlock Holmes Collections is made up of many collections; it reflects, over time, what people collected, what we purchased, or what markets offered. As such, the face or nature of the collection has evolved as fandoms changed over time. As a principal Holmesian archive, for at least the last two decades, we've sought diversity through our collection development policy. This policy states our goal to be comprehensive in documenting Holmes as a cultural icon at all levels and in all formats. In some ways, we've taken our cue from legendary Sherlockian John Bennett Shaw, who is known to have said, "Don't throw it away, send it to me." Similarly, greater attention needs to be paid to and greater use and promotion made of materials produced by marginalized creators in exhibitions, outreach, teaching, and research. Only then will this universe display the kind of inclusivity we desire. Professionally trained librarians and curators working in, listening to, and watching the Holmesian cosmos should aspire to collect these and other works representing an expanding universe; they should document all aspects and cultural expressions without becoming entangled or identified with any particular position, perspective, or intramural squabble.

3. Types of fan works and topics

[3.1] Individually or collectively—in print, online, or as dimensional objects—Game players, Holmesian society members, or members of fandom and online communities generate valuable material, with "value" being variously defined. The Society of American Archivists lists 19 types of value in their glossary ( Such value-laden associations figure into the calculus of individual or institutional collectors seeking to amass objects corresponding to their own goals or mission.

[3.2] Doyle's friend J. M. Barrie anonymously penned "My Evening with Sherlock Holmes" in 1891. (This is the second documented published pastiche. It is interesting to note that one of Doyle's closest friends jumped on the pastiche bandwagon so soon and that he did so anonymously. Is this a precursor to what we later see with fan fiction?) Within a decade of Holmes's debut in A Study in Scarlet, nearly forty pastiches appeared (Barquin and Saint-Joanis 2015; Peschel 2015). In 1894, actor John Webb performed on stage, starring in a play by Charles Rodgers. That same year, the public enjoyed singing along with "The Ghost of Sherlock Holmes," a sheet music selection written by Richard Morton and composed by H. C. Barry. Holmes's first film appearance, Sherlock Holmes Baffled, followed in 1900. Parker Brothers issued their "Sherlock Holmes" card game in 1904. Forms and types of enthusiastic expressions began to multiply.

[3.3] De Waal (1994) included 24,703 entries in his Universal Sherlock Holmes bibliography. Collector Don Hobbs owns a library of more than 11,000 foreign-language editions. His bibliography, The Galactic Sherlock Holmes (, lists 106 canonical editions. In 2012, Guinness World Records awarded Holmes "a world record for the most portrayed literary human character in film and TV." Depicted 254 times, Holmes is second only to Dracula, who is portrayed in 272 films ( Collecting or depicting Holmes, as the bibliographies and records suggest, is extremely popular. Sherlockian industry knows no bounds; it is an ever-expanding universe.

[3.4] Another way to view this expansion of Sherlockian space is by examining creative dates for film and television programs. Phil Bergem's recently updated (2016) "Checklist of Sherlock Holmes (and Holmes Related) Films and Television Programs" includes 1,244 items. His inventory includes 341 films in four categories, as follows: serious portrayals (canonical and pastiches), 184; derivations and associations, 44; parodies and comedies, 106; and pornography, 7. For television (including movies and shows) Bergem's census lists 903 items in four categories: serious portrayals (canonical and pastiches), 333; derivations and associations, 150; parodies and comedies, 55; and animation, puppets, Muppets and miscellaneous, 365. Table 1 rearranges Bergem's data by decade.

Table 1. Film and television programs by decade and category

DecadeF: SPF: D&AF: P&CF: PornTV: SPTV: D&ATV: P&CAnimation etc.Total

F, film; TV, television; SP, serious portrayals; D&A, derivations and associations; P&C, parodies and comedies. Data from Bergem (2016).

[3.4] Data from table 1 may be reconfigured as in figure 2. Clearly—with the exception of a burst of film activity in the second decade of the 20th century—there is a marked expansion in creative visual output from the age of television to present online communities. Were we to overlay activities in other media such as publishing, theater, or radio, other patterns might emerge (or converge). There is both a growing market for Holmes and an expanding fan base. The rise of new fandoms associated with performances by Jeremy Brett, Robert Downey Jr., Benedict Cumberbatch, and Jonny Lee Miller joins older enthusiasts' alliances with William Gillette, Eille Norwood, Basil Rathbone, Ronald Howard, and Douglas Wilmer.

Film and television programs by category and decade, 1900–2016. Color graph. X-axis: Number of films or programs, 0 to 250. Y-axis: Year ranges in 10-year blocks from 1900 to 2010. Key: Animation, Etc. TV: Parodies & Comedies. TV: Derivatives & Associations. TV: Serious Portrayals. Film: Pornography. Film: Parodies & Comedies. Film: Derivations & Associations. Film: Serious Portrayals. Graph spikes at just under 150 films/programs in 1910–1919 for Film: Parodies & Comedies; and for Animation, Etc. for 1960–1969 (120), 1980–1989 (170), and 2010–present (220). All categories drop sharply in 1940–1949.

Figure 2. Film and television programs by category and decade, 1900–2016. [View larger image.]

4. Platform types

[4.1] Our earliest Holmesian creators and collectors worked in a paper-based world focused primarily on original canonical works, early pastiches, and parodies. What they knew were books, periodicals, manuscripts, correspondence, illustrations, printed photographs, and other paper ephemera. By the mid-20th century, a wider variety of parodies and pastiches enjoyed a greater number of platforms for distribution. New media developed for commercial purposes appeared on the market. Items such as phonograph records, transcription recording discs, safety (nonnitrate) films, paper- or plastic-backed recording tape, slides, transparencies, microfilm, and filmstrips gathered on collectors' and library shelves. Each new fandom era generated its own memorabilia. Traditional collectors, unmoved by new fads or technologies, tended to stay with paper. By comparison, enterprising librarians and nontraditional collectors wanted to capture the full range of formats. By the later 20th century, collectors of all stripes shuddered in either joy or frustration as new collectibles in a dizzying array of formats appeared. Corporate strategies, inventiveness, and obsolescence dominated the marketplace while library budgets contracted or struggled to stay even with inflation (Davis 2009). With the arrival of personal computers, the Internet, and cloud-based applications, the landscape grew increasingly complex and more difficult to manage. Collecting what each era generates is an ongoing challenge.

[4.2] De Waal's (1994) bibliography is the most comprehensive for materials produced up to the year 1994 and includes a list of 203 periodical titles. Sixty-three languages, plus braille and shorthand, are represented. Because his 24,703 entries also include memorabilia or three-dimensional objects, another source for numbers on printed material is useful for comparison. A wider look in the bibliographic utility OCLC (Online Computer Library Center) using a keyword search for "Sherlock Holmes" provides some sense of publication history, format, and language. These numbers, although somewhat suspect, include cataloged material held by libraries around the world that participate in the utility, WorldCat ( OCLC reports 6,163 works of fiction, 8,597 nonfiction works, and 336 biographies (total = 15,096). In terms of audience, the utility reports 1,328 juvenile works and 13,432 nonjuvenile (total = 14,760). The tables and figure in the appendix provide additional perspectives on Holmesian publication.

[4.3] In 1967, librarians from the American Library Association established what is recognized as "the oldest themed or profession oriented" scion society associated with Holmes and the BSI (Sub-Librarian Scion of the Baker Street Irregulars, The Sub-Librarians maintain a list of collections from 19 libraries related to Doyle or Holmes. Over time, these libraries collectively amassed the most significant, publicly accessible gathering of materials in the world. Many of these libraries are now digitizing portions of their holdings to make them even more accessible (note 4). From a collector's perspective, Randall Stock's (2012) Web site gives a good indication of manuscript and other holdings in private hands (Best of Sherlock Holmes, Taken together, De Waal (1994), OCLC, the Sub-Librarians, and Stock (2012) provide an excellent account of an older, print-driven universe. What none of them takes into account is the creative energy associated with new fandoms and online communities.

[4.4] AO3 contains an informative series, including presentation slides, on fandom statistics related to Holmes (strangelock and destinationtoast 2015). The presentation of these digital works provides a revelatory contrast to the world of print and paper outlined above. According to these data, as of 2015, AO3 hosted approximately 49,400 fan fiction works associated with BBC's Sherlock (2010–). A similar number, 43,600, were posted to another site, ( Sherlockian fandoms exist for Fox television's House (2004–12), Doyle's canon, Guy Ritchie's movies (2009, 2011), CBS's Elementary (2012–), the Great Mouse Detective (1986), Granada's Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1984–94), Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century (1999–2001), and Laurie R. King's Mary Russell book series (1994–). These fandoms accounted for an additional 11,000 plus fan fiction works. Surprisingly (or not), these 61,000 or so Sherlockian works represent a little over 5 percent of AO3's total content. (By mid-2016, the total number of AO3 works associated with Sherlock Holmes and related fandoms rose to nearly 91,000—further evidence of an expanding universe.)

[4.5] On AO3, the type of fan fiction for BBC's Sherlock is categorized as General (30 percent), Teen (31 percent), Mature (14 percent), Explicit (15 percent), or Not Rated (9 percent). More than a third of these works (35 percent) have a word count under 1,000. Ninety percent contain fewer than 10,000 words. About 3 percent contain exactly 221 words. The median length of a BBC Sherlock fan fiction work is 1,624 words, while the longest contains a staggering 916,251 words. For comparison, strangelock and destinationtoast (2015) show Doyle's The Final Problem weighing in at 7,488 words, while A Study in Scarlet comes in at 104,333 words. Crossovers exist between BBC's Sherlock and at least a dozen other fandoms, including Doctor Who, Harry Potter, and Star Trek.

[4.6] In many ways, AO3 presents an alternate universe to librarians. In less than a decade, over 90,000 works—three times the number of creative works listed in De Waal (1994) and nearly five times the number accounted by OCLC—have been presented to the world. Astonishingly, this represents just one slice—fan fiction—of an online communities' output. Add to this fan art found on Pinterest, blogs and podcasts posted by the Baker Street Babes, and online products from other online fan communities, and one begins to sense the enormity of it all. Created in digital form and hosted on digital platforms, these works present new opportunities and challenges to librarians charged with collecting, preserving, and making accessible this portion of an ever-expanding Holmesian universe.

5. Challenges for collecting born-digital fandom material

[5.1] A signed, limited edition book published by a small press or scion society is a tangible, collectable item, with certainty in the metadata provided on the title page and value based on the number of copies in circulation and of whose writings are found within. As librarians/curators consider collecting creative works of earlier generations, finding rare, small-print-run books is by far the easiest road. How does an academic repository capture the expressions of the current generation—the born-digital fan fiction not published as limited editions but often written in anonymity for worldwide exposure? In part, the challenge comes by learning new rules. Where the past's Great Game presented solemnities borrowed from the cricket pitch and simple, albeit vetted, stipulations, this new version of the Game (or something entirely beyond the Game) comes with a noticeably different playfulness, one still earnest in spirit but without the traditional boundaries often dictated by editorial mandates, scholarly gatekeepers, or critical mechanisms. Institutionally, this playfulness took multiple forms over the past decade as we went about developing an electronic infrastructure for acquiring, preserving, and making accessible digital materials; forming an electronic records task force; seeking training and certification through the Society of American Archivists Digital Archives Specialist curriculum; and building institutional, media, and data repositories. In many ways, researchers are still looking backward; they remain engaged with earlier works. As curators, we want to draw their attention to newer works and prepare durable, usable discovery infrastructures for future researchers.

[5.2] Works generated by the current generation of fans are unique in that they are easily published on open platforms such as YouTube, Pinterest, or AO3. It is easy to publish, but from a curatorial perspective, it is not as easy to manage. The commercial nature of these platforms, in conjunction with the sometimes bewildering legalese found in terms of service, means that librarians need to pay more attention to rights issues like copyright, fair use, and other intellectual property rights. Overall collecting strategies may remain the same—creator/donor communications or appraisal—but tactics may change or additional actors enter the conversation. In the old days, one didn't have to worry as much about (or attend to) matters related to rights and use. Simple letters of permission often covered any necessary usage. However, given the more recent (and frequent) commodification of information, librarians and curators find themselves attending early and often to rights questions. For materials created on social media platforms, this becomes even more complex, as creators may themselves not have been attendant to rights issues embedded in their work, such as borrowing or use made of other works. Therefore, methodologies and infrastructures designed for acquiring, discovering, or using born-digital materials need to include and account for additional rights management/safeguards before items will be selected and added to existing collections.

[5.3] Content (as opposed to medium or format) frequently pushes the envelope of what would be considered acceptable material for collecting as defined by generations of librarians or communities. Content and format are sometimes confused, but they are two different facets of a larger discussion of what might be considered acceptable material. Some may think of this in terms of what is appropriate reading material for certain age groups (or the general public), while others might think more in terms of format—for example, whether it is appropriate for libraries or museums to collect and preserve video games. If we are to exercise a curatorial prerogative and capture, preserve, and make accessible only a small portion of the digital universe (because we can't collect it all), there may also be questions around who gets to define what is acceptable (the professionals, the greater community) or the context for these discussions (libraries or the fans).

[5.4] Part of this curatorial prerogative involves including subaltern voices. When groups fail to find stories that reflect their own realities, they write them. The various ships portrayed in Sherlockian fan writings are indicative of this. Fan fiction can be a vehicle for telling stories about relationships and realities unknown or not conceived of in the original Doylean tales. It is the creation of these new realities and stories that makes our specific institutional curatorial mission of collecting and preserving new fandom's stories all the more important. It is what one should expect from a leading Sherlockian repository. Subaltern voices are part of the creative community; we wish to look at the totality of the new Sherlockian fandom in all formats.

[5.5] This naturally led us to consider collecting digital fan-created materials surrounding Sherlock Holmes. Presenting at the Sherlock Seattle Con 2015 confirmed our idea that we needed to develop a plan to capture and archive fan fiction, pastiches, and parodies created by this generation of fans. Charged with the mission of documenting Holmes in popular culture, we would be remiss if we ignored these works merely because they are not printed in traditional formats. Part of the question on how to do this might involve relationships and capacities. Are we, for example, satisfied with the Internet Archive's ( ability to capture Web pages, or do we need to design and build other redundant systems to achieve this goal? Is this kind of collecting appropriate to the missions of individual institutions of higher education? Or would this be better handled at a consortium or regional level?

[5.6] Librarians and curators work with fragile materials every day, yet what is even more fragile are the tapes, CDs, and bits and bytes of electronic material generated and stored digitally. In 2013—building on previous discussions among cultural memory institutions and professional organizations over the previous decade—conversations surrounding born-digital materials rippled through the special collections/archival communities with the concomitant challenge of creating standards and procedures for acquiring, preserving, and making accessible digital material (Reside and Taylor 2013). As donations began to arrive in digital formats, many of them obsolete, we realized as a local professional community that formal procedures were required to carefully manage what could only be viewed on digital devices. With processes in place at our institution to handle donations in digital formats, we turned our attention to what might be termed fugitive born-digital materials—that is, materials found in new, nontraditional places, including ephemera and substantive works posted online but not immediately offered to the archives.

[5.7] The amount of electronic Sherlockian fan fiction and fan art is staggering when compared, for example, to De Waal's (1994) bibliography. We reflected on ways that items are selected for library acquisition, conscious that informed archival acquisition needs to be more than some generic sense of Web archiving, such as scraping, grabbing, or downloading content without a creator's consent or adequate infrastructure. Often we work with a mediator, such as a dealer or bibliographer, someone who helps us—with catalogs or bibliographies—locate elusive editions that meet our mission to support teaching, research, and outreach. In the same way, contacts need to be made in the world of fan fiction with someone who points us to quality works ( Or do we rely on "kudos" to help guide selection? Likewise, creative anonymity is a new challenge, one not faced in traditional acquisition scenarios. How do librarians or archivists contact anonymous creators in order to request their works for acquisition by a library or archive? Again, we looked at how we collect print material as an analogous activity. Sherlockians have their conferences, gatherings, meetings, and publications. However, emerging meeting places for a newer fandom are cons, like Sherlock Seattle, Sherlocked (London), and 221B (Atlanta). These are perfect places to establish new relationships and to discover creators and their works—just as one does in formerly more traditional settings like Holmes or Victorian literary (academic) conferences. Sherlock Seattle 2015 opened our eyes to emerging possibilities and new fandom's energies. We quickly realized that stepping out and beyond traditional venues could potentially yield a trove of material more reflective of evolving interpretations of the canon and characters. Regular, annual participation requires a commitment to be a presence at cons around the globe in order to establish relationships.

[5.8] Selecting materials to archive also presents a challenge. As curators, we continue to seek that balance between professionally informed selection and anticipated future use. Given the exponential output of creativity, we opt to capture both a sample and select the best from a wide variety of authors, thereby ensuring that all communities are represented in our selections. Some online fandom host sites have filters to sort by self-selected or software-designed rating systems. The former includes a faceted search that includes various ships, which helps tease out representation of various groups. The concern for securing quality work is a real one. A substantial amount of work on AO3 explores the Holmes characters in relationships and situations that range from material appropriate for all audiences to soft porn and erotica. This is where contacts made at various cons can point us to those creators who use Holmes and Watson to tell their communities' stories in all their fullness and variety.

[5.9] Once printed material has been selected for a collection, it is typically sent to a cataloging unit, where existing metadata can be captured and attached to that item via a bar code. Similarly, work from AO3 would be treated as a typescript, processed according to our standards for preserving electronic data, and housed on a server. A creative work joins either the online catalog or archival finding aid and becomes accessible through various access points such as title, creator, subject, and publisher. Our hope is that creators would reveal their real names as well as their online pseudonym or handle; this would help meet the archive's desire to present as complete a record as possible.

[5.10] Questions surrounding anonymity would be discussed before donation. Depending on creators' comfort with sharing their handle or full name, we would present a number of options to accommodate the degree of anonymity they wish to enjoy. We can use the term Anonymous for the Creator field and tuck the handle (and/or real name) away in a suppressed field for administrative use. A timed suppression or restriction of the creator's name of 5, 10, or 15 years might appeal to creators who want to maintain a distance from their works. Should they wish to use their full name in the record, the handle used to sign the original work should be recorded as "also known as."

[5.11] Web sites and posts are fleeting, just as issues of Beeton's Christmas Annual or The Strand were tossed after a short life on the train or nightstand. What is now seemingly everywhere will not be for long. Capturing what this generation of fans has created is our mission, just as much as it is to archive the newsletters, publications, and works of earlier scion societies, scholars, and authors.

6. Conclusion

[6.1] The 60 canonical Sherlock Holmes stories yielded thousands of derivatives in the form of parodies, pastiches, plays, films, and television shows since the first decade of Holmes's 1887 appearance in Beeton's Christmas Annual. Shortly after the turn of the 20th century, Ronald Knox's espousal of what became the Great Game caught on with a select set and spread through the emerging scion societies, BSI and SHSL. The Game's goal is simple: fill the biographical gaps in the 60 canonical stories abiding by the assumption that Sherlock lives. Likewise, librarians and archivists look to fill bibliographic breaks—those moments, perhaps, when a brief hiatus took Holmes or Watson out of our view, interrupting a larger narrative arc.

[6.2] This Game propels enthusiasts to research, write, and publish their findings. Findings invariably lead to collections, and collections need homes, be they private hands, an archive, or a library. As curators of the Sherlock Holmes Collections at the University of Minnesota, we continually examine fandom's sweeping and timeless expanse, each era presenting its own materials, challenges, and opportunities. Creative energies generated by Doyle's "distinct public" continue to expand our Holmesian universe.

[6.3] Each Sherlockian age displays its own marker; each epoch plays well on the media of the time. Print productions, beginning in 1887, mark the genesis, and they find completion in the established literary societies of the 1930s. Through wars and social movements, Holmes's popularity continued by way of societies, radio, television, and print. Meyer's Seven-Per-Cent Solution marks a transition between old and new fandoms. Between 1975 and 1997, with the arrival of computers, the Internet, and social media, Holmes found new performance platforms. This in turn led to a revival of Holmes on both big and small screens. From 1998 to the present, film, television, blogs, podcasts, conventions, and other media have fueled a rapidly expanding fan base. Film and television may be points of entry for newer, primarily online communities compared to an older culture that entered this world through print. There are both similarities and differences between traditional Game culture and other emergent fan cultures. Newer fan cultures create biographies or alternative universes, sometimes extracanonical in nature. These new worlds may be foreign to a traditionalist's understanding of the Sherlockian universe or playing the Game. It is this new digital output created by emerging fandoms that we hope to secure for our archive.

[6.4] Collectors and archivists alike are challenged by the broad array of material and formats being generated. OCLC, the bibliographic utility used by libraries across the world, gives us a snapshot of cataloged titles: 15,046 (print, large print, thesis, e-book, microform, and braille) in 88 languages. Yet in the last decade, over 90,000 works have been posted on AO3. While these creations are easily uploaded and accessed online, in our context at Minnesota, we are interested in preserving a representative sample of these works in perpetuity. Some professionals in archival or library communities might question this approach, arguing that this takes born-digital objects out of context, thus compromising future research integrity and value. But we believe creation of robust metadata within well-developed institutional digital repositories alleviates this concern and allows us to sustain original context. Engaging with new fans found at various cons is a first step in developing relationships with those who can point us to best works; just as with print material, a mediator can be the best solution to aid in selection processes, especially with creators who operate anonymously. The prerogatives of anonymous creators relating to their identities would be discussed before donation. Standards for preserving and making accessible born-digital material are already in place at various research institutions. Items would be cataloged or identified in an archival finding aid with provision for access points such as collection name, title of work, creator (handle), and subject.

[6.5] Out of one story written in 1887 spins an entire universe of titles, formats, and communities with Sherlock Holmes at its center. As a principal Holmesian repository, we collect and curate printed material well. Our new challenge is to meet contemporary and emerging fans associated with recent adaptations and to discover works that reflect their communities and stories. By forming new relationships, gaining trust, and gathering this creative output, we hope to incorporate this part of an expanding universe into our recorded, collective, and cultural memory.

7. Acknowledgments

[7.1] Our thanks go to Lucy Brusic, Lisa Vecoli (aka V1), Lisa Von Drasek (aka V2), and Carol Kussmann, who took time to read drafts and offer comments.

8. Notes

1. We use "Sherlockian" and "Holmesian" interchangeably. The term "Sherlockian" is generally used by North Americans; "Holmesian" is often associated with British usage.

2. This article's central metaphor of the big bang refers to the astronomical/cosmological model of the universe and should not be confused with a type of challenge known in online fan communities that involves long fics and accompanying art.

3. John Bennett Shaw used "cult" in the title of a talk delivered in 1975. There can be little doubt that Shaw, given his popularity, delivered this talk a number of times in various venues.

4. Libraries actively collecting Doyleana or Sherlockiana include: Athenaeum of Philadelphia; Bibliothèque Cantonale et Universitaire Lausanne, Switzerland; Birmingham Southern College, Birmingham, Alabama; British Library London, England; Harvard University, Houghton Library, Cambridge, Massachusetts; Huntington Library, San Marino, California; Lilly Library, Indiana University, Bloomington; Marylebone Library, Westminster, England; National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh; New York Public Library; Newberry Library, Chicago, Illinois; Portsmouth Library Service, Portsmouth, England; Royal College of Surgeons, Edinburgh, Scotland; Toronto Public Library, Toronto, Ontario; University of Michigan, Ann Arbor; University of Minnesota, Minneapolis; University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas, Austin; and University of Tulsa, Oklahoma.

9. Appendix

Sherlockian cataloged books in Online Computer Library Center (OCLC) by date of publication, 1900–2015. Line graph. X-axis: Cataloged books, 0 to 700 in 100-year increments. Y-axis: Years 1900–2015, in 4-year increments, starting 1900 and ending 2013. Bar graph shows fairly steady increase as years ascend.

Appendix figure 1. Sherlockian cataloged books in Online Computer Library Center (OCLC) by date of publication, 1900–2015. [View larger image.]

Appendix table 1. OCLC Sherlockian cataloged books by format

Book FormatNumber
Print book14,476
Large print208
Braille book52

OCLC, Online Computer Library Center.

Appendix table 2. OCLC Sherlockian cataloged books by language (n = 88)

Bokmal (Nor)1
English (Old)1
Greek Ancient1
Greek (Mod)34
Multiple lang5
Turkish (Ott)6

OCLC, Online Computer Library Center.

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