I remember when the OTW was starting up there was a discussion about “representing fandom.” I think everybody who volunteered at that point was pretty clear that we couldn’t and didn’t want to do that, in the sense of saying “we express what fandom is and wants,” because nobody could do that, because fandom is big and varied and self-contradictory, because fandoms (like Soylent Green) are made of people. I understood our goals to be more modest than that, albeit also ambitious, mainly: (1) work towards sustainability in fannish infrastructure, so that big chunks of online fandom wouldn’t disappear if a single person couldn’t continue to maintain them, (2) provide one relatively easily findable place that people could go for information that would be fan-friendly, whether they were journalists seeking to understand this strange phenomenon and explain it to the readers at home or fans interested in learning what the law has to say about fanworks.
In terms of advocating for fandom generally, the role I always saw for us was not that, or maybe I don’t know what that means. I saw us as a backstop: as in the Robert Frost poem, I wanted the OTW to be a place that, when you had to go, they had to take you in. Our resources should be useful if you wanted them, regardless of your fandom.
Many people have been vital to what we’ve built so far, and many of them have been behind the scenes: writing code, raising money, answering Support tickets, dealing with Abuse issues (true unsung heroes because they do a really stressful job and can’t talk about details!), maintaining the website and dealing with performance issues, coordinating volunteers, making sure the bills get paid, talking to fans one on one about legal issues, and so on. I strongly believe that a key priority is bringing volunteers in and helping them develop specific skills, most obviously in coding and related fields because the Archive is a big people-intensive project, but there are plenty of other needs as well. On Wikipedia, to take an outside example, there are people who just do grammar/style editing, and others who focus on contributing content; both of those are helpful to that project, and we need an even greater variety. We need to recruit more people to learn and do these things, without spamming other communities or giving the impression that our aim is to “take over” fandom, because it's really not.
We can only do what we have volunteers to do. This means that bottlenecks can develop quickly, and that we need an ongoing idea of our real capabilities. For example, I would love to have more non-US lawyers on the Legal team. It’s a real constraint to have to tell people that we can usually only provide US information and guidance. Sadly, I can’t confer law degrees, but there are many instances in which we can train volunteers. There’s a lot of talk about sustainability, and that’s really important, but for me sustainability means recruiting and training for specific skills as well as building a donor base to keep the lights on.
What I want from the Board is support for people who are following their passions, without micromanagement. I have only worked directly with some of the candidates, so I’m only going to speak about people with whom I've had extended interactions.
I’ve worked with Naomi Novik from the start, and have been consistently impressed with her ability to manage different viewpoints, defuse conflict, and take discussions in a productive direction, specifically by asking us to make at least small decisions that can be acted on and can thus allow us to make progress, however incremental. Not only has she written a huge amount of the Archive code, she’s able to integrate what’s technically feasible with what’s good policy. As elz says, that’s really important for the Board to avoid a game of telephone. Naomi’s guidance has been amazingly important to things like the Content Policy committee, where we’ve sometimes needed guidance on what the code could be made to do and sometimes asked for the code to do things for us. And she’s also incredibly generous with her knowledge, which is really important (especially since we can’t clone her and break glass in case of emergency).
An organization like the OTW needs both a big vision and a sense of the possible; Naomi brings both to the table. Naomi’s also a tireless cheerleader for the organization with a high public profile that allows her to reach out to the public and introduce the OTW to potential new donors/members and users who wouldn’t otherwise find out about it. If we want sustainability, then expanding the donor base is absolutely vital. We need volunteers, and we also need—as the original rallying cry said—to own the servers.
Betsy Rosenblatt has stepped up as a leader on the legal committee, and I’m thrilled to see her running for the Board. A lawyer’s job is not actually just to say no, though that’s how it can work if the lawyer isn’t well integrated into the overall organization. Instead, a good lawyer helps her client do what it wants legally and ethically by being part of the client’s projects from the beginning, and I expect Betsy will be able to work in partnership with the various committees and projects in just that way, increasing the impact of their energies and priorities. Betsy runs her school’s IP clinic, which means she’s also experienced with working with unpaid volunteers.</user>