Kathryn S’s 2023 Q&A: Board Work I

[Note: There will be 4 Q&A posts total, covering all the topics brought up during the user-submitted Q&A period. Candidates were limited to 300 words per answer.]

What committees have you worked with, and for how long? What have you especially enjoyed about them?

I have been an administrative volunteer with the Open Doors committee for my entire time volunteering with the OTW, just over nine years. The only other committee I formally served on is the short-lived Internationalization & Outreach Committee (2015-2016).

However, one of the things I enjoy most about Open Doors is that we work with so many of the other committees as part of our own work!

  • Support and PAC — We notify them about upcoming imports and occasionally exchange tickets or ask questions.
  • Tag Wrangling — They map the tags of the archives we’re importing to AO3 canonical tags so that the archive moderator(s) can choose which versions to use and the wranglers can easily synch non-canonical tags.
  • Communications and Translation — We work with them to post new import announcements and the annual round-up; Translation also has translated the FAQs on the Open Doors website.
  • Fanlore — We update and create new Fanlore pages when we research archives suggested as import projects and invite creators from imported archives to contribute as well.
  • Legal — We sometimes have questions about whether certain works or archives can be imported, or about the bounds of a wholly new project (such as the Fanzine Scan Hosting Project).

Working with Open Doors, I get to learn a lot about fandom history while working to preserve it. I have seen many archives and websites disappear over my time in fandom, and so it means a lot to be able to keep fanworks from disappearing like they used to. Sometimes we can even resurrect archives that disappeared years ago!


Where did you get most of the knowledge and preparation in order to know running for board is a good fit for you? Did you feel prepared enough by Board/elections? Do you personally believe that people with no concrete professional experience (such as college students) are apt to serve on the Board of Directors of a US non-profit?

I’ve been working in the nonprofit sector in my professional life since 2016. I have a certification in Nonprofit Management and Leadership and some formal Human Resources (HR) training. I also grew up overseas, and as my stint in the Internationalization & Outreach Committee indicates, I have been wanting to use that experience to help improve the OTW for as long as I’ve been a volunteer. I’ve seriously considered running for Board the last few years, but it never seemed like the right time. Running this year instead of next year was a slightly last-minute decision, so I was not as prepared as I could have been. However, the Elections Committee and my fellow candidates have been very supportive!

I think that the specific focus and needs of the nonprofit will indicate what kinds of potential board members would be helpful, and that the US nonprofit sector has been far too rigid for far too long about what kinds of board members they seek out. Maximizing diversity — including diversity of skills and background — among board members is essential to being able to effectively solve problems. If a nonprofit chooses to have a board that actually directs the overall vision of the organization (rather than, for example, a minimum legally viable board), then the board needs to reflect the people that the organization serves as much as the practical needs of the organization.  I don’t see any reason why a college student or person without traditional professional experience would not be a capable board member. I’ve even heard of nonprofits that included people under 18 as non-voting board members because the organization was focused on middle- and high-school students.


What techniques do you use to manage pressure on yourself? How would you handle stepping up into a more visible and personally accountable position? Tell me about a time you had to manage a particularly heavy workload. How did you handle it?

I have a history of anxiety and depression, so I have a therapist I see regularly and take daily medication. I also plan my schedule to include the amount of sleep and physical activity that I know I need. I am very good at giving myself task deadlines and prioritizing the most important tasks, even if it means that not everything gets done as quickly as I’d like it to.

It is true that the prospect of being on Board makes me anxious, but that didn’t stop me from feeling like it was more important to run than to listen to that anxiety. Even though the actual decision was made last-minute, it wasn’t a decision between running for Board and not running. Rather, it was a decision between running this year, with all of the controversies and also pressures in my non-OTW life, or running next year when things would theoretically be calmer. Given that I seemed to have the qualifications that were specifically being looked for among prospective candidates, I felt like I would be doing the OTW and its members a disservice if I didn’t offer my skills to the organization.

I am currently in a professional position where I sometimes receive external criticism, fair and unfair, and I think I do a pretty good job of discerning the two, ignoring the unfair criticism, and incorporating the fair criticism. As an OTW Board member, I hope that I will have a greater ability to take direct action with regard to fair criticism of the organization as a whole than I do in my professional position.

With regard to managing a heavy workload, I was a stereotypical overachiever in high school and college and have spent much of my adulthood learning how to have more balance.


The Board is the nominal head of the OTW, which means that there is no Chair or other supervisor telling you what work to take on or what your priorities should be. Explain your comfort level with that kind of work and how you think you would handle that scenario. As a board member, how would you handle situations where you encounter an unfamiliar area, such as legal issues?

I currently work fairly independently both professionally and in the OTW. Although the Board doesn’t have a particular person in charge, part of any long-term project is assigning or volunteering for tasks and having at least a rough timeline for when they need to be completed by. If that is not something that the Board currently does, then perhaps it is time to start.

The three things I always do are:

  • Look for an expert who is willing to answer questions
  • Ask for resources to learn more background
  • Do the reading and come back with more questions if needed to make a decision


Explain in your own words what “fiduciary duty” means for a US non-profit. Are you comfortable with that level of legal commitment? Does being on the Board of Directors of a US nonprofit pose any risk to you or your family in your country? Have you discussed this risk with your loved ones?

Fiduciary duty means that I am responsible for the organization’s financial management and legal exposure, and that I am generally required to use my skills, knowledge, and experience to ensure to the best of my ability that the organization is running well, fulfilling its mission, and serving its staff and constituents. I am comfortable with that level of responsibility.

Generally speaking, being on the Board of Directors of a US nonprofit does not pose any risk to me or my family. However, being on the Board of the OTW means that I am facing the same risk of being called out or piled on as any other reasonably prominent person on the Internet. I have discussed those risks with my bosses at work and with my friends and family.


How might the OTW better support fanworks and fan culture which is hosted in places other than AO3? Do you believe the organization has a responsibility to do so?

When the OTW was founded, no one had any idea that the Internet would become as centralized as it has. There were hundreds of active archives of all sizes and focuses! The two things that were going to make the AO3 different were (1) that we would accept any fanwork, rather than having limitations by content, fandom, etc., and (2) that we would be permanent and protected by owning the servers and having lawyers to evaluate and respond to Cease & Desist notices.

However, the landscape has radically transformed since then. The Internet as a whole is dominated by a few large companies and small, independent fansites are far less common, far less visible, and have far less support. Given these changes and the fact that the OTW has taken a disproportionate amount of fandom time, money, and attention, I think that if we are serious about not wanting to be the single home of fandom, then we have to start actively supporting other homes.

From my perspective as an Open Doors volunteer, I have seen this shift happen primarily through fanworks archives closing. My ideas on that front greatly exceed the allowed word count for these answers, so instead I’m going to write about an idea that I think would help solve many of these problems, although it would be a big project: I think that either as an arm of the OTW or a separate organization, we should start an OTW Foundation.

The purpose of the OTW Foundation would not be to fund the OTW. Rather, it would be to provide funding for non-OTW fandom-focused projects. This could be a way to fund fandom scholarship, financially support other archives, and maybe even resurrect eFiction and/or Automated Archive software or provide technical support to other archives and fandom projects.


Many of you mentioned large, exciting projects such as paid HR, DEI consultants, and new mandatory tags. If you encountered roadblocks for these plans, how would you ensure that you can still fill your campaign promises, and how would those new strategies be communicated to OTW members?

Roadblocks are inevitable in any large project, but if the goals are important then you find a way to get there, even if it takes a long time and a much more winding path than you hoped.

Any of these projects would hopefully be the goal of multiple board members, including future board members, so even if they could not be fulfilled during one person’s term, they would have made progress and other people would be able to carry on the work.

I would hope that we would be communicating our progress regularly, and that if it came to the point where we were only able to achieve a particular goal through a means other than the one initially planned, that we would be able to explain our reasoning. Most of the goals that have been proposed (e.g. paid HR) aren’t goals in and of themselves as much as they are the best way to achieve more important goals (e.g. paid support for ADT and Systems), which are themselves a way to achieve an even more important final goal (e.g. relieve the pressure of dealing with long term projects along with day-to-day management). Achieving the final goal matters a lot more than the specific means taken to achieve it.


What are your thoughts on PAC and how to improve things there in response to the current controversy?

I plan to listen to PAC and work towards what they say what they need, but also offer an outside perspective on problems. Some ideas I have heard from PAC volunteers that I wholeheartedly support are:

  • Prioritize the TOS update, which will increase PAC’s ability to handle harassment now and in the future
  • Recruitment and training support to increase the size of the committee
  • Increase the number of admin roles on the committee to improve the ability to manage higher level projects
  • Research and implement industry standard Trust & Safety practices
  • Improve current tools for handling tickets and/or introduce new tools for volunteers
  • Include PAC in inter-committee decisions about the AO3 and external communications that discusses our content policy and other PAC work

In the longer-term, I want to increase cross-committee communication throughout the organization so that it’s easier to discuss and solve problems. One of the problems with the organization being so siloed is that committees can get stuck in a loop of having a problem that they can’t solve because all of the obvious solutions are blocked by other problems they can’t solve. Being able to discuss problems org-wide can get other perspectives, or at least just enough people brainstorming that someone comes up with a new good idea.

I also want to cultivate more of a culture of looking outside of the OTW for solutions, rather than treating the OTW as a wholly unique entity. While all of the OTW’s characteristics (e.g. international, online-based, fandom-focused) together may make it unique, none of the individual characteristics are. We need to be more willing to look for solutions that solve some of the problems and combine them, rather than coming up with solutions entirely on our own.


What further steps would you do to foster a welcoming and safe environment for users and fans? Many people find the current process for volunteering with the OTW to be unclear or difficult; how would you like to change the current recruitment process to bring in more – and more diverse – volunteers?  What would you propose the Archive to do to protect/support volunteers?

I feel very strongly that maximum inclusivity of content should be maintained; however, if we are going to do that, then we need to do more to ensure that users and fans can protect themselves from content that they don’t want to see and that interactive spaces are not hostile.

One thing we clearly need is an organization-wide moderation policy for news posts and similar spaces. The current process is fractured and ad-hoc. Often, bad behavior is not dealt with unless it gets to the point of harassment and threats, where PAC is able to step in. This risks making the comments section a space that is hostile for most users, when it should be a place where most users feel comfortable engaging with the OTW and its various committees.

The best thing that I think we can do to bring in more and more diverse volunteers is to increase the number of non-English-based platforms that we communicate at and non-English languages that we communicate in. The OTW uses English as its working language, but that doesn’t mean that everyone who is fluent enough in English to volunteer is receiving their news through English-based platforms. I know that our official Weibo account has been instrumental in increasing the number of Chinese-speaking volunteers, and many committees are looking for volunteers who speak languages other than English so that they can directly serve users who don’t speak English without having to go through the Translation committee.

At the moment, my main focus for protecting and supporting volunteers is to get paid DEI and HR consultants in as soon as possible. That will put us in a much better position to evaluate what needs to be done and to act on recommendations.