Rebecca Sentance 2019 Q&A: Group 1

What is your strategy to raise awareness of OTW’s projects, aims and goals in future?

In large part, my strategy would be to support and continue the excellent work already being carried out by our Communications committee, and outreach projects like Fanhackers, to raise awareness of the Organization for Transformative Works’ mission and goals. In recent years, the OTW has had increasing amounts of attention and coverage from various media outlets as mainstream awareness of fandom, and our part in it, grows, and Communications does a brilliant job of fielding those requests, responding to them and putting the right people forward to represent the OTW.

When it comes to raising awareness of individual projects like Fanlore, Transformative Works and Cultures, Open Doors, and our Legal advocacy, I intend to work with each committee to generate ideas about how to promote what they do. These committees will know best who they want to reach and what kind of message they want to put out there, so as a member of the Board, mine would be a support role: providing them with the resources that they need, and helping them to achieve their goals with regard to outreach.

One other thing I would like to do to raise broader awareness of the OTW is to facilitate in-person outreach at conventions and fan events that our volunteers are attending. In my experience, being an OTW volunteer at a fan event and talking about what I do can lead to some incredibly valuable conversations. It’s one of the best ways to convey what we do day-to-day – and show that we are ordinary fans pouring our time and energy into fandom. I would support having an official presence at more events where feasible, but also arm OTW volunteers with the resources they need to engage in informal conversations about the OTW, if they feel comfortable doing so.

What would you like to see happen with the OTW and its projects over the next five to ten years? How would you lay the groundwork towards this future?

My biggest priority for the OTW over the next five to ten years would be to make sure we have ample resources to continue the work we’re already doing without being overstretched. In my platform, I talked about tackling volunteer burnout as one of my main goals, and I believe that prioritising the wellbeing of our volunteers and making sure our projects have enough volunteers to thrive are two of the most important steps to take to ensure a stable long-term future for the OTW.

I would also support the ongoing efforts of our Finance committee to make investments and build up our financial reserves, so that we always have plenty of emergency funds, and can pay for any additional servers that we need as the Archive expands, as well as the contractors who undertake coding work on AO3. Having reserve funds and a more regular source of income will also be crucial if the OTW is to eventually take on paid staff – something I’ve covered in more depth lower down.

My long-term vision for the OTW is for us to always be in a position to help in unexpected situations where fannish works and history are at risk – such as with the recent tightening of content restrictions on Chinese platforms, or the purge of explicit content from Tumblr last year. For this to happen, we need to have plenty of server space, financial reserves to draw on, and robust processes that allow us to take on new volunteers and even create new roles as needed.

Beyond that, I would be excited for us to undertake one of the bigger projects for AO3 such as the translation of the Archive’s interface, or multimedia content hosting, provided we have enough long-term funding and volunteer power to make it happen.

What do you think is the greatest problem currently facing fandom? Should the OTW address it in any way, directly or indirectly? How?

Fandom grapples with a number of problems on a regular basis, including overly restrictive copyright laws, purges of fan content from online spaces, and toxic behaviour, to name just a few. The issue of systemic racism in fandom, which can make fandom a hostile and unwelcoming environment for fans of colour, is also an extremely pressing problem and one which needs to be more frankly acknowledged and addressed.

I would be wary of suggesting that any one of these problems is more important or threatening to fandom than the others, as they are all serious issues. I also don’t think any of them are new: the problems we face today have existed throughout the history of organised fandom, and I believe it’s important to remember this, and acknowledge that these aren’t issues that have come from nowhere or begun with the advent of online fandom or social media.

The nature of the internet can make some issues seem amplified, and we become more aware of challenges facing every part of global fandom, which is a good thing: it means we are more able to co-ordinate and fight them. But we mustn’t overlook the work that fans have done to combat these issues in the past, which gave rise to initiatives like the OTW.

There is no easy solution to any of the problems facing fandom, and I would also be wary of suggesting that the OTW is somehow responsible for solving them – we are a collective of ordinary fans who work to preserve fanworks and fan history, not to regulate or oversee fandom. However, I intend to listen to suggestions from all parts of fandom regarding ways that we could do more to help address these issues through our projects.

Do you think the OTW needs to hire paid staff? Why or why not?

The OTW does already have some paid contractors who undertake coding work on AO3, which has been a huge help in accomplishing some upgrades to our code that would otherwise have taken our very overworked volunteer team a lot longer to complete. So, we have something of a precedent for incorporating paid work into the volunteer environment of the OTW, but don’t have any permanent salaried positions as of yet.

While I am incredibly proud of the OTW’s status as a volunteer-led organisation and I am confident that the vast majority of us will always be volunteers, it does make practical sense to introduce some paid roles to the OTW. Unlike volunteers who can only carry out OTW tasks as and when time permits, and who frequently need to prioritise other obligations, paid staff would be dedicating a full working day to their role with the OTW, five days a week, and therefore could do wonders in carrying out vital work in certain areas of the organisation. Which roles we should prioritise for paid staff is something that would need serious discussion and consultation with the relevant committees once we are in a position to explore the possibility.

However, we won’t get to that point overnight. The OTW’s structure is predicated around being a volunteer organisation, and as such, we lack a lot of the necessary infrastructure for taking on paid staff. Furthermore, we would need a significant amount of both reserve funding and donation income (and potentially other sources of funds, such as investments) in order to pay the salary for even one member of staff, let alone more than one. Taking on paid staff is therefore a very long-term goal for the OTW, but I do believe that it is an important one to work towards.