The Value of Cataloging Zines & Zine Libraries

By Julia Lipscomb

A zine (/ˈziːn/ZEEN; an abbreviation of fanzine, or magazine) is most commonly a small circulationself-published work of original or appropriated texts and images usually reproduced via photocopier.

A popular definition includes that circulation must be 1,000 or fewer, although in practice the majority are produced in editions of less than 100, and profit is not the primary intent of publication. They are informed by anarchopunk and DIY ethos. – Wikipedia

People have been self-publishing for centuries, in the form of pamphlets, broadsheets, and flyers, to name just a few of many formats. Even as technology evolves—and our expectations for quick delivery of information grow apace—and new opportunities to exploit mass media outlets and platforms emerge, one format of self-publishing has stuck to its Luddite, self-publishing roots: the zine.

Zines are independently-produced publications with a distribution of 1,000 or fewer. Often, though not always, they are printed in black and white, whether at Fedex Kinkos, the local library—or even illegally at the author’s place of business—and then bound into a half-page book, almost in the style of a poetry chapbook. Some even use silk-screening, thus bridging and transcending genres like comics and conventional works of art.

As with other DIY movements, the advent of free and user-friendly publishing technology has contributed to an influx of zines. Whether they are of note for their art- and craftwork, who published them, or their voice and topic matter, collectible zines are working their way into libraries and archives. With such zines in circulation, librarians and archivists are increasingly faced with establishing and then hewing to best practices for cataloging and preserving them.

You might think that the vast media and platforms available online would have destroyed the viability of zines—but in reality, the Internet has only made them stronger and easier to find. At the “Collecting Zines for Library, Archives and Collectives” panel at Brooklyn Zine Fest in April 2014, zine collectors and librarians discussed the influence of the Internet on zine culture. Panelists included Jenna Freedman from Barnard Zine Library, Robin Enrico from Ditko! Zine Library in Silent Barn, Kathleen McIntyre, who publishes The Worst: A Compilation Zine on Grief and Loss, and moderator Jordan Alam from both Barnard Zine Library and Seattle’s Zine Archive & Publishing Project. The panelists agreed that the Internet has actually made zines more accessible to zine publishers (affectionately called “zinesters”), and has done much to boost the profile of zines as both collectible objects and research artifacts. Their work collectively attests to the special place zines occupy in the world of libraries and archives.

Zinesters from all over the country can connect with other zinesters, trade zines via the mail, admire each other’s works-in-progress on social media, and meet at zine symposia to trade. In New York City, there are several annual symposia, such as Brooklyn Zine Fest, New York Feminist Zine Fest at Barnard College, and Paperjam Zine Fest at Silent Barn. If you travel across the country, you could probably find a zine fest or symposium anywhere you go. You can meet hundreds of zinesters and trade zines at Philly Zine Fest in Philadelphia, DC Zine Fest in Washington DC, Chicago Zine Fest, Twin City Zine Fest in Minnesota, Denver Zine Fest, Albuquerque Zine Fest, LA Zine Fest, East Bay Zine Fest in San Francisco, Short Run in Seattle, or the oldest zine fest currently running, Portland Zine Symposium. At any of these zine festivals or events, you would find librarians, archivists, students, and people outside the industry who are passionate about independent publishing and preserving this unique medium.

Often, zine libraries use subject headings to categorize their zines. Some popular zine subjects include art, comics, feminism, health, history, humor, literary, parenting, pop culture, queer, relationships and sex, science, and survival. Since anyone can make one, there are zines on just about every topic, which should delight readers and researchers The unique—and frequently expert—content in zines points to their research value, and similarly underscores that they belong alongside other sources, materials, and works of art and literature in traditional libraries and archives.

Institutional Profiles

Zine Library: ABC No Rio Zine Library

Location: 156 Rivington St. (Lower East Side)

Number of zines: 12,000

Collection development: ABC No Rio has no collection development statement per se, though there are certain types of zines it collects more of. Because of ABC No Rio’s longstanding history as a punk rock music venue, it predominantly houses political and music zines, including a lot of recorded history about the Lower East Side and New York City. Since the organization was founded in 1980, ABC No Rio has acquired nearly every kind of zine, including such topics as antiauthoritiarian, capitalist, art, comics, feminist, history, humor, literary, parenting/family, pop culture, survival, and sex zines. The collection also has foreign language zines, written in French, Spanish, German, Japanese, and Russian. The zine library goes back to the 90s. Sometimes you may be holding a zine that’s like a time capsule from 1989 or earlier. Researchers from libraries, museums, and schools find value in ABC No Rio’s collection as documented personal voices from specific time periods and cultural movements.

Open hours: Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays from 6-9pm; Sundays 3-5pm

Educational programs: Every volunteer is trained in cataloging zines as part of orientation.

Outreach plan: ABC No Rio co-sponsored a panel event for Brooklyn Zine Fest and maintains a presence at New York Feminist Zine Fest. This year, ABC No Rio loaned zines to curated exhibits, such as CUNY Graduate Center’s James Gallery for “Sexing Sound: Aural Archives and Feminist Scores” in February and an upcoming exhibit at Center for Book Arts in July.

Contact: zine@abcnorio.org

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Zine Library: Barnard College Library

Location: 3009 Broadway (Upper West Side)

Number of zines: More than 4,000

Collection development: Barnard’s zines are written by women (cis- and transgender) with an emphasis on zines by women of color. The Barnard collection features zines on feminism and femme identity by people of all genders. The zines are personal and political publications on activism, anarchism, body image, third wave feminism, gender, parenting, queer community, riot grrrl, sexual assault, trans experience, and other topics.

Open hours: Same as Barnard College Library hours. Email Jenna Freedman for an orientation to the zine library.

Educational programs: Jenna Freedman leads classes for outside high school and college groups, as well as Barnard courses. Though Barnard once hosted zine library interns, Freedman has discontinued the practice, noting that it won’t resume “until I can get funding for them,” she said. “No more unpaid interns!” Respect!

Outreach plan: Barnard Zine library maintains an active social media presence through FacebookTwitterit’s own blogFlickr, the Barnard Zine Club and an email list, as well as Freedman’s own Tumblr.

Freedman also highlighted projects like the Feminist Zine FestLibrary Research Awardszine library dayzine making events, and public workshops. Additionally, Freedman works tables at  zine fests like Brooklyn and Pete’s and presents at conferences and other events. She also attends the zine librarians Unconference to promote zine librarianship in general.

Contact: Jenna Freedman, jfreedma@barnard.edu

Another great resource for librarians and library students interested in zines is the Zine Libraries Interest Group, a collective of information professionals interested in zine libraries. The group also has an email listserv that provides information about best practices in zine collecting.

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