Attribution

Archives
Remixed

Critical Perspectives and Pathways

Publishing the Archive

Organizing Anarchy: The Revitalization and Revamp of the Forgotten Zine Archive


Introduction

Atton states, “The value of alternative publications lies surely in their providing interpretations of the world, which we might not otherwise see, and information about the world we simply might not find anywhere else.”1 This is especially true for the zine sub-division of the alternative press. Duncombe defines zines as “non-commercial, non-professional, small-circulation magazines which their creators produce, publish and distribute by themselves.”2 This encompasses the independent and unique nature of zines, as well as the culture that surrounds them. Zines are made in a variety of formats and sizes, but are generally small, consisting of photocopied pages stapled together. They are also based on a variety of topics and can generally be seen as a way of documenting contemporary popular culture. While this has made them an important primary source material, from an information management standpoint zines have historically been overlooked. Bartel states that this relatively untapped resource serves to “add depth and scope to library collections, offering patrons a diversity of style, content, and subject matter unparalleled elsewhere.”3 The aim of this project is to formalize and legitimize the importance of zines, as well as to provide concrete examples of how to incorporate zines into both physical and digital collections.

Literature Review

The history of zines as a medium of expression has produced a vast quantity of culturally significant material. The ephemeral and radical nature of many of these publications, however, raises questions of appropriateness for their inclusion in traditional settings. This, and their nonstandard nature, often results in their being ignored in favor of more traditional material. As Marinko and Gerhard note, “Articles in library journals often address issues of censorship”; however, one aspect little discussed is “the actual place of the alternative press in library collections.”4 Wiegand makes clear the dangers of such neglect, noting that “any collection of information materials preserved through the generations will inevitably influence how we interpret the past. Conversely, the absence of information material silences historical voices, which are then lost to history.”5 Stoddart and Kiser go on to make an equally clear case for why libraries should renew their consideration, “Print zines are one of the most direct links to the viewpoints and artistic endeavors, and therefore the understandings, of individual members of a society. As such, zines are a potent cultural tool, and should be considered a worthy addition to libraries.”6

This perceived neglect notwithstanding, many academic libraries have given a home to zines in the form of special collections. Some notable examples are zine collections in libraries at Barnard College, Michigan State University, and the University of Iowa.7 Some less formal, more DIY examples include the attempts of Lastufka and Sandler, who have created and continue to maintain a wiki devoted to the “history and culture of zines, independent media and small press.”8 Examples of independent libraries include Papercut Zine Library in Cambridge, Massachusetts; the Denver Zine Library in Denver, Colorado; and the Independent Publishing Resource Center in Portland, Oregon. Gardner frames this work as “a call for academic libraries to become more aware of the vast public interest in zines.”9 Anderson punctuates this sentiment by warning, “Unless aggressively pursued, librarians would be fortunate to be aware of even 10 percent of the publishers publishing today. The other 90 percent remain obscure.”10 Issues of access, preservation, and cataloging prevent many readers from engaging with zines.

The freedom from mainstream distribution and editorial constraints that characterizes zines also raises problems when considering how best to make their material available. As Stoddart and Kiser write, “Regardless of how zines are cataloged in the collection, the main objective is to make them available to patrons.”11 Issues of access are complicated by taking into consideration the individual author’s wishes.12 Many zinesters, as Herrada and Aul note, “have an unyielding sense of pride in their work, and decisions such as selling or even donating zines to libraries and archives can appear as serious compromises.”13 This wariness of institutionalizing their material places a burden on librarians and archivists to convince individual content creators of the worth of preserving their material in both formal and informal contexts; this is considered the primary challenge facing would-be collectors and catalogers of zines.14 These issues are further compounded when digitization is involved.

Academic libraries and archives have begun to recognize the need to house zines and other alternative media in collections, and some have already begun. However, there is still a gap in present knowledge when it comes to the specifics of collection management in these cases, both in academic and less conventional settings. This raises our question of how to create and maintain a collection of alternative media ephemeral items, whilst remaining true to the ethos and purpose underlying their production. Adhering to the ethos is a sensitive issue, as many zine authors are against organized collections, be they physical or digital. In his piece on library preservation of zines, Chepesiuk states, “Many zine publishers, moreover, do not want their zines preserved in a formal setting because they don’t want to be institutionalized; in fact, they often resent the fact that these institutions have zine collections.”15 This does not mean that any attempt at a collection of this type is ill conceived. However, it does necessitate the consideration of both the culture and physical nature of zines.

Koh argues, “Because the creation, publication, and distribution of zines are non-traditional by nature, it is no surprise that relying on the conventional methods of collection management will not suffice when building a zine collection.”16 This is a succinct synopsis of the issues inherent in cataloging zines—issues made all the more daunting by the library community’s general lack of familiarity with the medium. Bartel states that “zines … represent new territory for the majority of librarians, and even those familiar with zines and zine culture may find integrating them into the library a daunting task.”17 The systems explored and conclusions reached during our project should provide a framework to help the founding, maintenance, and development of future collections.

Background

The Forgotten Zine Archive was originally created in 2004 by prominent Irish zine author Ciarán Walsh. It was made up of around 1,200 zines, donated by four separate collectors. While there was a basic structure to the collection, it was not fully cataloged. It was stored in a commercial warehouse space in Dublin’s North Strand that was being used semi-legally as a residential space by members of the Dublin punk, DIY, and independent scenes.18 The archive initially opened for a few hours every Sunday, but when the warehouse closed in 2005, the archive had to find a new location. Since then, Seomra Spraoi has housed the archive in various locations across the city.

Seomra Spraoi is an autonomous social center that has been in Dublin since 2004. It aims to create a non-hierarchical, anti-capitalist center run on a not-for-profit, environmentally self-sustaining basis. Its focus on inclusion rather than exclusion appeals to zinesters in part because of its opposition to censorship, which they perceive to be inherent in formal information settings. Seomra Spraoi and its inhabitants called on us to take an approach to collection-building that was quite different from what we learned during our formal training.

Discussion

Promoting and liaising

Initially, our promotion of the archive was conducted entirely by word of mouth among Seomra Spraoi users and through such social media platforms as Facebook and Twitter. We set up a dedicated email account to handle directed communication, but interested parties preferred messaging the archive’s Facebook page. Similarly, our blog withered from lack of reader interest and eventual skepticism on our part that its usefulness merited a commitment to maintaining it. Improving the archive’s online visibility proved vital to increasing the number of people visiting it, particularly as members of the public were unlikely to discover it during visits to the space.

As our work on the archive developed, we designed, distributed, and displayed flyers and posters at book fairs, cultural shows, and other zine events. Almost immediately the archive received offers of large quantities of zine donations, and requests for information on upcoming workshops and events.

Inventorying

The first step in actually organizing the collection involved taking an inventory and forming preliminary subject headings. We learned from this process that many zines were difficult to place in a particular genre, as they often dealt with multiple subjects. For example, the zine series Rambling Rose, by Kayt Darkrose, often featured both poetry and prose in equal measure. It was clear that the zine should be categorized under an artistic heading, but its subsection was not immediately apparent because neither artistic medium (poetry or prose) was used more than the other throughout the series. Such difficult-to-place zines helped our group decide that zines should be grouped according to their main topic (or the topic the zine devoted the most pages to, if many topics or genres were present). Following that, if a zine was part of a series, all issues in the series should be grouped together even if some would not necessarily belong to this subsection.

Applying traditional subject headings—such as Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH)—to the archive would probably not be helpful, both because the casual browser likely would not be familiar with them and because the rigid headings of LCSH often misrepresented the topics under discussion in a given zine. LCSH also proved inadequate at dealing with such specific topics as gender identity or the experiences of those who prefer to term themselves survivors rather than victims.19 Koh states, “Classifiers are ill-informed about the world of zines and alternative literature; consistent cataloging rules do not yet exist for them either.”20

Classifying

Following the inventorying sessions, we conducted research to find an effective way to classify and catalog zines. However, in the available literature there was a lack of consensus on how this should be done. For example, Stoddart and Kiser simply list various methods and the libraries that have used them, concluding, “Each library has developed its own system to meet its local needs and available resources.”21 With this in mind, our group decided to create a new, user-focused classification system based on information gathered from user surveys and previous correspondence with members of the zine community and zine librarians.

We settled on four main subject headings:

  • Artistic & Creative, which would contain all zines that featured poetry, short stories, art, comics, photography, etc.
  • Music, which would contain all zines discussing particular bands or music genres. This was given its own subject heading separate from Artistic & Creative due to the large volume of music-related zines.
  • Political & Social, which would contain all zines with such political themes as anarchism and communism, and such social themes as human rights and environmentalism.
  • Resources, which would contain instructional zines for such topics as bicycle repair or travel guides.

This consolidation into a few broad headings steered users into subjects for specific topics frequently broached in zines that were employed in total. For example, the “Music” subject heading has subheadings for alternative, electronic, punk, etc., while the “Political & Social” subject heading has subheadings for anti-capitalism, environmentalism, human rights, socialism, etc. Based on user suggestions and correspondence with Jenna Freedman of the Barnard Zine Library, we chose not to include geographical information as part of the subject heading organization.22 Further user suggestions recommended including such information on individual zine labels for cases in which that information would be useful.

Cataloging

After collecting and analyzing user survey data, we decided that standard cataloging was unlikely to prove useful. Since Seomra Spraoi does not employ an information specialist, we wanted to build a catalog that was user friendly and intuitive enough so that anyone encountering it for the first time could use it. Any catalog requiring specialist knowledge or prior research would not be used at all by the typical Seomra Spraoi visitor. This led us to use the website LibraryThing to custom build a catalog for our likely users.

We cataloged zines as monographs rather than journals because the majority of zines present in the archive are not part of any serial publication, and those that are often have few or non-consecutive issues. As Stoddart and Kiser mention, the “often erratic publication patterns [of zines] make handling them as a traditional serial problematic.”23 We used a metadata tagging system to cross-reference zines with subsections where a patron might alternatively search. For example, a zine that primarily focuses on punk music but also contains poetry and discusses anarchism would be tagged with “music,” “punk,” “poetry,” and “anarchism,” so as to be listed in search results for any of those terms. The archive’s account has a page that lists every tag used during the cataloging process, so a user can also remotely browse zines by topic. These tags use a controlled vocabulary agreed upon by the group (“anarchism” and “feminism” rather than “anarchist” or “feminist,” for example). We used 324 tags, with an average of four for each item.

For those browsing the physical collection, we installed a finding aid next to the archive; the guide contains a description of the four classification sections, all subsections, a short description of what sort of zines belong to each subsection, and a complete list of the archived zines, directing users to the appropriate subsection for each. Included in this document was a brief policy statement outlining criteria for inclusion, cataloging procedures, storage guidelines, and periodic weeding.

Digitizing

Initially, those of us involved in the Forgotten Zine Archive had been in favor of digitizing it, to ensure preservation for future use and to afford access to the collection for academic and leisure users from anywhere in the world. However, the politics of digitizing a collection housed as part of an anarchist collective complicated the process; among the issues raised by the unique situation of the collection were materiality, permission, and copyright. As such, these issues had to be considered by all available members of the collective before committing to a decision.

In the zine community, the materiality of physical zines is vitally important. As Piepmeier states, “In examining these zines, it has become clear to me that their materiality functions not simply as another component of their meaning but also as a means of linking creator and reader, creating a community.”24 The physicality of zines and the sharing of the physical objects with like-minded individuals is one of the cornerstones upon which the Forgotten Zine Archive was built. Zines are personal items, delicately put together; mass digitization fails to capture their nature—how they are made or how they serve their community. Gisonny and Freedman state, “Zinesters publish for their own reasons and … may—or may not—be happy to see their zine in a library,” though they are less likely to object to finding their zines collected in a social center such as Seomra Spraoi.25

Further complicating our plans are the legal and moral implications of digital reproduction, which would have led us to reproduce the work of people we could not find, thereby making it impossible to secure their permission. Many zines are intended for a small audience, printed in small press runs exclusively for distribution among friends, and their creators are likely to object on principle to digitization of their work. In this information age, where privacy is a valuable commodity, some may see creating a tangible object as a way of regaining control over what information is publicly available.26 Also, given the common practice of remixing copyrighted material in zines, we ran a significant risk of copyright infringement by indiscriminate digitization. As Wooten states, “Most zines cut, paste, reprint, borrow, steal and repurpose images and text from other publications, with or without attribution.”27

Among the archive’s and Seomra’s regular users, there is uncertainty over how best to digitize the archive, or whether it should be digitized at all. As Seomra is based on the principle of collective decision-making, a consensus would have to be reached among its members before we could proceed with digitization. Currently, the community is considering the digitization of zine covers—a compromise that is thought to give remote visitors to the collection a sense of what a given zine contains while minimally offending its creator or infringing copyright—though many zine authors would take umbrage at even this scale of digitization of their work. While all efforts will be made to contact the zinesters for permission, this task is time-consuming and often fruitless. Zines often contain minimal information about their authors, thereby making it extremely difficult to obtain permission to digitize them, and partly for this reason the digitization process will be greatly delayed.

Also under consideration is the piecemeal digitization of zines per request by individual researchers. This would consist of digitizing individual zines, or articles, and emailing them directly to the user. However, more research into copyright and fair use laws is needed before a conclusion is reached.

Conclusion

During our effort to develop and create the Forgotten Zine Archive, four main issues, which are likely to form the majority of challenges faced by any library or archive’s attempt at showcasing zines, presented themselves. The first issue is providing reasonable access in a non-secure informal setting without running the risk of damage or theft to inherently fragile, rare items.

Related to this is the vexing issue of preserving an item designed to be ephemeral. We opted for the relatively inexpensive use of polyester sleeves, acid-free cardboard magazine boxes, and backing boards—the same method employed to store vintage comic books. Like comics, zines are not designed with longevity in mind; librarians, therefore, just redouble their efforts at preservation.

In the search for an effective cataloging method, we had to consider that our user community was different from a community of library patrons, and our catalog therefore had to be complex enough to handle the array of subjects in our collection while also being “simple” enough for use by people not necessarily conversant with libraries.

Issues of access, cataloging methods, preservation, and target audiences are nothing new to information professionals, but when dealing with alternative media, the issues take on new meaning. The ethos and nature of the zine community is almost one of willful disorganization and rebellion; thus to try to create an organized collection of these items is challenging, to say the least. But it is vital to a culture to meet these challenges. If we disregard zines and their importance simply because they are difficult to categorize and maintain, we risk consigning Anderson’s “90 percent” to oblivion.

 

The authors each received an MLIS from University College Dublin, under Eric Cook. This paper is based on the archive they worked with for their thesis project.

 

  1. Chris Atton, “Beyond the Mainstream: Examining Alternative Sources for Stock Collection,” Library Review 43, no. 4 (1994): 60. []
  2. Stephen Duncombe, Notes from the Underground: Zines and the Politics of Alternative Culture (New York: Verso, 1997), 6. []
  3. Julie Bartel, From A to Zine: Building a Winning Zine Collection in Your Library (Chicago: American Library Association, 2004), 33. []
  4. Rita A. Marinko and Kristin H. Gerhard, “Representations of the Alternative Press in Academic Library Collections,” College and Research Libraries 59, no. 4 (1998): 363. []
  5. Wayne Wiegand, “Introduction: Alternative Print Culture,” Library Trends 56, no. 3 (2008): 567. []
  6. Richard A. Stoddart and Teresa Kiser, “Zines and the Library,” Library Resources & Technical Services 48, no. 3 (2004): 191, http://works.bepress.com/richard_stoddart/6. []
  7. Barnard Zine Library, Barnard, accessed August 5, 2013, http://zines.barnard.edu/; Michigan State University Libraries, Zine Collection, Michigan State University Libraries – Special Collections, accessed August 5, 2013, http://lib.msu.edu/spc/collections/zines/; University of Iowa Libraries, Zine and Amateur Press Collections at the University of Iowa, The University of Iowa Libraries – Special Collections & University Archives, accessed August 5, 2013, http://www.lib.uiowa.edu/spec- coll/resources/ZineResources.html. []
  8. Alan Lastufka and Kate Sandler, “ZineWiki: The History and Culture of Zines, Independent Media and the Small Press,” ZineWiki, last modified January 16, 2013, accessed August 5, 2013, http://www.zinewiki.com. []
  9. Jeremy J. Gardner, “Zines in the Academic Library: A Literature Review,” Library Student Journal (2009), accessed August 2, 2013, http://archive.today/U11V3 []
  10. Byron Anderson, “The Other 90 Percent: What Your MLS Didn’t Teach You,” Counterpoise 3, no. 3/4 (July/October, 1999). []
  11. Stoddart and Kiser, “Zines and the Library,” 195. []
  12. Rowena Koh, “Alternative Literature in Libraries: The Unseen Zine,” Collection Building 27, no. 2 (2008): 48-51. []
  13. Julie Herrada et al., “Zines in Libraries: A Culture Preserved,” Serials Review 21, no. 2 (1995): 79-88, 81. []
  14. Ronald Chepesiuk, “The Zine Scene: Libraries Preserve the Latest Trend in Publishing,” American Libraries 28, no. 2 (1997): 68-70. []
  15. Ibid., 70. []
  16. Koh, “Alternative Literature in Libraries,” 59. []
  17. Bartel, “From A to Zine,” 33. []
  18. Dillon, “Forgotten Zine Archive,” ZineWiki, accessed August 1, 2013, http://zinewiki.com/Forgotten_Zine_Archive. []
  19. Jenna Freedman, “The Zines Are in Charge: A Radical Reference Librarian in the Archives: A Perzine-tation,” Metropolitan Archivist 18, no. 1 (2012): 18-19. []
  20. Koh, “Alternative Literature in Libraries,” 50. []
  21. Stoddart and Kiser, “Zines and the Library,” 195 []
  22. Freedman, “The Zines Are in Charge.” []
  23. Stoddart and Kiser, “Zines and the Library,” 194. []
  24. Alison Piepmeier, “Why Zines Matter: Materiality and the Creation of Embodied Community,” American Periodicals: A journal of History, Criticism and Bibliography 18, no. 2 (2008): 213-38, 229. []
  25. Karen Gisonny and Jenna Freedman, “Zines in Libraries: How, What and Why?” Collection Building 25, no. 1 (2006): 26-30, 28. []
  26. Jenna Wortham, “Raised on the web, but liking a little ink,” The New York Times, October 22, 2011, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/23/business/media/zines-have-a-resurgence-among-the-web-savvy.html?_r=0. []
  27. Kelly Wooten, “Why We’re Not Digitizing Zines,” Duke University Libraries: Digital Collections (blog), September 21, 2009, accessed August 8th, 2013, http://blogs.library.duke.edu/digital-collections/2009/09/21/why-were-not-digitizing-zines/ []

Organizing Anarchy: The Revitalization and Revamp of the Forgotten Zine Archive

Leigh Ann Hamel

Masters in Library & Information Science – University College Dublin
MA Candidate in Archives and Records Management – University College London

Organizing Anarchy: The Revitalization and Revamp of the Forgotten Zine Archive

Tom Maher

Masters in Library & Information Science – University College Dublin
Zine Librarian – Seomra Spraoi

Organizing Anarchy: The Revitalization and Revamp of the Forgotten Zine Archive

Raven Cooke

Masters in Library & Information Science – University College Dublin

Organizing Anarchy: The Revitalization and Revamp of the Forgotten Zine Archive

Mick O'Dwyer

Masters in Library & Information Science – University College Dublin
Special Collections Cataloger – Oireachtas Library & Research Service

Organizing Anarchy: The Revitalization and Revamp of the Forgotten Zine Archive

Joe Peakin

Masters in Library & Information Science – University College Dublin
Library Intern – Mater Dei Institute of Education

Organizing Anarchy: The Revitalization and Revamp of the Forgotten Zine Archive

Laura Mahoney

Masters in Library & Information Science – University College Dublin

Organizing Anarchy: The Revitalization and Revamp of the Forgotten Zine Archive

Eric Cook

Lecturer III and GSI Coordinator, School of Information – University of Michigan


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