May 11, 2018

Your Zine Tool Kit, A DIY Collection

Chris Dodge, a renowned alternative pressologist and the librarian at Utne magazine, has been known to say, ‘Every library should be a special library.’ At Barnard College, in order to meet this challenge, we decided in summer 2003 to start a collection of underground publications known as zines (rhymes with spleens). By 2004, we were finally cataloging and shelving them, and two years later we’ve got 1500-plus unique zine issues in our stacks, archives, or awaiting processing. These independent publications are used by undergraduates for fun and research. The collection’s other readers include faculty and doctoral students from other institutions, library school students, authors, and people who just like the things. Here’s how we set up our collection at Barnard.

The proposal

Since zines are a nontraditional medium and potentially a little scary to administrators, I recommend a full-on, cover-every-possibility proposal. I presented seven detailed pages to my dean, dealing with the what, why, how, and how much of zine collecting, all within the context of collection development, processing, access, preservation, and budgeting. I also included a literature review, examined the advantages and disadvantages, and came up with an implementation plan. (A revised version of the proposal is available at

In addition to selling the concept of zines as the exuberant, unusual, and vital primary source documents that they are, you’ll need to explain how they fit in your collection. It’s not just why you should collect zines; it’s why you should collect these zines. Some libraries don’t specify which zines they’ll take; they’re more interested in cost and volume. That’s a perfectly valid approach for a popular collection. However, research collections will serve librarianship better by selecting by topic or genre. Don’t start a ‘local’ collection unless you’re at a historical society or if local history is already an emphasis at your library. Zines are not easily collected by region: they are not sold that way; they don’t contain the bibliographic data that even tells you where they are published; and zinesters move a lot. Do everyone a favor by collecting and preserving by genre (e.g, mamazines, personal zines, DIY zines, teen zines, music fanzines, transgender zines, Christian zines, etc.).

Buying zines

Acquiring zines is a unique experience. There aren’t traditional review sources, distributors, or net 30 payment options. There are, however, zines that review zines, also called metazines, such as Broken Pencil (really a full-fledged magazine), Xerography Debt, and Zine World. There are lots of others, but I discourage zine selectors from relying on reviews in the same way they do for other materials. Zine print runs are small, and there aren’t enough of us collecting them to justify everyone buying the same items.

Zines also have their own distributors, known in the biz as distros. There’s an excellent list of them on the Zine Street site. Perhaps the biggest distro is Microcosm Publishing. It’s one of the few that takes credit cards, along with PayPal (a credit card payment service used by many zine publishers and distributors). Speaking of payment, to purchase zines, you’ll need to figure out how to pay someone who lives in another state and doesn’t have a bank account. Try to talk accounts payable into being open-minded about sending cash through the mail.

Truly, though, it’s best to buy zines in person. Many independent bookstores like Quimby’s in Chicago and Reading Frenzy in Portland, OR, and most Infoshops sell them. There are many regional zine festivals that provide excellent opportunities for shopping and learning.

The cataloging challenge

Cataloging may well be the biggest dilemma you’ll have with zines. Julie Bartel’s book From A to Zine covers this admirably. The main issue to wrestle with is standalone catalog vs. OPAC. I went for the latter because I desperately want the collection to be viewed as an integral part of our holdings and for zines to become increasingly visible to library users worldwide. Our zines’ presence in WorldCat has already yielded interlibrary loan requests.

A second major decision: to deal with zines as serials or not. Once you get MARC involved, many zines demand serials cataloging, but I don’t expect to check them in that way. Few offer subscriptions and far fewer come out regularly. Whenever possible, our zines are cataloged as monographs, rather than serials, as that allows for individual notes and abstracts.

That reminds me, providing a keyword-rich abstract in the 520 field is a workaround for increasing access points if content seems like it won’t be fully served by current standard classification.

Access and preservation

Our zines are assigned a Cutter that results in their being shelved by author and by title if there is no author. Zines tend to be flimsy, so you may wish to consider housing them in comic book or magazine covers. Barnard’s stacks zines are about to move from Princeton files to clear plastic zigzag shelving. They are barcoded (usually covering some art or text), Tattle-Tape™ed, and spine-labeled (despite their lack of spines). This is fine for the stacks, but what if you want to check one out? Where does the checkout stamp go on an object with no room even for a barcode? Many libraries use the ‘checking out the envelope or bag’ trick. Even more libraries choose not to circulate zines on the grounds that they’re ephemeral or fragile, short enough to read or photocopy onsite, or part of special collections.

You’ll notice I refer to ‘stacks zines.’ Thanks to a suggestion from Jim Danky at the Wisconsin Historical Society, we collect two copies whenever possible. We preserve one in acid-free file folders in our climate-controlled archives and make the second available for photocopying, barcoding, and other abuses – thus, stacks zines and archives zines.

I haven’t addressed what to do with all of the extras that come with zines – free-floating buttons, CDs, condoms, stickers, teabags, etc. That’s because I don’t know. When you get this figured out, please tell me what you did.

Cost it out

Typical zines costs $1 – $2. Even if you’re buying two issues of each, as we are, you can establish a respectable starter collection for $500. If you make a request on zineinterest list, you’ll probably receive a few grab bags of largesse that won’t cost you anything but postage. What can be expensive is the furniture to display the zines, so browse a few catalogs to price display shelves before you submit your budget request.

Also consider including travel in the budget. Attending zine events such as the Allied Media Conference in Bowling Green, OH, is invaluable for making connections with zine publishers and for buying zines. Registration and housing will cost you under $100 for the weekend, and you’ll get a tour of the wonderful Pop Culture collection at Bowling Green State University, admission to a punk show, and free bowling (including shoe rental).

The last items to consider are publicity and programming. The people who create zines won’t generally expect to be paid, but they won’t turn down vegan snacks, so budgeting in a few dollars for food is a good idea.

Put it on the table

In addition to extolling zines’ myriad virtues – they get a group of authors into the library who have previously been almost completely unrepresented, they’re valuable primary source documents, they are fun to read, they are beautiful, they’re rare in libraries, college students and young adults love them, librarians who love them won’t want to leave a library that has them, etc. – be honest about the vices. These could include the amount of staff time the zines will take and how those lucky enough to work with them won’t want to do anything else.

Plan in advance what you need to do to develop the collection, when it will happen, and who will be involved. Don’t underestimate how long this will take. The Barnard collection took over a year to go from idea to shelf.

So, that’s how to make your own zine collection. Have fun with it, and your patrons will, too.

Allied Media Conference
Baltimore County Public
Library Zine Collection,
Barnard Library
Zine Collection,
Bartel, Julie. From A to Zine:
Building a Winning Zine Collection
in Your Library
(ALA Editions, 2004)
Book of Zines list of
zine libraries
Broken Pencil
Develop a Collection at Your
Institution handout from
Madison Zine Fest 2005
Microcosm Publishing
NYPL Zines
Reading Frenzy
Xerography Debt full text online:
Zine Fests list
Zine Libraries web site
Zine Street
Zine World
Zinelibrarians discussion list
For a history of zines, read either Stephen Duncombe’s Notes from Underground: Zines and the Politics of Alternative Culture (Verso) or the slightly less academic chronology by Chip Rowe at

The word ‘zine’ is an abbreviation for magazine or fanzine. These nontraditional publications generally fit most of these criteria: they are self-published (written/edited, illustrated, copied, assembled, and distributed); they are motivated by desire for communication or self-expression (not profit, fame, or a grade); they have small distribution (5 – 3000 copies) and are underground or alternative in content or flavor; they are free of paid advertising.

Jenna Freedman is Coordinator of Reference Services and Zine Librarian, Barnard College, New York


By Alycia Sellie

Since becoming addicted to zines, I have discovered a subset that has consumed my affections far more than any other: those made by and about library workers. These intriguing publications offer a great look into the lives of working professionals, as well as LIS students. In creating the ‘Library Workers Zine Collection’ at the SLIS library, University of Wisconsin-Madison, I have come across a few of the most recent and most interesting works that others in the field will enjoy. If your favorite zine or the one you created isn’t listed, please get in touch. I’d love to add a copy to our SLIS library collection!

Clutch is a daily diary in comic form that highlights Clutch McBastard’s experiences working in the zine capital of the world (Portland, OR) at the Independent Publishing Resource Center’s zine library. Highly recommended for both its illustrations and the banal beauty of Clutch’s everyday life. Clutch by Clutch McBastard, PO Box 12409, Portland, OR 97212 (latest issue is No. 14, ‘Happy War!,’ 2003) $1 – $3/issue

With more than 45 issues to date (!), Donny Smith has filled Dwan with a wide variety of content, including queer poetry, book reviews, bibliographies, correspondence, diary entries, and interviews. Check out issues 38 and 40, ‘American Libaries’ and ‘Libary Journal.’ Dwan by Donny Smith, 915 W. 2d St., Bloomington, IN 47403 (latest issue is No. 46) $1/issue, and free to prisoners for a personal letter.

Inspired by a collection of remnants from a public library’s ready-reference card file collection, The Ghosts of Ready Reference combines photocopies of some of these materials with stories from the reference desk. The Ghosts of Ready Reference, Love Bunni Pr., 2622 Princeton Rd., Cleveland Heights, OH 44118 (latest issue is No. 3)

I Dreamed I was Assertive discusses everything from infertility to mix tapes and has a great reading list and a tiny vellum envelope glued to its final page filled with ‘haiku tributes to the things I love and loathe.’ I Dreamed I Was Assertive by Celia Perez, 2272 W. Leland, #3E, Chicago, IL 60625 (latest issue is No. 7, Winter/Spring 2005) $3 or equivalent in postage or trade.

Tommy and Julie are playful enough to make up for a few uptight librarian stereotypes. Filled with gripes, games, and a sometimes twisted sense of humor, this zine is amusing and lighthearted (with dark undertones). Library Bonnet by Tommy Kovac and Julie Fredericksen, 1315-I N. Tustin, #259, Orange, CA 92867 (latest issue is No. 7) $2/issue.;

A compilation of ‘inappropriate coloring sheets,’ reviews, and articles, Library Urinal is named for an unusual sponsorship by Michael Zinman of the urinal fixtures in the Van Pelt Library. Library Urinal, edited by Donny Smith and Miriam DesHarnais, PO Box 4803, Baltimore, MD 21211 (latest issue is No. 1) $1/issue.

Jenna Freedman has many projects, including the volunteer-run Radical Reference (, as well as her zine collection at Barnard, and it is inspiring and humanizing to read the thoughts of a woman who works very hard to organize and make change both in and outside of the library world in her zine: Lower East Side Librarian Winter Solstice Shout Out by Jenna Freedman, 521 E. 5th St., New York, NY 10009-6726 (latest issue is 2005) $2 – $3/issue, concealed cash, or library zine trade.

With only one issue created, Riot Librarrrian is sadly defunct, since its authors, Jenn Phillips-Bacher and Sara Pete, are no longer ‘underwhelmed and underworked library school students,’ but perhaps you might find a copy at your favorite distro or zine store (or you can interlibrary loan it from the SLIS library in a few months!).

Number five of Transom is ‘The Library Issue,’ filled with a number of stories and topics all about librarianship. Jackie also has a minizine titled A Day in the Life at the Information Desk. Transom by Jackie Campbell, PO Box 77716, Seattle, WA 98177-0716. $1/issue or trade.

Zine Librarian Zine is written by librarians who have created or worked with zine collections in both public, academic, and alternative libraries. The ups and downs of zine collecting are addressed, and there is even a list of librarian zines in issue No. 2, so here is the next place to look for more titles! Zine Librarian Zine, edited by Greig Means, PO Box 12409, Portland, OR 97212 (latest issue is No. 2) $1/issue.

More zines made by library workers:

America? by Travis Fristoe, PO Box 13077, Gainesville, FL 32604-1077 (latest issue is No. 13) $1/issue.

Best Zine Ever! A Review Zine of Our Favorite Zines of the Year, edited by Greig Means, PO Box 12409, Portland, OR 97212 (issue 4 is soon to be released) Free!

Durga by Tracy, PO Box 5841, Eugene, OR 97405 (latest is Winter 2006) $1.50 or trade.

Flotation Device by Keith Helt, 1242 Dean St., Woodstock, IL 60098 (latest issue is No. 11) $2 – $5/issue.

How To Be a Library Patron by Jerianne, PO Box 330156, Murfreesboro, TN 37133-0156 $2/issue.; (Jerianne also edits the popular zine review zine Zine World and writes Rejected Band Names.)

Muvfugga, ed. by John Gehner, 1907 Bellamy Dr., Champaign, IL 61821 (latest is No. 3, 2003) $3/issue. john@;

Sugar Needle by Corina Fastwolf, PO Box 300152, Minneapolis, MN 55408 or Phlox Icona, 1174-2 Briarcliff Rd., Atlanta, GA 30306 (latest is No. 26) $1 + a stamp/issue or ‘selective trades for zines or cool candy’

Thoughtworm by Sean Stewart, 3600 Buena Vista Ave., Baltimore, MD 21211 $2/issue.;

You Obviously Have Me Confused with Someone Who Cares by School Zine Librarian (latest issue is No. 1.38) $1 or free to school librarians.

Alycia Sellie, Graduate, School of Library and Information Studies, University of Wisconsin-Madison, May 2006, and founder of the Madison Zine Fest

A Miniguide

By Miriam DesHarnais

Starting a zine collection at your library is not complicated, but it takes time, teamwork, and planning. The Baltimore County Public Library (BCPL) Zine Collection is in its first year, so this guide focuses on early steps. Although many parts of the process must happen in concert, this is a chronological strategy for aspiring zine librarians. Good luck!

  1. Get inspired. My colleague Julie Harrison suggested a pilot collection at BCPL after hearing Julie Bartel and Brooke Young, both of Salt Lake City Public Library, present on connecting with patrons through zines. If you can’t get to a conference or zine fest you can:
    Read Julie Bartel’s From A to Zine (see Resources).
    Communicate with folks who have or use zine libraries. Joining the Zine Librarians Yahoo! Group ( is essential.
    Visit a zine library! A good list of them is at
    Check out the web sites and catalogs of libraries online.
    Read lots of zines and reviews! I brought zines in from home so our team would have contact with a tangible collection.
  2. Request permission and funding. Do this part right, even if it feels slow; a maverick approach could mean you won’t get the fullest practical, personal, and financial support from your supervisors. Making sure your collection is considered legitimate is worth any short-term delay.
    Present this new media, and its new ideas, in your workplace’s language to prove it fits with larger institutional goals.
    Make a budget. Building a zine collection is more time-consuming than expensive, but be sure to account for additional costs like packaging, processing, shelving, publicity, and programming.
  3. Build a team with members who have varying levels of familiarity with the format and different types of library know-how.
    Stay in touch between meetings. Set up an email address that’s accessible to the whole team, but have one person handle outside correspondence.
    Rely on the friendly network of zine librarians.
    Discuss the project with friends, coworkers, patrons, and people who make, read, or sell zines. It clarifies your thinking while making it easier to promote the opening, since your email list will already be established.
  4. Hammer out the details. Focus on cooperation, since making these logistical decisions can be challenging.
    Ask how you want the collection to work. At what branch or building will the collection be likeliest to succeed? One location or more? Will the zines circulate? Who are you hoping to serve/attract?
    Consider collection development. How many zines? What areas in your other collections already circulate well? Are there subject areas with gaps that zines can fill? Do you need to create a collection development policy or do you already have one in place that leaves room for zines?
    How will you purchase the items? Can you pay individual authors with cash? Money orders? If you are able to order only from distros and stores, is billing a possibility? How often can you place new orders and how long does it take to receive them?
    How will you handle donations? Will you accept zines with archival value or focus on recent publications only? Who reviews donations and what happens to zines that are not selected for inclusion? How are donations acknowledged?
    What are the fines or fees for a lost zine? How many can be taken out at a time?
    Will each zine be cataloged? How? Will they be available for interlibrary loan?
    How will the zines be shelved and packaged?
  5. Set goals. What needs to be done when? Who will do each task? Some things (getting shelving, planning an opening, receiving zines, cataloging, processing) require lead time to follow through.
    What is your collection’s purpose?
    How will you gauge success? Using statistics alone or also testimonials, surveys, and media attention?
    When will you evaluate and what kind of report is required by your library?
  6. Put it in writing. Write drafts of any policies, memos, web content, or press releases and run them by someone from each department or group affected by having the collection.
    Create a fact sheet for staff. You want everyone to know how to pronounce the word zine and answers to basic questions about what they are and why you have them. Doing this first helped us compose our web site and official memo.
    Don’t reinvent the wheel: look to existing zine library web sites as resources.
  7. Take action. You did your research, now make it happen!
    Buy your core collection.
    Make sure any bags, backers, furniture, or signage for the display are on track to arrive in time.
    Once the zines arrive, look them over for anything unbound, obscene (as defined by state law), or otherwise not in keeping with policy.
    Catalog them, if possible.
    Process and shelve. Our collection is small enough to fit on a few wheeled units, providing nice mobility.
  8. Spread the word. Our library system’s marketing department got wonderful attention from local media and a wide audience for our collection and the very idea of zines. That said, DIY (do-it-yourself) methods of publicity that are nontraditional for libraries but mainstays for publicizing a rock show may reach younger audiences fastest.
    Flyer widely.
    Blog, email, create buzz.
  9. Have an opening. A zine authors’ reading is a great opening program. Allow ample planning time, especially if your writers are out-of-towners.
    Merchandise books you’ve purchased about zines or other materials you think attendees might like.
    Write short bios of your readers so you can introduce them. Provide an area for zine sales afterwards. Don’t forget to plug your web site, build the emailing list, thank all parties, and celebrate your achievement!
  10. Live with the zines. This collection needs regular maintenance (merchandising, weeding, replacements) plus some extra care.
    Answer all questions positively. The person you are sure will be your first censorship challenge might come in a month later having written his or her first zine.
    Encourage integration of zines into regular reference work.
  11. Evaluate and plan. Don’t lose steam.
    Plan smaller programs such as show-and-tell nights among larger events.
    Keep the team informed of the collection’s use so everyone stays invested in the project.
    Consider possible partnerships or creative programs.
    Attract new users with outreach and by keeping the collection relevant.

  • Zine Reading in New Orleans

    The authors of this piece will be joined by Elaine Harger (E-Zine) and New Orleans zinester Ammi Emergency (Emergency) at the here Free Speech Buffet on Monday, June 26 at the Omni Royal Orlean Hotel at 7pm. $10 ticket includes food. Contact Jenna Freedman ( for more information.