Zine Librarianship part 1 of 19,375,685 I am sure

I originally wrote this as part of a response to the e-course I previously blogged about here: Feminist Pedagogy in a Library Context but I feel it is important to be transparent about some of what I try and do as part of Salford Zine Library so I am reposting here so it is open access.


I would like to approach this week from the context of collections at Salford Zine Library, where I am part of the volunteer team. As our website states: “Salford Zine Library seeks to preserve and provide access to zines from around the world, as well as promoting zines and DIY culture through workshops, exhibitions and other events. There are currently over 2000 (the website actually says 1500 but this is very old) zines in the collection, all of which have been donated by zine makers and collectors.”

I am one of a team of 4 volunteers, there are no paid staff though sometimes we get commissioned or paid to run workshops or exhibitions. We work to administrate, promote and make the zine library accessible, and I am increasingly aware of the importance of critical practice and feminist pedagogy when it comes to zine librarianship. Absolutely everything we do is informed by these themes. As zines are a form of free press and are self-published, they often raise up voices and views of marginalised authors who may otherwise struggle to get published. We are a donations only library as we do not have a budget for purchasing zines, but I am becoming increasingly aware that this may be a barrier for some who cannot afford to donate or post zines to us as they need to cover the cost of producing them, as such their work will not be represented in the library. We allow donations in person at various events we attend and try to attend a variety of events across the UK to help with this. I do personally purchase zines with a view to adding them to the collection, but as we are volunteers and the library largely relies on applying for funding or donations, this is not always feasible.

We try to relinquish librarian ‘control’ of zines by not having them displayed in a certain way. It is a reference library but so far we have not labelled zines, and though we may end up doing that some time, we do not plan on shelving them in a particular order. It is also not staffed so we do not monitor the collection and the reference only system currently only works on a trust system and the library is based in an area of a cafe.

While the lack of ‘rules’ ‘order’ or ‘conduct’ may make the library less accessible in some ways, as visitors may be confused by the absence of them, or struggle to find things in what might come across as chaotic, we hope that the friendly space makes users of the library feel confident to dive in without worrying that they are disrupting any categorisation on the shelves. The subject of cataloguing is an ongoing conversation we have been having with others who follow us on social media and attend our events, so is not set in stone and may develop over time.

As volunteers in a library of this nature, we try to avoid positioning ourselves as experts, particularly because all of us in the team are white, but also because zines are inherently creative and can be approached as a medium in many ways. We know a diverse network of zine makers and hope to provide a community and put on events that showcase work by makers, rather than formally curating the library or making rules about what a zine is or isn’t, though we may have our own opinions on this. This school of thought also informs the open collections policy, as we accept any zines as long as they are self-published. So far nothing completely offensive (ie. racist) has ever been donated, though if this happens we will have to discuss how to deal with it and I imagine we would do that via a dialogue with the zine community, much of this dialogue takes place on social media and in person at zine events.

An issue that comes up a lot with zines is consent, the creator may wish to be credited in a certain way, or want their material back. We are open to requests like this at any time. It is important that creators of zines retain control over their output, and we want to reflect their wishes if for example their pronouns change, or they are no longer happy with having their work included in a public space. Zines can often contain personal or sensitive information and we try to take this into account rather than having a more rigid collections or cataloguing policy. As a zine-maker myself, I have seen my zines catalogued in a way I was not happy with online, and I requested it be changed, and the library refused because they catalogued based on what was on the printed material which is obviously traditional library practice. I found this to be frustrating and unfair as I was the author, and zines are not a traditional medium! Another issue with zines is digitization. It is not seen to be best practice to digitize zines in full, although some authors may do it to their own zines, we would not do it without consent. Digitization in the library world in general is seen to be a positive thing, but again due to the subject matter and the regular use of pseudonyms and anonymity in zines, it would not be ethical.

The ‘power structures’ of cataloguing and librarianship mentioned in Saunders (2017) felt relevant to the themes of zine librarianship and as such we are mindful as zine librarians to have a quieter voice than those contained in the material on the shelves.

A question I want to ask is: how would you go about cataloguing a diverse collection in a way that is accessible, non-hierarchal/prescriptive but also helps people navigate a lot of material to find what they need? We want to avoid formal cataloguing altogether, for the reasons outlined above, but also if people are seeking particular resources we want to make it easier to find things.

Edited to add: Myself and Steve, one of the other volunteers, recently wrote more about Zine Librarianship here in this open access article entitled “Everything has something worthwhile to say” published in Art Libraries Journal earlier this year.

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