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The Importance of Zines

LH Johnson

Staff Writer

LH reads, writes and researches children’s books. She's also a librarian, blogger, and makes pretty amazing chocolate brownies. Cake and books, what’s not to love?

Zines are all over my desk right now. One of them asks Which ’90s Teen Heart Throb Are You? Another is a collection of three Poems by Abdullah Adekola (Some poems write themselves / Others are like pulling teeth …). There’s one that documents a summer in 2012 (‘we need our days to be quiet’) and another from @bradicalpress that collects “BAME peoples memories and experiences of libraries”. I’ve got increasingly into collecting zines over the past year, and I want to tell you about why this matters.

But before we get going, if you’ve read all of this and are a bit ‘wait, that sounds great but what’s a zine?’, there’s a handy primer here.

Zines capture a culture in a way that mainstream, conventional and often exclusionary models of publishing cannot hope to achieve. This paper calls zines ‘underground texts‘ and talks about how they represent often hyper-localised stories told by those who are often ‘on the periphery’ of society. For me, zines represent stories being told by people in the way that they want to tell them. That unfiltered voice. The power of expression. These are creative voices in the process of finding themselves. Sometimes it might not be perfect – sometimes it might stumble and falter and slip – but it’s there. It bursts with life. It tells a story that needs to be told by the people who need to tell it.

You can pick up zines in a variety of places. Many comic shops stock and support zines, Etsy has a substantial category devoted to them, or you can attend a zine fair in person and pick up copies directly from the creators. Sometimes I’ll research creators beforehand on Instagram to try and find out more about them, but most times I just like to go and see what catches my eye. It’s the best way to approach any literary fair – whether zines or books. Just let yourself wander. Walk the aisles. Talk to the creators. Discover the stories that aren’t being told elsewhere. Support the people that are telling them.

Zine fairs are everywhere, and many libraries actively support them. One of my locals hosted the Weirdo Zine Fest in February, and if your local library isn’t doing such, then ask them. Libraries serve their communities and if their community is asking for a zine fair, then they should – will – act on that. Even if they can’t quite hold a zine fair at present, they might be able to support a making activity or an interactive session. Essentially, if you want zines in your library, make it happen. Any good librarian will be over the moon to meet you.

Any good librarian will also be happy for the chance to diversify their collections. As with so much in life, collections are often directed by those who have the privileges to do so. Those who have their needs and requirements centred in everyday society. Those who tick the boxes. I know a ton of brilliant and talented librarians who work to create collections that are representative of all of their customers – not just those who won the privilege lottery. Integrating zines into that process and centralising them helps that happen. Barnard’s wonderful zine collection, for example, collects “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.” These are the stories that should told and institutions working to make that happen is a very good thing indeed.

Cassandra Press want to “inspire further and wider-spread political and social activism”. Mujeristas Collective “showcase contemporary art and writings that construct our own experiences and identities within the framework of mujerismo, Latin American feminism inspired by womanism”. Bradical Press tell their stories “because if we don’t, then who will?” In a world where people are so often deprived of their voices, collecting zines and supporting indie creatives allows a way to work against that. It helps people tell their stories and for those stories to be heard. And that is something I will always be in favour of.