The Barnard Zine Library Observation

By smeyer5

The Zine Collection at Barnard’s Wollman Library can easily be found on the far right wall of the first room on the first floor of Lehman Hall. In fact, it’s the whole wall. In June 2010 there were nearly 1,400 zines in this section, the open stacks, with even more in the archives. The collection now has over 4,000 individual issues of zines, even though many of them are awaiting processing and so are not yet fully represented in the catalog or on the shelves. The collection grows regularly and the librarians who maintain it work hard to keep up.

The administration of the Zine Collection takes place on the second floor of the library, overseen by it’s founder Jenna Freedman with the assistance of Stephanie Neel and several interns. The collection was pitched and accepted in the summer of 2003 by Freedman and was awarded an initial materials budget of only $500. From there it took about a year of planning and work to get the zines onto the shelves.

The collection aims to serve the needs of current readers and scholars and those of future researchers. Zines are primary source documents that tell the story of contemporary life, culture, and politics in a multitude of women’s voices that might otherwise be lost. The zines are written by women (cis- and transgender) with an emphasis on zines by women of color, although they collect 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. The aim is also that readers will enjoy the collection simply for its fun, vibrancy, humanity, and artistic value, which it has in abundance. The variety of titles include Sneer, Shotgun Seamstress Fanzine, Wave: A Feminist Zine, Kerbloom!, Licking Stars Off Ceilings and other colorful names. If you’re unfamiliar with zines, the value and strength of this genre of publication is clear when you see it in person, en masse, at the Wollman Library.

Zines had a large underground popularity in the 1980’s and 1990’s through to today after emerging in the 1970’s, mostly out of the U.S. and the U.K. punk rock scenes. The easy and inexpensive means of reproduction by photocopier enabled people to create small print runs of original material at a low cost, which was then distributed primarily at rock concerts, independent bookstores, comic shops, through the mail and other venues. Some publications were (and still are) sold while others are free for the taking, depending on the particular zine. In high school and undergraduate college–far before I knew about Barnard’s collection–I’d read and contributed to zines and always liked the format. Most were hand-made (or hand-made via computer design) and the culture of independent production, creativity of expression/thought attracted me to the format, as I know it did others. My own personal interests drew me to the original comics and literature, underground music and art/photography aspects of the zine genre, although politics and humor overlapped in one way or another most of the time. These topics are all represented in Barnard’s collection.

The zines that are available circulate in the regular library collection and can be checked out by patrons. It may be notable that magazines–the zine’s big-sister genre in many ways–are not circulated. This may have more to due with library policies than anything else but it stuck out to me because one of the main aims of this archive is to make the material widely available. For example, I’m sure I can find most issues of Rolling Stone without too much difficulty but I’d be hard-pressed to find a copy of The East Village Inky from February 2008 many other places without quite a bit of detective work.

If you’re not simply looking through the stacks and want to find specific zines you can find them in Barnard’s CLIO OPAC, cataloged with the Cutter system. The call numbers start with “ZINES” followed by the Cutter number, which is an alphanumeric scheme ordinarily based on the author or main entry. Since there are twice as many zines in the archives and hundreds more that haven’t been processed yet, if there is something in particular that you’re looking for and can’t find it, you’re encouraged to ask for assistance from the Zine Librarian. The small staff does their best to make issues available as quickly as they can but the growth of the collection slows the process. Since the collection’s inception in 2003, zines have become a part of the library budget and donations occur regularly.

What delighted me about the collection is the passion with which it was created and continues to be overseen by Jenna Freedman. Among her other responsibilities, she spends one day a week devoted to adding materials to the catalog. There are also Twitter and Facebook accounts that are used to promote the collection as well as other online resources that can be found. There is a blog about the collection that gets updated frequently on the Barnard Library website and there is also an active Barnard Zine Club on campus. Freedman often speaks at conferences about the importance of zines and has made it her own priority to “put zines on the map.”

The focus of this zine collection is women’s voices, which is clear from looking through it, but the culture of the collection feels more inclusive than that. It may be my own biased opinion from my own previous experience with zines but I felt welcome and intrigued by the archive. There’s a wide spectrum of opinions and the walls of accessibility can barely be felt.

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