Staff Reflections: Engaging Zine Learning

Today’s post was written by Asia Jones, Circulation Services Evening Supervisor.

Summer at the library is quite peaceful; and while our spaces are calmer, the spirit of learning continues on unperturbed. Following in its footsteps, the number of library books on my desk expanded exponentially in the last three months and I found myself unexpectedly, but happily, in a summer librarian course.

Today, libraries can exist as places of mystery. Especially as they continuously transform in order to keep up with contemporary patron needs and learning methods. Since joining our library as a full-time staff member, I have often had to explain that I myself am not a librarian (yes, you can work in a library without being a librarian: it is quite fun I might add). I am, however, someone who is interested in scholarship and who loves to learn. So when our library staff was sent a list of online summer courses and I spotted one entitled “Zines for Critical Reflection and Pedagogy,” I knew this was an opportunity that I did not want to pass up. I spent six weeks this summer learning from and with zine librarians. In this post, I’d like to share some of my favorite things that I’ve learned and reflect on the subject matter that I’m slowly growing more accustomed to.

What is a zine exactly? Zines are self-made publications. Historically they were made as limited run print booklets, but nowadays you can find online zines as well. Their independent nature allows them to transcend the typical limitations of formally published materials, such as the financial, professional, or academic status of the author, so zines often carry a liberatory reputation. A zine, for all intents and purposes, can be about anything but are always deeply personal due to their hand-crafted quality.

A zine librarian refers to an individual who is a zine enthusiast, often a zinester themselves, and centers this passion in their librarianship. Zine librarians take on the work of zine stewardship, often curating zine collections, teaching zine making, and analyzing zines. Like many other librarians they act as community points for their respective field and are currently navigating the task of bringing a historically non-institutional medium into libraries (which can serve the zine community by documenting its history, providing exposure to creators and works, and introducing new people to the community and craft).

However, it is extremely important to recognize that there are varying levels of comfort and desire regarding the introduction of zines into library institutions. Like many subjects, positive zine librarianship should center the safety and desires of its creators and community over any personal, professional, or institutional goals. I would also like to recognize that this description of both this subject and profession is coming from someone who is new to the zine community and not a zine librarian — any and all gaps of knowledge are my own. Zine-ing and zine librarianship may hold flexible understandings and definitions, each up to the discretion of the community member doing them.

The personal nature of the zine medium allows any new zinester the opportunity to craft their own relation to and understanding of zines. For me this connection was facilitated by my familiarity with skate culture. My first introductions to zines occurred through skater collectives such as The Skate Witches. My goal when creating this page was to consider how skate and zine communities might overlap while also reflecting on my personal history (and potential future) with both groups. One of the coolest aspects of zine culture is the fact that zines craft a little pocket in space and time for readers to delve into the author’s life and being. Zines themselves are quite adept at serving as connecting points – for passions, ideas, histories, individuals, and communities. If you are beginning your journey as a zinester, I highly recommend taking the time to consider your path to the medium, as it easily facilitates the process of you and your work (your zine) joining together to create something new.

A page from Asia's zine skateboard imagery

On the academic side, I am most enthralled about how zines disrupt the traditional positionalities of its community members in order to craft new ones. This happens on multiple levels when considering the positions (and titles) of creator and consumer. Yes, there is the direct relationship of zinester (individual creating the zine) and zine consumer (individual reading the zine). However, what I find most fascinating is that there is a simultaneous disruption that occurs directly to the zinester – especially when zines are utilized as teaching tools.

Most of our classwork was centered around the application of zines as teaching tools. We read about and discussed questions such as: what can zines offer to students that other teaching tools cannot? In addition to the first disruption, when zines are utilized as teaching tools, zinesters operate both as creators (of their zine) and consumers (of the knowledge they are translating into their zine). In this context, the zine medium establishes two new, simultaneously occurring, positions for its community members to occupy! This is quite a revolutionary feat, especially for a seemingly “simple” medium to accomplish. However, the results are quite extraordinary.

Educator Andrew Yang describes it best saying, “if students move beyond being simply consumers…and recognize the possibilities and responsibilities of being producers as well, they can become more engaged in the wider ecology of information that they are inevitably a part of” (573). I found this aspect of the zine medium’s potential to be absolutely fascinating! We are talking about actively calling attention to and challenging the traditional roles (and limitations) we navigate as educators and learners. This is something that I would have never been able to understand, at the very least consider as easily, outside of a zine context. The fact that zines can facilitate this type of work is astounding to me as a new member of the community.

If you are interested in non-traditional teaching methods, curious as to how we might challenge traditional positions within educational systems, or are simply looking for a new way to express yourself, zines may offer something to you. I cannot recommend the medium or community enough. Some final points, that I do not have the time to elaborate on but deserve mention, are: the temporality of zines (how the medium challenges traditional linear time/movement) and how zines embody (and connect the bodies of) its community members.

Signing off for now, your fellow scholar and library staff person, Asia Jones.