Zines and Tech Services

Zines: Issues in Technical Services

An Annotated Bibliography


Zines and e-zines are small, independent publications which provide low-cost, alternative perspectives on society. Libraries should embrace these quirky editions, but their eccentricities make them challenging to integrate. Difficult even to find out about, their lack of consistent, bibliographic data makes them daunting to acquire and catalog. And their varied and unstable forms make them hard to preserve.


Zines and e-zines are hard to describe. Almost every source cited here begins with such a disclaimer. Maybe the best way to understand these small publications is to list some of their characteristics. They are not for profit. They exhibit a DIY (do-it-yourself) publishing attitude. They are often eccentric and alternative. They are sometimes artistic, and always passionate. They represent the unfiltered voice of an individual with something to say. They may be primitive or popular, and are probably ephemeral (Stoddart & Kiser, 2004, p. 191). They may be one of a series, but don’t count on getting the next issue on time. They are random, changeable and unstable.

Why should libraries care about these tiny editions? Most don’t. But zines and e-zines can provide valuable insights into alternative cultures and new takes on historical events. They provide what the main media does not: the voice of the disenfranchised struggling to make itself heard. Zinesters strive to “produce what they do not see in the mainstream media: an accurate reflection of their lives” (Hubbard, 2005, p. 351).

Collecting zines and e-zines can be challenging for the library. This annotated bibliography will look at zines and e-zines from the technical services perspective and examine how they can best be integrated into “the stacks.” In particular, it will focus on issues of acquisition, cataloging, and preservation. How do libraries acquire zines? How do they even find out about them? And what are the criteria for selection? It will also look into cataloging issues, and investigate how libraries can use bibliographic tools to keep track of their zine collection and make them accessible to patrons. Finally it will take a look at preservation, both from a physical and electronic perspective.

APA style will be used throughout this study.

Book Chapters

Bartel, J. (2004). The Salt Lake City public library zine collection. In From A to zine: Building a winning zine collection in your library (pp. 61-76). Chicago: American Library Association.

This chapter provides an excellent account of the author’s experience building the well-respected zine collection at the Salt Lake City Public Library . This collection focuses on tangible, printed zines, rather than e-zines. (Bartel maintains that the materiality of a zine “is integral to the zine culture,” a contention certainly open to argument.) She gives a brief history of zines, and makes a good case for the collection of alternative materials. A library should provide “access to as many voices as possible,” and thereby cultivate new patrons and increase its relevancy to marginalized or disenfranchised users, alienated from the mainstream. But Bartel says it is difficult to add zines to the library collection, citing four problematic areas in technical services: acquisitions, collection management, cataloging and preservation.

How does a library learn about a zine? How does it find out what is available? Bartel explains the acquisition process, noting the tremendous amount of work necessary to evaluate new materials and formats from alternative sources, including “review” zines (zines about other zines) and “distros” (zine distributors). She describes the order and payment process which clearly does not fit into the traditional library model – typically “zinesters” do not accept credit cards or checks, but require well-hidden cash and stamps sent in the mail.

Cataloging issues abound. Zines have no CIPs or ISSNs and often don’t have consistent titles, page number or dates. Often a MARC record is created for the whole collection, since original cataloging is a massive undertaking, and “probably not worth the effort.” She notes that the current collection includes 3,400 sample copies, 17 subscriptions and 20 reference books – none of which circulate, although the branch libraries each have their own small zine collection which does circulate and is designed to attract teens.

How do you make your zine collection accessible to patrons? How do you keep track of your zines? How do you keep the collection safe from damage? The problem of access is the most difficult zine challenge which the SLC Public library has faced. After trying other methods, they now assign subject headings to zines, and for each title a primary category heading is assigned (“where the zine will live on the shelf”). Particularly fragile zines are shelved using hanging bags.


Block, M. (2002). Who’s going to preserve e-zine content? Library Journal, 127(13), 58-59. Retrieved March 18, 2006, from http://www.libraryjournal.com/article/CA237597.html&e=9797

Marylaine Block is an academic librarian who publishes her own e-zine Ex Libris. In this article, she presents her concerns about the preservation of e-zine content. She notes that there are now many library-related e-zines and e-journals. Many of these are associated with institutions which have the means to keep back-issues archived. But private e-zines like her own don’t have the luxury of such economic support, and depend entirely on the individual zinester’s financial ability to pay for domain registration and server costs. She notes that ironically, the “very professionals who invented the concepts of archiving and indexing” stand to lose a lot of valuable library information if e-zines like Ex Libris suddenly fold.

Her concern is specific to library science e-zines, but it is a worrisome issue for all e-zines. Block notes that for print publications, on-line databases routinely digitize, license and make full text versions available. And OCLC “guarantees the permanence of its archives on Electronic Collections Online,” and promises to migrate to whatever new platform is needed. But not so with e-zines, where content is archived on a “hit or miss” basis by Google or Index Morganagus. She notes a current effort taking place to provide permanent storage for e-zine content by the Coalition of Web-based Library-Related Zines/Newsletters (COWLZ), but she feels this solution only partially solves the problem. She prefers what she calls a “one-stop shop” solution in which the on-line vendors are told of the importance of the small independent library-related e-zines. Libraries should demand that such publications be indexed and archived along with the other, more mainstream publications.

Crawford, W. (2001). E-newsletters and e-zines: From current cites to newbreed librarian. American Libraries, 32(11), 51-54. Accessed March 3, 2006, from Academic Search Premier (EBSCO) database.

Crawford makes the distinction between e-newsletters and e-zines. When the on-line publication is just news and references to other sources, it’s an e-newsletter. When it becomes more commentary, and the analysis breaks free of cited items and becomes a voice, it’s an e-zine. He provides a useful sidebar, written by Jen Stevens from Washington State University, that lists websites useful in locating e-zines. He discusses how to make e-zines less time consuming to access. He suggests creating library websites with hyperlinks, but ultimately recommends using OCLC Cooperative Online Resource Catalog (CORC) to catalog a given e-zine and thereby making it available to other participating libraries. Issues he finds important when selecting an e-zine: (1) Who is audience of the e-zine? (2) How stable is it? (3) How easy is it to read? (4) Is there an editorial masthead/or explanation of e-zines aims? (5) Is there an ISSN? (6) Do you have to check its links on a regular basis (5) Does it archive old issues? These questions are vital when deciding whether or not to include the e-zine in a library’s virtual collection.

Gisonny K. & Freedman J. (2006). Zines in libraries: How, what and why? Collection Building, 25, 26-30. Accessed March 3, 2006, from Emerald Library database.
Gissonny and Freedman maintain that the collection of zines and other alternative press materials is “essential and at the core of librarianship’s mission.” They substantiate this by referring to the Library Bill of Rights which calls for diverse collections, representing all points of view. These collections should be readily accessible, and free of charge. The article focuses on two collections: Barnard College , whose collection is centered on women’s studies and feminism, and the New York Public library, which primarily collects literary and local zines. It discusses acquisitions and collection development, and technology, cataloging, access and preservation issues.

Zines are not monthlies or quarterlies – they are irregular serials. Bibliographic information is often missing, making them difficult to track. There is a lack of standard review, though the authors note publications such as Zine World, Best Zine Ever, and Xeroxography Debt as good sources to aid in collection development, as are zine conferences. Zines are generally cheap. Barnard buys them from “distros”, using petty cash. It also benefits from donations from zine collectors. The authors note that the more the library is part of the community, the more it benefits when stores “clean out” their shelves.

Zine cataloging requires flexibility – often zines lack dates, names, publication data, and pagination. Barnard students write abstracts for each zine that is cataloged and provide notes as to each item’s “genre terms (compilation zine, fanzine, personal zine, political zine, etc.). “ Barnard collects two copies of each zine, one for archives (stored in climate controlled archival boxes) and the other for the stacks. Zines are not circulated. The stacks copy is “labeled, tattle-taped and barcoded.” The college tries to have faculty integrate course syllabi with the zine collection. Preservation is a significant issue with the zine collection.

Hubbard, C. (2005). DIY in the stacks: A study of three public library zine collections. Public Libraries, 44, 351-354. Accessed March 13, 2006, from Library Literature and Information Science Full Text database (WilsonWeb).

At the outset, Hubbard states that most zine collections are found in academic libraries. Why, she wonders, are such low-cost collections not more prevalent in public libraries, whose democratic nature should welcome zines’ broad spectrum of viewpoints? Her article looks at three public libraries which do support large zine collections: the San Francisco Public Library, the Salt Lake City Public Library, and the Minneapolis Public Library. Her article is a comparative study of how each library handles its zine collection.

The San Francisco collection has its roots in the 1960’s, when small literary magazines were collected by the library. In the early 1990’s, zines were added to the collection and in 2003 the collection was renamed the Little Maga/Zine Collection (LMC). It grows primarily through donations. Its emphasis is on the San Francisco experience. The collection numbers around 1200 titles. They do not circulate and they are only now starting to be cataloged, the delay due to the unique and ephemeral quality of the collection. Zines are filed in closed stacks, alphabetically by title in archival pamphlet boxes. “Grassroots publicity efforts” inform patrons of the existence of the collection, since zines are not in the public catalog. Five to ten people use the collection per week.

Julie Bartel, a former zinester, is responsible for establishing the Salt Lake City collection. Zines are stored in plastic comic book sleeves or bagged (if fragile). Patrons can browse through the stacks themselves, or they can read subject-title lists generated from an MS Access database. Zines are assigned primary subject headings and one to five secondary headings from an authority list. Cataloging the 7,000 item collection was begun in 2003. Librarians have created monographic catalog records, and assigned unique cutter numbers. They are shelved alphabetically by author. Only a small percentage has been cataloged so far.

The Minneapolis Public Library’s collection is much smaller than the other two, numbering only around 150 titles. They are all cataloged as monographs. Most have been donated to the library by local zinesters. They are kept in bins and are available for circulation. About 25 percent of the collection is checked out at a given time. Patrons find out about the collection by word of mouth and by signs posts near the bins.

Stevens, J. (2004). Long-term literary e-zine stability: Issues and access in libraries. Technical Services Quarterly, 22(1), 21-32. Accessed March 8, 2006, from Electronic Journals Services (EBSCO) database.

Stevens notes that most literary e-zines are too unstable to be included in online library catalogs. The ephemeral nature of e-zines creates issues of “long term longevity.” E-zines typically have no archival procedures and often are published on the web erratically. This makes them difficult for a library to collect. Stevens notes that in the past ten years, many printed zines have migrated to the World Wide Web. Any library can afford them since there are typically no access fees. But they are difficult to keep track of, due to their spontaneous nature. Links are often broken. Once this occurs, the only way to reconnect is via Internet Archive, a non-profit organization which attempts to archive and preserve the Web at various points in time.

Stevens is interested in stable literary e-zines. She is a cataloguer and does not want to waste time cataloging items which go off-line or change URLs. She is trying to develop a way of predicting literary e-zine longevity based on an e-zine’s attributes. Too complex to describe in detail, her study essentially lists e-zine characteristics which predict stability, and make an e-zine worthwhile to catalog. It is an interesting study and one that raises many questions.

Stoddart, R. & Kiser, T. (2004). Zines and the library. Library Resources & Technical Services, 48(3), 191-198. Accessed March 12, 2006, from Academic Search Premier database (EBSCO).

The authors provide an excellent case for the collection of zines, noting that zines provide valuable insights into the cultural milieu they come from. Zines are very difficult to describe, but have some common characteristics, including eccentricity, non-commercial, DIY (do-it-yourself) attitudes, unfiltered voices, unusual perspectives, passionate, alternative, individual expression, artistic, primitive print style, popular culture, ephemeral. The article centers on the challenges libraries face in collecting, cataloging and preserving this ephemeral genre. Most libraries get their zines from donations, and specialize their collection by type, such as protest literature or women’s studies. They reject donations when the zine does not conform to their collection’s focus. Few libraries subscribe to zines, the exceptions being University of Buffalo and Salt Lake City Public library. Should zines be cataloged as serials, even though issues can be unpredictable, dates often undeterminable, and titles constantly evolving? They generally don’t have ISSNs. Some libraries make no effort to catalog zines, but merely put them in folders and arrange them alphabetically. Some catalog only a small percentage of their collection. Some catalog them as they do archives, at the collection level rather than at the title level. Each library seems to develop its own system according to needs and resources.

How can libraries make zines accessible to patrons? Hard to shelve, libraries typically use archival folders or filing cabinet systems. Preservation strategies vary widely – some libraries have no plans to preserve their collection, others plan to digitize, others treat collection with care and if deterioration occurs, attempts are made to rebind and repair.

Internet Resources

OCLC. (2003). Cataloging internet resources: A manual and practical guide. Retrieved March 21, 2006, from http://www.oclc.org/support/documentation/worldcat/ cataloging/internetguide/1/1.htm#Why

As e-zines begin to take the place of printed zines, it is important to understand the issues of cataloging internet resources. OCLC provides a great website to discuss just these issues. Why should libraries catalog resources they do not own? What are the criteria for selection? OCLC maintains that the existing library techniques and procedures are the most effective way of accessing these resources. On-line catalogs using MARC bibliographical tools can be used to keep track of a library’s virtual “collection.” This website provides guidance to Chapter Nine of AACR2, for internet files available “by remote access.” It goes through the gamut of rules in the 9.xx series, from title and statement of responsibility all the way through to the notes. It discusses main entries and added entries, subject headings, and classification. It also provides good examples and links to other resources.

Rowe, C. (2006). The zine and e-zine resource guide. Retrieved March 19, 2006, from http://www.zinebook.com/index.html

Chip Rowe has assembled a great website that provides links to articles and other websites that deal with zines and e-zines. This is reputedly “the” site for zines. Here you can link to the various zine catalogs and archives as well the “distros” (distributors) where you can buy zines. Advice can be found on how to start a zine. Legal issues are discussed in various articles. Links to discussion groups are provided, and frequently asked questions about zine promotion, distribution, and copyright infrigment are answered. There are places to list your ezine in the “Links and Addresses” section. There are links to various college zine databases that allow browsing through catalogs for specific issues. Recommended zine reference books and anthologies are listed. This is a vital site to be used by any library which is interested in developing a zine collection, or adding to its own acquisitions.

San Diego State University (2005). West Coast Zine Collection: Finder’s Guide. Retrieved March 12, 2006 from http://infodome.sdsu.edu/about/depts /spcollections/rarebooks/zinesfindingaid.shtml

This is a very interesting website produced by the San Diego State University which shows how the university catalogs its zine collection. SDSU houses its “West Coast Zine Collection” within its rare books division. Zines are stored alphabetically in the catalog. Each entry gives author/publisher, date/volume, format, category and descriptions.

The website itself gives a brief overview of what a zine is, what the focus of the SDSU collection is (“gender and gender issues, music, art, and popular and alternative culture”), and how the collection has evolved. It gives pictures of some zines in the collection and describes each of them quite fully. It also lists the various subject headings under which zines in this collection are cataloged.

There are six “boxes” of zines listed on the website and within each you can find the individual items cataloged within divisions. Scrolling through the catalog, one can see right away the headaches zines must give the technical services department: the lack of real names, dates, pagination, as well as the fragility of the physical objects themselves must make their task daunting.