She sees zines as a means of outreach to those who don't use libraries, and "find nothing in the mainstream that reflects their reality."
Starting with a budget of less than a thousand dollars, Bartel created both a collection and programming that significantly raised the coolness quotient of the library among young adults and attracted a broad range of new users, including zine creators.
There are a lot of thorny issues involved in deliberately selecting materials that lack the "authority and respectability of the established press," and that may be amateurish, highly personal, financially unstable, tasteless, in-your-face, or politically and socially controversial. Zines are not good reading material for the faint of heart, she says; "they're honest and raw and include language and subjects and graphics that many will find offensive." She says you need to recognize this from the beginning, discuss the controversial nature of the content in your proposal, make sure your library's selection policy defends a wide range of voices and opinion, and monitor the collection carefully for content that strays across the borders of legality.
Zines present other challenges to our traditional ways of doing things. We can't argue that there's a demand for them, because their potential readers don't even know the zines exist. Since traditional review sources don't deal with them, finding out about them is a challenge for us as well, and, dauntingly, the only authority we have to fall back on in selection may be our own judgment. Many zines lack ISSNs and cataloging records, which makes it difficult to create subject access to them and integrate them into the collection -- and yet, if we keep zines separate we suggest they are second-class citizens. Because zines are often shoestring operations, there's no guarantee or even likelihood that volume 1 number 1 will be followed by volume 1 number 2, which will drive serials librarians nuts. Even paying for them can be a challenge, since zine creators are often not particularly businesslike. Bartel draws on her own experience to suggest ways of dealing with these and other issues.
Making people aware that a zine collection exists requires identifying potential readers, tailoring the marketing message and graphic design to each segment of the audience, and then going outside the traditional marketing channels to reach them -- to dance clubs, coffee houses, colleges, galleries, music stores, and such. She illustrates with techniques that worked for her own library.
Perhaps the most interesting part of her book is her accounts of successful programming around zines. Her first program was a do-it-yourself workshop for would-be zine publishers. That was so well-received that she took the workshop into the schools, which resulted in some high level creative work by enthusiastic kids. She did similar work with community partners like the Job Corps and an organization for homeless youth. Other natural outgrowths were public readings, video zines, and a youth talent show.
What's at the heart of all Bartel's zine activities, though, is her desire to change the perception of libraries. After finishing this book, you can't doubt that she succeeded in this, drawing hundreds of new users to the Salt Lake City library. Her book offers excellent guidelines on how you could do the same in your own if you so chose.
Which seems to me to be a good idea. One thing that talk radio and the internet have shown us is that just because the top-down, we-talk-you-listen model has dominated education, broadcasting and publishing, that doesn't mean we prefer it. Instead of passively sitting and listening to received wisdom, we want to contribute our own. We want a conversation, not a lecture.
What have you done in your library to give people a chance to participate, to talk back?
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The mainstream has the potential to self-pollinate to the point of monoculture. Maintenance of intellectual diversity is as crucial to our survival and happiness as that of genetic and ecological diversity.
Cheryl Zobel. "Zines in Public Libraries." Counterpoise 3 no. 2 (April, 1999), p. 5.
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