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TL v57 n1 Zine: It Rhymes with Teen
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Tennessee Libraries

Volume 57 Number 1



Zine: It Rhymes with Teen

How a Zine Collection Can Help You Connect

with Young Adults

Jerianne Thompson
Supervisory Clerk, MGL Library

Linebaugh Library System, Murfreesboro, TN

Conference Abstract:

Want a new way to attract and serve young adults at your library? Consider a zine collection. Like graphic novels, zines are often popular with young adults. Learn from a zine publisher all about zines, see some examples, and find out how to create a collection tailored to your library.

Welcome to ZINE: It Rhymes With Teen – How a zine collection can help you connect with young adults. My name is Jerianne Thompson. I am a branch supervisor for the Linebaugh Public Library System in Murfreesboro, TN. I’m also a zine publisher.

I was motivated to start a zine collection at our library system because as a zine creator and reader, I was frustrated that I could not find zines in Murfreesboro or Nashville, and that I had no good way to connect with other local people who were interested in zines. I also felt it would be a good service for our library to offer, for reasons I’ll discuss in a moment.

After some background reading and talking to other zine librarians, I put together a proposal for my system director, and we started building the collection in January. We debuted our collection in mid-March with just over 100 zines available on opening day.

Today I’m going to give you an introduction to zines, tell you about our new zine collection, show some examples of zines from our collection, give you some tips on how to start your own collection, and present you with some resources.

What is a zine?

Zines are self-published, small circulation, non-commercial booklets or magazines, usually produced by one person or a small group of individuals. Zines are created out of a desire to share information or a passion to create rather than a desire to make a profit.

Zines come in all shapes, sizes, and formats, including small photocopied booklets, handwritten or handmade booklets, and magazine-like publications.

Figure 1. Examples of zines

Zine content includes a wide range of topics, such as personal essays, political discussions, craft or do-it-yourself advice, fiction, poetry, articles about music or movies, comics, reviews – anything under the sun, really.

I have been a zine publisher for about 12 years. When I started, zines were strictly mail order and connections were made by word of mouth. Now, we have the luxury of being able to use the Internet to make connections and find out about new zines. In the 90s, some people argued that the Internet would kill off zines, but I think instead it has made zine publishing more vibrant and more accessible.

One of the most interesting changes that has occurred since I’ve started publishing zines is the increasing number of libraries with zine collections. In the past couple of years alone, dozens of public and academic libraries have started zine collections. What started as a few scattered special collections at libraries like San Francisco Public Library, DePaul University, Barnard College, Bowling Green State University, and the New York Public Library has turned into a trend, especially within public libraries.

This is thanks in part to Julie Bartel, who started one of the country’s best zine collections at the Salt Lake City Public Library, and her book, From A to Zine: Building a Winning Zine Collection in Your Library, published in 2004. Since then, zine collections have begun at large library systems, such as Baltimore County in Maryland, Multnomah County in Portland, Oregon, and Seattle Public Library, and at smaller libraries, such as the University of Kentucky in Lexington, Ypsilanti Library in Michigan, Petoskey Public Library in Michigan, and at some high schools. It seems like I’m hearing about a new collection every month.

Why collect zines?

Zines can help you attract and serve an underserved population – namely teens and adults in their 20s and 30s – particularly those interested in alternative culture or who may feel that the library has nothing to offer them.

Figure 2. More zines


Many people who are into zines start reading them as teenagers. Teenagers are attracted to zines because they feel they can relate to the authors, because the writing is on their level, on their terms. Generally speaking, teenagers often feel the images reflected by mainstream media – including in books – do not accurately reflect who they are. They feel marginalized. In zines, they find a reflection of their own voice, their own feelings and perceptions.

Often this interest in reading zines translates into an interest in creating zines – which gives you a further opportunity to connect with and program for teens. A zine collection will illustrate to youth in your community your commitment to recognizing their interests and their potential for contribution.

Zines can also help you reach college-age and other “young” adults. I want to share with you comments made by Miriam DesHarnais, a librarian in Baltimore County Public Library System, which started a collection in 2005:

“Zines are a medium that is low-tech and accessible to everyone – something that everyone could make. There was something about the format of zines, and minicomics specifically, that were reaching audiences that other materials in the library had never been able to reach in exactly the same way.”  (Landers 1997).

She said that Baltimore County’s collection has been especially popular with the 20-something crowd. Again, I quote:

 “That's another demographic that public libraries sometimes miss, because people in their 20s and 30s are sometimes unaware that the public library is a very dynamic place these days that has a really broad range of materials that they might not associate with the public library. It was a chance for us to change people's impression of the library and also to draw people into the library who might benefit from using it.”

Figure 3


Zines can help you present different perspectives and maintain a diverse collection. Zines are a rich and democratic form of self-expression and often represent points of view missed by mainstream media. You should also be aware that some zines contain potentially controversial material. Zines tend to be honest and raw, which means they may include profanity or subjects that some patrons may find offensive. Just as not every book is for every reader, not every zine is for every patron.

A zine collection also shows support for the alternative media that may exist within your community. These are a few examples of Tennessee zines: Fifth Estate, Fertile Ground, and Bog-Gob (Figure 4). Fifth Estate is a news and commentary zine focusing on anti-authoritarian issues; it has an editorial office in Middle Tennessee. Fertile Ground is a parenting zine published in Memphis. Bog-Gob is a pop culture news and review zine published in Chattanooga. Another local zine is Zine World, which we’ll discuss a little later.

Figure 4. Tennessee zines


Although several public and academic libraries have stared zine collections in recent years, it’s likely that no one else in your community is carrying zines. Zines are not carried by most bookstores, although occasionally you’ll find them at independent bookstores or record stores.

How to get started

The handouts have more details and resources to help you in starting your collection, but I’m going to spend a few minutes talking about some of the biggest questions you’ll need to answer before you get started:

  1. What type of collection do you want to have?
    • Will it circulate?
    • Will it have a specific focus?
  2. Will you catalog the collection?
  3. How will you process & shelve them?
  4. How will you buy them?

Let’s examine these questions one by one.

What type of collection do you want to have?

    1. Will it be a circulating collection or an archival collection?
    2. Will it focus on a specific genre or topic?
    3. Will it be geared toward a specific age group?

Most public libraries offer circulating collections, whereas academic libraries lean toward archival. Academic libraries often choose to focus on a specific topic or subject (such as feminism or politics or art). Some libraries choose to have a regional focus. You may want your library to focus on zines by and for children and teenagers. These decisions will affect the types of zines you buy.

Figure 5. Zine displays in several libraries

Our collection is circulating and does not have a specific focus. We are trying to collect zines of interest to teens and adults in their 20s & 30s. We are seeking out zines published in Tennessee or the Southeast, but are not limiting to those locations.

Will you catalog your zines?

Cataloging is a tough issue. Some do; some don’t. For many, the decision is made simply on whether there are adequate staff resources to handle the workload, as there’s a lot of original cataloging involved. There are very few shared MARC or other records available on zine titles. It’s also challenging because zines can be missing standard bibliographic data such as the author’s name, the date and location of publication, etc.

Figure 6. Catalog record for a zine

If you decide to catalog, there is a LC subject heading of zines, which we use in the 650 tag (see Figure 6).

You’ll also have to decide whether to catalog your zines like a serial or a book. At first it seems more logical to catalog them as serials, but few zines offer subscriptions or even come out on a regular schedule. Additionally, zines can change topics or even titles between issues.

We decided to catalog because we wanted to make our zines accessible to patrons at all of our branches. You can easily search for them in our OPAC and place holds. We have a separate record for each issue. We created a special location and a special item category of Zines. We are trying to include a brief description in the 520 tag and at least one additional subject heading related to the content. Because our collection is so small, we currently have a limit of 10 zine checkouts per person.

If you want to circulate your zines but don’t want to catalog them, you can treat them like honor paperbacks. Some libraries allow patrons to checkout zines by filling a bag or an envelope. If you choose this route, you may want to create a list of available titles or another type of in-house finding aid.

How will you process and shelve them?

We use plastic comic book sleeves with a cardboard backer for our zines. This was something that was recommended to me by several other librarians, because it helps keep the collection neat and tidy on the shelf and because it helps prolong the life of the zine.

Figure 7. Zine shelving at MGL


Because zines vary so widely in size, it’s hard to shelve them. We’re currently using two metal periodical racks (see Figure 7). Once the collection grows, we’ll buy a larger rack or shelf. You can also use magazine or file boxes.

How will you pay for them? What will your budget be?

Paying for zines is another challenge for several reasons: Most zines cost only $2 or $3, so it’s hardly worth writing a check. And many zine publishers won’t or can’t accept checks as payment. On the other hand, your business office probably won’t want you to send cash payments through the mail, which is how most zine transactions are conducted by zine readers.

The easy solution is to buy zines from distros, or zine distributors. Zine distros allow you to purchase several zines at one time, may accept credit card, check or online orders, and usually have good descriptions about the zines they sell which helps you make your purchase. They may also be able to give you guidance on the appropriateness of any titles for your collection or make recommendations for you. Figure 8 shows Microcosm Publishing’s website. They’re the largest zine distributor and work with several libraries. Their contact information is on the Resources handout.

Figure 8. Microcosm Publishing website


If you do work out a system for ordering zines directly from the publisher, the best place to find zines is by using zine review publications, for example Zine World, which is the zine I publish. Zine World is the nation’s largest zine review publication. We print reviews of zines, mini-comics, independently published books, and other alternative media. We also write news about zines, publishing, and First Amendment issues. Another good review zine is Xerography Debt, which has more of a personal review style. There are also places online where you can find out about new zines. Several of those are listed on the Resources handout.

We started with a budget of $300 for this fiscal year. The budget hasn’t been approved for next year, but I asked for at least $600. We are also able to supplement our collection with donations. Once you start publicizing your collection, don’t be surprised to see donations come from all over. Many zine publishers are happy to donate their zines. Zine publishers are not into this to make money – they’re doing this because they have a passion for creating. What better way to get your zine read by lots of people than to have it in a library? You may also have patrons who bring in donations. Shown in Figure 9 are two locally published poetry chapbooks donated to our collection by a library patron.

Figure 9. Donated chapbooks


About our collection

We decided to debut our collection with an open house. I gave an introductory talk about zines and our collection and took questions from the audience. A local screenprinting shop created a fabulous poster for us to help advertise the open house.

Figure 10. Open house at MGL

We had about 25 people attend the opening. At least one person signed up for a library card specifically so he could check out a few zines, and about 30 zines were checked out that day. We currently have 109 zines in the collection with dozens more to be cataloged soon. Within one month, we had a total of 83 checkouts.

Before the collection debuted, I created a FAQ for library staff and we encouraged staff to visit our cataloging area to see the zines. This helped create interest among the staff, as well as to prepare staff for questions from the public, as many of our staff had never seen or heard of zines before. We also posted a FAQ on the library’s website and created an email newsletter to regularly promote the collection. We received good coverage in our local media, and we’re continuing to promote the collection using flyers in local businesses frequented by teens and 20-something adults.

We plan to continue growing our collection, and I anticipate that we will easily double its size within a few months. Additionally, our library plans to offer a workshop later this year on how to make a zine. We also recently started a Teen Advisory Board, and its members have expressed excitement about the collection, including plans to publish their own zine.

Zine Programming

These are just two ways you can use a zine collection to create an interest in the library among young adults. Other ideas you could consider include:

  • Open mike readings
    • This could include local people reading their works, or you could host a zine publisher doing a spoken word tour
  • In addition to having your teen group make its own zine, you could encourage them to make booklists or other materials in a zine format
  • Visiting schools
    • Give a presentation to a creative writing or literature class
    • Partner with a class or student group to have the students study zines and/or make their own zine
  • Partnerships with local youth groups – We have a group in Murfreesboro called the Youth Culture & Art Center that is working to create a community center for youth. They regularly offer art and recording workshops, and its members are involved in the annual Southern Girls Rock and Roll Camp, which includes a zine-making workshop as part of its program. We’re going to work together to develop the library’s zine workshop, and we plan to visit the Rock and Roll Camp to talk about the library’s zine collection.

Figure 11. Materials from a zine workshop

Hosting a workshop on how to make a zine is a pretty easy program to do, even if you have no zine experience yourself. It’s easy because there are basically no rules to zine publishing, and because you can find a lot of resources on how to make zines. One of the best resources is Stolen Sharpie Revolution, which is a how-to on everything zine-related. There are also several resources available online; we have links to some at the Zine World website.

One of your handouts has information on how to do a zine workshop. Although it was not written for libraries, it can easily be adapted to suit your needs. The images you see in Figure 12 are from a workshop offered by that group.

Figure 12. A zine workshop

Your workshop can be as small or as grand as you want it to be. You could offer a short one hour program, introducing participants to zines and giving them some guidance on how to make their own zines, then release them to do the work themselves. Or you could have a longer workshop where you work with the participants with the goal of creating a zine by the program’s end. Or perhaps you’ll find that you have a large number of patrons interested in the comics genre. You could offer a how-to-make comics workshop just for them. The materials needed to make a zine are cheap and are things you probably won’t even have to buy because you’ve already got them on hand: paper, pens, markers, scissors, gluesticks, a computer or a typewriter, a photocopier, a stapler, maybe some old magazines to use for cut and paste clip art.

There are great rewards to offering a workshop such as this – even if your library doesn’t have its own zine collection. You’re showing youth that the library does have something to offer them. By coming to the library for the zine workshop, perhaps they’ll also see all the other things you have to offer, such as online resources, homework help, or AV materials. You’re also helping to inspire creativity in youth and to improve their literacy skills. Plus, at the end of the workshop, you’ll also have a new zine to add to your collection, with the potential for more zines to come. Most people who get into zine publishing really get into it, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see your workshop participants go on to produce their own independent zines.

I want to conclude my presentation by sharing another quote with you. In her book From A to Zine, Julie Bartel talks about her connection with a teenager who learned about Salt Lake City Library’s zine collection through a school program presented by the library. Julie said:

“She, like many of her classmates, assumed that the library had little to offer her in the way of materials or community, and consequently felt no immediate connection to the idea that … libraries change lives. Shortly after the ‘Make a Racket’ program, Moey began volunteering at the library, helping with the zine collection and working on other projects. … Just after she graduated from high school, I hired her as an aide.” (Bartel 2004, p. 13).

Julie shares a portion of an email Moey sent to her shortly after she began working at the library:

“Do you realize that you saved my life by coming into my classroom with a stack of zines? I don’t think any physical realm could illustrate the vibrancy and anticipation that beamed through my body that day (and every day since). Suddenly, I was like “I can do my own thing and not get in trouble! … I would love to be a part of the creative process … working on not ‘dealing’ with teens, but connecting with them and listening to them. …” (Bartel 2004, p. 13).

Figure 13. Various zines

I really believe that zines can offer you enormous possibilities for connecting with young adults, and I hope that you will consider adding a zine collection to your library.


Landers, Chris. (1997, April 11).Q+A: Zines: Miriam DesHarnais. Baltimore City Paper, from website:

Bartel, Julie. (2004). From A to Zine: Building a Winning Zine Collection in Your Library (p.110-111). Chicago: American Library Association.

Appendix A

Download presentation handouts.

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