Pencil shavings in the infosphere: Zines and libraries

“There are several striking differences between our concept of education today and that of any contemporary primitive society, but perhaps the most important one is the shift from the need for an individual to learn something which everyone agrees he would wish to know, to the will of some individual to teach something which it is not agreed that anyone has any desire to know. Such a shift in emphasis could come only with the breakdown of self-contained and self-respecting cultural homogeneity.” –Margaret Mead (1942)

Education Building uploaded to Flickr by my new wintercoat on March 8 2007, creative commons

Blogs are in a way a very visible extension of the breakdown Ms. Mead was writing about; they are at heart extremely successful and easy to publish zines. (I know, that idea makes some people purple with frustration, but I think the analogy is valid and does not denigrate zines’ uniqueness; libraries should be archiving bogs as well, but that’s another post entirely) One 2005 count found there to be over 70 million blogs — numbers that suggest more than a passing fad, I would think.

The impulse to create paper zines has not passed on by any stretch (Quimby’s Bookstore, anyone?), but is has diffused itself digitally into innumerable outlets. The most obvious perhaps are MySpace and Facebook, whose users are often younger and remarkably passionate about their content. (I’m not a talking about the commercial sites, or the music networks — I prefer blogs and basic review aggregators for that kind of content anyway.) For more targeted searching, many are making use of Technorati, Google Blog Search, Stumble Upon, Digg and Ice Rocket, or just collecting personal RSS and Atom feeds through Netvibes and its ilk. The possibilities are staggering…

Personal web pages can also fulfill the need to publish a zine, especially all the discographies, filmographies and crazy fan fiction out there. For people who don’t have the time to blog, there are always the tumblelogs from Tumblr: ” To make a simple analogy: If blogs are journals, tumblelogs are scrapbooks.” Then there’s social networking like you might find through Ning, Second Life, 43 Things, Flickr, Vampire Freaks, XING, Mixi, Ecademy and…well, hundreds of others, which offer opportunities for personalization and community like never before.

Part of the fun of publishing a zine is creating a social network and seeing the mad passions of people everywhere in the world. The wondrous thing about the web, exactly like zines, is just how diverse it is; one can find support for almost every interest in existence, from the mainstream (Baseball Almanac — The Official Baseball History Site) to the obscure (Breeding Mbuna Cichlids) to the baffling (the Codex Seraphinianvs by Luigi Serafini). Plus, the web can easily compliment zines — if Bananafish mentions some hopeless obscure Argentinean composer Nelson Gastaldi then I can certainly find a link to an mp3 sample somewhere, or even video on Youtube if I’m lucky.

Paper zines are so valuable for their rarity and viewpoint, but often delightfully affordable for small libraries. Plus, minority communities that might not think of the library otherwise could find themselves valued and respected through representation in their local libraries’ collection. There are numerous libraries that already have significant zine collections, including the Barnard College Library and the New York Public Library. Growing recognition of zines is obvious from the burgeoning list of scholarly advocates — current articles are trying to lay down the ground rules for collecting zines, as well as convince wary administrations of their value and uniqueness. Many library workers write zines too! For an even more overwhelming number of resources check out these links to zine-related articles, suggestions, and public, private, college and volunteer library collections.

A wonderful resource (that needs a lot of help with content, so sign up) is ZineWiki. They are attempting to catalog a dangerously bulging briefcase of zines, with histories and links offering real-time life support for deceased projects, and pointers highlighting ongoing publications. “As content grows, it has been suggested that ZineWiki act as a central catalog for zine librarians. The ZineWiki site is the first of its kind, in that any zinester or librarian could catalog a new issue/title as it becomes available, and the result would be instantly searchable, for free, from anywhere around the globe. Building a universal cataloging system would also assist the effort towards persuading public libraries to include zines in their collection.”

Borrowed from August 24th 2006 post on Let’s Be Friends blog

I suppose I have a fairly inclusive view of what is educational. The Internet makes it so easy to participate, to be involved and to communicate, that lifelong learning does not seem like something we need to promote to a resistant public. Literacy is not only about learning to read, it is just as important to be able to write, and today to be able to respond to what our peers are creating across the breadth of the Internet. I feel as though librarians are struggling to catch up, by learning to corral floating threads of human interest into flexible arenas. I love seeing all of the efforts to legitimize alternative collections, and find value through more than just scholarly journals or books. It’s all a matter of how we pay attention to our respective communities.


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