Story and photo by Matthew Murray
After several years of planning, the Vancouver Public Library has finally launched its zine collection, the first of its kind in the province. Featuring hundreds of zines from across the world, these do-it-yourself publications expose the public to views and ideas not otherwise represented in the library.
“In today’s publishing climate, most publishing companies are owned by a few media conglomerates and that ends up limiting the range of ideas, topics and perspectives in mainstream publishing,” says librarian Caroline Crowe, head of the group in charge of zines at the Vancouver Public Library (VPL). “Zines end up offering all spectrums of ideas and unfiltered interpretations of the world that we might not otherwise be able to access.”
A zine is a self-published magazine, comic or book. Frequently of a small size and print run, they are usually photocopied and stapled by the creator or “zinester”. Crowe believes zines are able to express minority views not otherwise represented in the library’s collection.
“We’re able to tap into segments of the population who generally feel disenfranchised from the library or from traditional media,” she says.
Crowe hopes groups who feel socially and economically marginalized such as people living in poverty, struggling with mental illness and surviving abuse will be able to find material in zines not otherwise available to them. She also thinks they can inspire underrepresented people to express themselves.
“We are trying to focus our collections and have people in the community play a more active role in what we develop and what we collect,” says Crowe, “and clearly it’s an active role if they’ve written the material themselves.”
Because of their importance, the VPL has decided to keep copies of locally produced zines in its special collections department as it fulfills its mandate of acquiring rare and unique historical source material that documents the heritage of British Columbia. Crowe says zines offer a snapshot of the current period in history and will be invaluable to future researchers adding minority opinions to the cultural record of the area.
There are about 500 zines in the downtown branch of the VPL but the number is growing. Crowe says she has “a box full of them” that still have to be catalogued and more are being donated and purchased all the time. While only currently available at the downtown branch, the eventual goal is to have zines at other branches as well. In the future, Crowe hopes the library will give zinesters the opportunity to participate in talks and readings about their work.
The zines already available in the VPL cover a variety of topics: medical, how-tos (fix your bike, silk screen, forage for food, be a single mother, brew your own alcohol), political, travel, cooking, dating guides, surviving without rent/squatting and personal zines (or perzines), which are usually like memoirs or journals but can also be in the form of comics.
“The list is endless,” says Crowe, “because it’s whatever someone feels like they want to talk about.”
Art zines are especially prevalent in Vancouver and the VPL’s collection reflects this. One reason for the large number of art zines made in this city is Emily Carr University of Art and Design, which has a program requiring students to make books.
Brandy Fedoruk and Rebecca Dolen are the proprietors of the Lower Case Reading Room, a zine library located in the Regional Assembly of Text a Vancouver stationary and gift store. Fedoruk and Dolen both went to Emily Carr and began making zines in their bookmaking classes.
“We were forced to make them,” says Fedoruk, “then after that I think we fell in love with making them.”
They began collecting zines and since they had extra space in their store, opened the library because, says Dolen, “it was a shame to keep them in boxes under our beds.”
One major benefit the VPL has over boxes under people’s beds is its efforts to fully catalogue its collection. If you search for tree planting, for example, you could get books on the topic by traditional publishers, but also a zine someone made about their summer experiences working as a tree planter. But it can be difficult work to catalogue everything.
“There’s a lot [of zines] that don’t have the authors on them,” says Crowe “Some of them don’t even have titles.”
Another problem is durability. Crowe isn’t sure yet, as the zines only entered circulation recently, but they seem to be okay so far. She does admit that “stuff is going to get damaged.” While the VPL debated keeping the zines solely as a reference collection because of this it decided the benefits of having the zines circulating outweighed the negatives.
“For us, a greater concern was offering access to the public,” says Crowe “which is why we ended up making the whole collection circulating.”
Preserving locally produced zines in the special collections department allows for the best of both worlds.
“We know that it’s an ephemeral collection, so we’re prepared for that,” says Crowe. “You can’t get out of print materials like you can with a novel. We know that we’re just going to have to keep replenishing it.”
Having their work available at the library is great exposure for zinesters. Lois Klassen, a local artist, has made several zines documenting her Comforter Art Action project, which makes blankets and quilts for displaced people and families. She makes zines because she feels they are “a way of getting your message out on your own terms and sharing your ideas with others using the most approachable of book forms.”
Zines also introduce library users to less processed media they might not have been exposed to and may not have access to.
Peter, a library user, is excited the VPL is now stocking zines. “It’s really cool that they have them here.” He likes zines because they relate subject matter that receives less widespread coverage. “They’re really independent, and they give an uncensored view of things,” he says.
Crowe believes zines act as a record of non-mainstream social history. “We view zines as a type of primary source,” she says, “which are as important as a scrap book or a journal or a diary or street papers, for understanding today’s culture.”