Zines: a DIY + Scholarly Exploration

Zines! For many people, they bring to mind an image of an oblong, photocopied little booklet – possibly handwritten, probably not spell-checked, and potentially stuffed with collages and unusual images of all kinds.

Could these humble, self-published creations be a source of scholarly inquiry?

Indeed, there is more to zines than meets the eye: there are many possible ways to use zines as primary sources for your research. Scholars have drawn upon zines in their studies of riot grrl, punk, and other subcultural movements – as well as using them as a data set in the field of Psychology.

“But,” you say, “I don’t see zines sold at my local bookstore, newsstand, or library – how does one find them?” Through the hard work of librarians and devoted collectors, NYC is replete with zine libraries:

  • ABC No Rio – Created as a community space on the Lower East Side in 1980, ABC No Rio is also home to a tremendous collection of over 13,000 zines.
  • CUNY’s own Brooklyn College has a zine library, established in 2011 by librarian Alycia Sellie. These zines are non-circulating, but may be visited in the library using your CUNY ID-card.
  • DiTKO! Zine Library is located in Bushwick at the music/performance/community space, Silent Barn, and accessible to the public.
  • Barnard College sustains a thriving zine collection of over 7,000 titles, “with an emphasis on zines by women of color. We collect zines on feminism and femme identity by people of all genders.”

There’s also the online zine archive, QZAP (Queer Zine Archive Project). With the goal of “providing access to the historical canon of queer zines,” QZAP digitizes materials with the consent of their creators, opening up the collection to public view.

Across the country, you’re never too far from a zine collection – whether as part of a public library, or within an academic institution.

And perhaps the most fun way to access zines is to procure them directly, from their creators, at a zinefest or small press fair. Zinefests have an effervescent quality, in that they pop up quickly, sometimes in clusters (like the multiple feminist zinefests of 2013-14), and yet, very likely may never occur again. The website Stolen Sharpie Revolution, includes an up-to-date and comprehensive list of zinefests of the past, present, and the more elusive category: “Seemingly Gone But Not Forgotten.”

Finally, as you begin your research journey into the world of zines, it’s always good to check out the Code of Ethics. Developed at a Zine Librarian Un-Conference in 2014, the document (also printable as a zine) details some of the possible concerns involved with citation and other use of these materials (some of which were created in a pre-internet world).

Have you used zines in your research? Feel free to comment below with your own research experiences, or questions you have about this topic.

About the Author

Elvis Bakaitis is currently the Head of Reference at the Mina Rees Library. They're also proud to serve on the University LGBTQ Council, and as a board member of CLAGS: The Center for LGBTQ Studies.