Do Zines Belong in OC's Public Libraries?

Ziba Perez Zehdar
Ziba Perez Zehdar
Sarah Bennett

In 2012, Ziba Perez Zehdar re-discovered zines, those little anti-authoritarian pieces of self-published paper long printed by everyone from science fiction fans to early LGBT activists to punk rockers and the Riotgrrrls. The first L.A. Zine Fest happened in February of that year and even though it had been more than ten years since Zehdar's high school friend last turned poetry, photos and even crossword puzzles from other members of their crew into a photocopied and hand-stapled scrapbook called Luna and Tuna, she bought a vendor table for them anyway.

"I told her 'For your birthday, I got us a booth at L.A. Zine Fest and you're going to make a new Luna and Tuna for it,'" Zehdar, who is now an Adult Services Librarian with the Orange County Public library system, remembers.

At the time, the young librarian was employed by the UC Irvine libraries while working towards her degree in library sciences, and her mentor--a visual arts librarian--had started collecting zines for possible circulation. 2012 was also the year that Zehdar first attended the American Library Association's annual conference, at which there was a presentation called "Zines in Libraries: Collecting, Cataloging, and Community." An idea germinated. "It all kind of started with me that year and ever since then, that was the thing I'm looking at: getting zines into libraries," she says. "As soon as I got this job [at OCPL's Donald Dungan branch in Costa Mesa], I said 'I have to start this here.'"

Zines--short for "magazines" or "fanzines"--is a blanket term for paper-bound self-published works usually made by hand and always printed in small quantities. Though they originated in the 1940s with science-fiction fans who could not find mainstream press for their gossip, zines today come in all shapes and sizes, from black-and-white, quarter-page booklets filled with punny doodles to yarn-bound, full-page treatises featuring personal prose and reflection.

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They are hard to define and most of the time hard to find, available for purchase only at small independent bookstores or in person at one of the dozens of zine fests--including the Orange County Zine Fest, happening Saturday--that now occur annually around the country. And aside from DIY event venues or pop-up alternative spaces with mini zine collections (like the Zine Library and Reading Room exhibition at the Great Park in Irvine last year), there are few physical places in greater Orange County where the public can browse local titles.

For traditional libraries, however, zines are anomalies--not books, not magazines and not quite graphic novels, the latter of which is itself the latest medium to make its way from popular culture to the institution's shelves. And yet they are relevant documentations of contemporary culture which, many argue, deserve to be accessed.

Through the utilization of special collections and archives, academic libraries have a little more wiggle room with accepting funky items like zines; and its no wonder that the earliest and largest library inclusions are on college campuses (UCLA and SDSU each have one). But public libraries have a little more trouble justifying incorporating zines into their offerings; and only a handful of systems--like San Francisco, New York, Salt Lake City, Portland and even Jacksonville, Fla.--are accepting donations and scouring resources for more of these little magazines to keep on site.

"In library college, I wanted to be an archivist and work with special collections, which is like working with zines in a way," says Zehdar, "because zines are very unique and they're not mass produced and that's how special collections are: rare materials that are not mass produced, which to me is very interesting."

Zehdar got hired by OCPL full-time this February and wasted no time introducing her patrons to the possibilities of self-publishing.

In April, she hosted an adult zine workshop at which mononymous San Diego zinester McHank presented his group zine Perpetually Twelve; and in May, she organized a school-age zine workshop at which children were introduced to the idea of self-publishing and given supplies to make their own. In addition to collecting donations from McHank and other zinesters (this author included), Zehdar attended this year's L.A. Zine Fest and purchased even more works, creating a small zine collection that is currently on display at her branch, but not available for checkout.

With zines also on the minds of other OCPL librarians--Laguna Hills Technology independently hosted a teen workshop in March and a branch in Garden Grove has expressed interest in doing a similar one soon--and the Zine Pavillion at this year's American Library Association conference its largest and most popular yet, Zehdar used the momentum to initiate a conversation to her higher ups about turning her stack of 30 zines into the beginnings of an official circulating zine collection for the system. It would be the first for a public library system in Southern California.

"The library is always going to be for the community, for whatever the public is interested in at the time. So as we see zines becoming more of a public interest, we want to bring that up," Zehdar says. "We have magazines and we have graphic novels. Let's think about zines. Why not?"  

Do Zines Belong in OC's Public Libraries?
Sarah Bennett

Zehdar's initial request (sent via email to the Bibliographic Services a few weeks ago) merely starts the conversation of bringing a formal zine collection into OCPL. The idea still needs to go through several channels of approval before it goes before the Orange County Board of Supervisors, who have the ultimate say.

Beyond the discussion of whether or not zines should even be in libraries, for a public library system as large as OCPL (34 branches!), there are also the more technical issues of circulating small-batch materials with various quirks of their own. How do you catalogue them? How do you separate them by age-appropriateness? Which branch will house it? And what about copyright issues?

Many zines are crafted entirely out of appropriated images. What is the liability of a library system circulating such materials?

"That's the number one concern I feel for OC Public Library is liability," Zehdar says. "Librarians are very big on that stuff and this is a totally new thing, too, so no one knows." One public library system that can serve as an example for OCPL, Zehdar says, is Salt Lake City Public Library, which claims to be home to the largest circulating zine collection west of the Mississippi. She stumbled across the collection while visiting friends in Utah in between promoting her zine workshops a few months ago and got excited after speaking with the cataloguer about their organization and methodology. She took photos of their setup and brought back all their paperwork and documentation to add to her thickening case for a circulating zine collection.

This weekend, Zehdar will be presenting a workshop called "Your Zine in a Library" at the first-ever Orange County Zine Fest. The topic's implication alone (that there are enough zine libraries to necessitate a how-to session on submitting to them all) is not only proof of more mainstream recognition for this once-underground culture, but also a testament to the constantly evolving nature of libraries themselves, places most people still think of as rooms in which you quietly read a book.

"ComicCon started once upon a time and it's gotten bigger and bigger each year. That's how I feel the zine fests are getting because there wasn't an OC Zine Fest before and all of a sudden, someone wants to do this. It just takes more interest to build it. We're catching on and it takes time," Zehdar says.

And what if her request to build a circulating zine collection gets turned down? "Even if they say not right now, I'll keep having more ideas," she says. "I'm never discouraged because libraries are always changing and evolving."

To donate zines to the OCPL, contact Ziba Perez Zehdar at ziba.zehdar@occr.ocgov.com. OC Zine Fest takes place Saturday, July 12, noon to 5 p.m., Diego's, 1058 E 1st St. Santa Ana. For full info, click here.

See also: Are Zines Making a Comeback Too?

Saturday: Orange County's First Zine Fest Hits Downtown Santa Ana

50 Best Things About the OC Music Scene

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