Why Zines and Independent Publishing are Important for Communities

My best friend Becky and I weren’t aware of the long history surrounding “zines” when we first started making our own. As described by Barnard Zine Library, “A zine is a self-publication, motivated by a desire for self-expression, not for profit.” Similarly, for Becky and I, zines presented a creative outlet, a module that provided space for our own writing, reviews and art. Additionally, the process of zine creation provided us with a productive way to spend time together, hang out, and process the world around us. They placed the power of publishing into our own hands. Using a sewing machine, we bound about 50 issues of our first zine, Grand, which we gave away to friends and family. Becky and I didn’t expect fame and fortune through the publication, but in Grand’s finished pages, we encountered something much more valuable – the realization that power of publishing can belong in the hands of individuals possessing paper, a pair of scissors, glue and of course, the will to create and share.

Independent publishing is essential considering the fact that top publishing houses most often release material that makes an appeal to a broad mainstream public. This naturally reflects the corporation’s motives for making a profit. Books and magazines devoted to independent voices are rarely printed by large publishing houses. Authors of books featuring less favored opinions, themes, or material may encounter great difficulty in releasing even the smallest of print-runs. Most of the material published by such large houses usually appeals to mainstream tastes, which are often exclusive of voices that make local communities unique and colorful. Zines and other small-scale publications insure that voices not often heard are recorded by encapsulating the work driven by ideas, passion and craft.

Many organizations today understand the importance of small-scale, independent publishing and zines. Libraries and book stores across the nation have begun to incorporate zines into their collection. One such library is the Barnard Zine Library, which was established at Barnard College of Columbia University in 2003 by Jenna Freedman and whose collection is catalogued in WorldCAT, the world’s largest network of library content and services. Other organizations that currently house and/or promote zine publications include the New York Public Library (NY), University of Michigan (MI), Hampshire College (MA), Papercut Zine Library (MA), The Soapbox: Philadelphia’s Independent Publishing Center (PA) and the Independent Publishing Resource Center (OR, among others.

These organizations believe that housing zine collections is important to their communities. The Barnard Zine Library’s collection is welcomed by both the academics and students of Barnard community. Carol Falcione, the Dean of Information Services at Barnard, summarizes the importance of the Zine Library to not only the Barnard College campus, but also society at large as “zines offer an atypical, non-traditional take on popular culture and give voice to the social and political perspectives of contemporary, non-mainstream society. The research potential of this material can never be explored or fulfilled if it is not collected, preserved and made accessible in some organized fashion” (Freedman, 4) Another opinion of the Zine Library was expressed by Jennie Rose Halperin, a sophomore at Barnard, who said that “learning about zines has opened a new door in exploring media and art for me. Ever since I discovered the zine collection at Barnard, I have been thrilled to have it as a part of my library. Zines are an incredible resource for me as an activist, as a writer, and as a woman.” (Freedman, 4)

Other organizations that promote zine literacy include Microcosm Publishing and Distribution (M.P. is a small publisher of zines, books and other material, while latter, M.D., spotlights independent art and publishing “while helping provide tools for self-sufficiency and empowerment, Pioneers Press, Bluestockings (an volunteer run bookstore and activist center in Manhattan), and among many others, Maximumrocknroll (a monthly fanzine dedicated to “supporting the underground punk rock scene” for over 25-years).
In a recent Mercer County Library blog entry, “Comic-Books, a truly American Literary Format”, I described a comic-book writing workshop geared for children ages 7-11. As part of this program, the participants not only create comics, but they also learned about self-publishing. The collection of comics they created were printed into zine-formatted anthologies. Through such projects, the power of publishing was placed directly into the hands of children.

Zines and small-scale publishing assures that voices not commonly heard are recognized and recorded. They are vital to not only communities and culture that aren’t commonly part of the mainstream culture, but to all interested in creative expression. In addition, as evidenced through the comic workshop provided at the West Windsor Branch of the Mercer County Library System, zines and other small-scale publications provide meaningful spaces of expression for children. The communities that represent our great nation are diverse and colorful, and their voices and history will continue to be recorded through independent and small-scale publishing.

Freedman, J. (2008). Barnard Zine Library Zine. Barnard College.

-Dragana D.


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