In 2012, Ziba Perez Zehdar rediscovered zines, those little anti-authoritarian pieces of self-published paper 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 a decade since Zehdar's high school friend last turned poetry, photos and crossword puzzles from other members of their crew into a photocopied, 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,'” recalls Zehdar, who is now an adult services librarian with Orange County Public Libraries (OCPL).
At the time, she was employed by UC Irvine while working toward her degree in library sciences, and her mentor—a visual arts librarian—had started collecting zines for possible circulation. It was also the year Zehdar attended her first American Library Association's annual conference, at which there was a presentation titled “Zines in Libraries: Collecting, Cataloging, and Community.” An idea germinated.
“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 the Donald Dungan branch in Costa Mesa], I said, 'I have to start this here.'”
Short for magazines or fanzines, zines originated in the 1940s with science-fiction fans who couldn't find mainstream press for their gossip, but today, they 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. They are hard to define and, most of the time, hard to find, available for purchase only at independent bookstores or one of the dozens of zine fests—including last month's OC Zine Fest—that now occur around the country. And aside from DIY event venues or pop-up alternative spaces with mini zine collections (such as 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 that, many argue, deserve to be accessed.
Academic libraries have a little more wiggle room for accepting funky items such as zines, and the earliest and largest such 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—including San Francisco, New York, Salt Lake City, Portland, even Jacksonville, Florida—are accepting donations while scouring resources for more.
“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. “Zines are 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.”
After being hired full-time by OCPL this February, Zehdar wasted no time in 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; the next month, she organized a school-age zine workshop that gave children the supplies to make their zines. She collected donations from McHank and other zinesters (this author included) and attended this year's L.A. Zine Fest, purchasing even more works to fill a small zine display at Donald Dungan (none of the zines is 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 in bibliographic services about turning her stack of 30 zines into the beginning of an official, circulating collection. 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?”
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 zines should even be in libraries, for a 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 catalog them? Do you separate them by age-appropriateness? Which branch will house it? And what about copyrights? As many zines are crafted using appropriated images, what is the liability of a library system circulating such materials?
“That's the No. 1 concern I feel for OC Public Libraries is liability,” Zehdar says. “Librarians are very big on that stuff, and this is a totally new thing, too, so no one knows.”
Salt Lake City Public Library, which claims to be home to the largest circulating zine collection west of the Mississippi, can serve as an example, Zehdar says. She stumbled across that collection while visiting friends in Utah in between promoting her zine workshops a few months ago. She spoke with that library's cataloguer about its organization and methodology, took photos of the setup, and then brought back all the paperwork and documentation to add to her thickening case for a circulating zine collection in OC.
At the inaugural OC Zine Fest, Zehdar presented a workshop titled “Your Zine in a Library,” implying there are enough zine libraries to necessitate a how-to session on submitting to them all. “Comic-Con . . . has gotten bigger and bigger each year,” Zehdar says. “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.”
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.”
Sarah Bennett is a freelance journalist who has spent nearly a decade covering food, music, craft beer, arts, culture and all sorts of bizarro things that interest her for local, regional and national publications.