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Now that both record and bookstores are few and far between, where can you go to score the latest ‘zines? The answer may lie in your local library.

You’re at your public library looking for a book on abortion. Searching the nonfiction shelves, you come up with nothing, so you make your way to the information desk and ask the clerk for help. The librarian looks in the catalogue and, sure enough, there are no books on the topic in the catalogue—but they do have a few ‘zines on it. Wait, this library has a collection of ‘zines? You head over to find the information you were looking for and find, much to your surprise, even more uncensored DIY materials from all over the world, on a variety of subjects. 

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But What is a 'Zine?

As you may already know, ‘zines are self-published texts that are similar in form to magazines. Easy to make and distribute, they are the perfect medium for getting a wide variety of views out there, on paper, and on the cheap. Even in an increasingly digital world, people are discovering ‘zines and adding to their personal collections. The problem is, how do you find them? Turns out that libraries of many kinds—public, special, academic—have their own ‘zine collections. And small organizations like the Queer Zine Archive Project, which can be accessed online and is run by two queer punks in Milwaukee, can designate themselves a ‘zine library without being connected to an institution. 

In libraries, ‘zines can fill in information gaps and provide first-hand reports of events soon after they take place. While it can take years for a book to be published by a traditional press, folks who want to get their work on shelves as soon as possible are able to accomplish that by making a ‘zine and donating it to their local ‘zine collection. If it is accepted by the library, this ‘zinester will be part of the library in another exciting way—as an author. More importantly, this process illustrates the agency that many of us have in sharing our uncensored thoughts on issues that are important to us. 

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Find 'Zines--And Learn to Make Them!—At Your Local Library

After COVID hit the world, ‘zine librarians adjusted their focus to continue to fit their patrons’ needs. Rather than simply offering ‘zines to their visitors, libraries began promoting ‘zine-making kits, which are still being distributed by some. The Library of Congress, Barnard ‘Zine Library in New York City, and Heights Library in Cleveland are among the libraries that have collected work from contributors and compiled them into COVID ‘zines. 

Kelsey Smith, who “was introduced to ‘zines and ‘zine culture in the late ’80s and began actively reading ‘zines and attending ‘zine fests in the ’90s,” started the Olympia Zine Library in the summer of 2017 with support from her supervisor, the library’s administration, and one intern. Olympia, WA, is known for its seemingly endless do-it-yourself culture, yet despite the town’s familiarity with ‘zines, getting the Olympia Zine Library off the ground wasn’t easy. “I didn’t know enough at that time to realize how much work it was going to be to start a collection,” Smith says. The ‘zine collection, which is split between the Olympia and Lacey Timberland Libraries, includes over 1,700 texts, on a variety of subjects, including community building, fat positivity, homelessness, sustainability, and, of course, punk. 

Whether or not they have a ‘zine collection, libraries can, and do, hold ‘zine-making programs. Smith says that her library’s annual “24 Hour Zine Thing” event was her favorite. “Seeing a wide variety of library users, ranging in age from 5 to 85, making creative magic in a room full of typewriters, glue sticks, clip art/collage materials, long-armed staplers, and a photocopier,” she says, “is endlessly rewarding.”

Photos courtesy Alice Wynne

This article originally appeared in the Fall 2022 print edition of BUST Magazine. Subscribe today!