April 18, 2010
While I was in Portland for PLA2010, I–of course!–made a point to visit the central branch of the Multnomah County Library. I liked the tree sculpture in the children’s area and how they’ve made the old card catalog accessible for browsing, but what really caught my attention was the zine collection.
Zines–independent publications created by one person or a (usually) small group that are often photocopied–are big in Portland. It hosts the Portland Zine Symposium and is home to the Independent Publishing Resource Center. There’s even a zine about where to find zines in Portland. So since zine culture is so big in Portland, I was really excited to see the public library collecting them and making them available for circulation. I talked briefly with the reference librarian at the desk (who told me, among other things, that the zines actually circulate much, much more than any of their periodicals) and after returning home, I checked out the library’s website for more information and sent some questions to Emily-Jane Dawson, a reference librarian and a member of the library’s zine committee. She was really friendly and thorough in addressing my questions.
The idea to create a zine collection first began in 2004 when Julie Bartel and Brooke Young of the Salt Lake City Library did a presentation at PLA in Portland on their library’s zine collection and the outreach and zine-related events they’d done. Librarians from MCL were interested and put together a proposal for a pilot project, which eventually led to the creation of MCL’s zine committee, outreach and programs, and the zine collection. The collection first arrived in December 2006 and had its official debut in late January 2007. Dawson said that the challenges they faced in establishing the collection were what you’d expect with any new format or large project and mentioned doing internal training to introduce zines to the library staff and the outreach they did to a new segment of the population. Now nine of the library’s seventeen branches have zines available for checkout.
The library also offers a zine exchange that’s kind of like honors paperback collections or paperback exchanges: zines that aren’t part of the collection are available for taking and you can either bring it back or leave a copy of a different zine in its place.
One of the things I wondered about was where the library gets its zines. There are publishers and distributors, but since zine creation is so decentralized, those organizations will only get you so far. Dawson said the library buys zines at two different local publishing festivals, the Portland Zine Symposium, Stumptown Comics Fest, and local bookstores. They also accept donations, but they’re held to the same collection standards that donated books are. If someone would like their zine included in the library’s collection, they’re invited to send a copy to the library for evaluation along with information on where to purchase more. Librarians then determine whether or not the zine fits the collection development guidelines.
Being able to stay current on what’s going on in the zine scene is also important. Dawson pointed to zine-related library programs as a great way to know what’s new:
The zinesters who present at our annual Zinesters Talking series, for example, often let us know when they have new publications, introduce us to other zinesters, and so on. Also, we network at local zine events, talk with bookstore staff when we visit to buy zines, and read zine-related literature. In addition, some of the members of the library’s zine committee are involved in local independent publishing organizations in their personal lives.
I love that this reaching out to the zine community is mutually beneficial: the library is able to provide materials outside of the publishing mainstream, stay in touch with current trends and publications, and reach a population they might not otherwise. People in the zine community get another avenue for showing off their work and budding zinesters are given resources on developing their craft like a program on creating zines. One of my friends who lives in Portland actually got his library card after moving to the city at a table the library had set up at the Zine Symposium. This kind of initiative to get the library more involved in the community is such a great way for both the library and the community to benefit.
I was also interested in the weeding policy for zines and if the library did any work to create an archive of especially noteworthy zines. Dawson said that the weeding policy for the zine collection was modeled on the library’s general weeding policy; the two most important criteria are the physical condition of the zine and how well it circulated. They have a yearly weeding event based on circulation and the zine coordinators at each branch periodically weed based on condition. And while they don’t make an effort to preserve most zines, the closed-stack Oregon Collection does include zines that are about Oregon and the communities in it, and these zines are only accessible for in-library use.
I was really impressed with how hard the library worked to become a part of Portland’s zine culture. Offering zines as part of the library’s collection is a great way to showcase local talent and make these zines accessible to a wider audience and for the library to reflect local culture. The library also does a lot to offer programs and other outreach initiatives to develop partnerships with other people and organizations interested in zines, which pulls in people who might not otherwise be interested in the library and gives them the resources to develop their work.
For more on the library’s zine collection, check out their website, this post from 2007 at DIY Alert, and the interview Emily-Jane Dawson did with Sandra Morgan in the latest issue of the Oregon Library Association’s quarterly publication (the interview starts on page 21).
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