Duke hosts conference focused on self-published zines

Jul. 18, 2014 @ 07:15 PM

At a conference for zine librarians at Duke University on Friday, curators and authors of the self-published magazine convened to share ideas about a medium that they say has given an unfiltered voice to people outside the mainstream.

“I think the thing about (zines is) that they’re unmediated,” said Laura Micham, director of Duke’s women’s history-oriented-library the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History & Culture. The center has more than 5,000 zines in its collection, she said, some written by teenaged girls and women on issues ranging from body politics to feminism to queer and transgender issues.

The center’s collection was part of the draw to Duke this year for the 2014 Zine Librarians (un)Conference + Zine Reading, according to a release about the conference from Duke University Libraries.

The conference brings together zine librarians from the area and country who often work independently so they can share ideas, said Kelly Wooten, research services and collection development librarian at the Sallie Bingham Center.

Wooten said about 40 people registered for this year’s conference, which was set to include discussions about international zines and outreach efforts to the public, among other topics. On Friday, the discussion included ethnical questions about public access to zines, which have been written by teenage girls before the Internet age, said Jan Radway, a professor of communications, American and gender studies at Northwestern University.

And Lisa Darms, senior archivist at New York University’s Fales Library & Special Collections and the curator of the widely researched collection of zines from the Riot Grrrl female punk rock movement, said they were not always written with wide public distribution in mind. That raises questions about how librarians make them accessible.

Radway said that question has come into play in her work on an oral history archival project that focuses on girl zines from the 1990s. How she cites young authors of the works can be a complicated question, she said.

But part of the continued relevance for zines today is that they are a medium for sharing and discussing potentially controversial topics that people “still don’t want to be that public,” Wooten said, such as about sexual violence or queer issues.

“I feel that it’s still a really good space for these topics,” she said.

Wooten also said there’s a draw for some people because of the do-it-yourself attitude of publication. Zines have their origins in fanzines and magazines written in the 1930s by science-fiction fans, she said. In the 1960s, many were alternative culture publications about music, while in the 1980s, and ’90s, zines focused on punk music and culture and took the form of photocopied paper publications.

There has been a more recent lull in new zine publication due to the excitement and frenzy of the Internet, said Jenna Freedman, zine librarian at Barnard College, but she said she believes they’re on the upswing from where they were five years ago.

“I feel like people have sort of longed for the common intimacy of paper,” she said.

That was part of the draw for Willie J. Wright, a graduate student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Department of Geography. He collaborated with friends and fellow students to create a zine called “The Whirlwind” that covers issues of racism as well as geography.

“Everyone doesn’t have access to the Internet,” Wright said. “Also I prefer to have something in my hands.”

Wright said they wanted to reach friends and family who may not have Internet access or who may be incarcerated. And he described the zine as an outlet for academics outside of the long peer-review process for publication in academic journals.

“It’s another way of showing that although (we’re) in academic work, we have our own lives outside of academics,” he said. “People want to speak to the outside.”

The conference continues Saturday with one section from 1 to 2:30 p.m. focused on the Bingham Center’s zine collection. Wooten said she expects they will be simulating an interaction instruction session, and will have a table with boxes full of zines available to read and talk about. On Friday, there was a scheduled public reading from 5:30 to 7 p.m. at the Pinhook on Main Street.