The Fine Arts Library has a collection of over 500 zines focused on art, music, performance, as well as zines created by regional and local authors. Zines are typically described as self-published or DIY works that have limited editions. Zines are often made of 8 ½ by 11 sheets of paper folded in half and stapled together. Early zines emerged from science fiction fandom, though over time different social and counter-cultural movements adopted the medium as a way to disseminate information and share ideas. More recently, artists also adopted zines as a creative medium and method to distribute work outside mainstream channels within the art world. Many cities around the country and world, including our Texas neighbors in Houston and Dallas, have zine or independent publishing festivals.
Back in January, a group of Austin librarians and zine makers gathered to discuss the possibility of creating a new festival called Lone Star Zine Fest (LSZF). LSZF took place on June 11th at Cheer Up Charlies and was co-sponsored by UT Libraries, Sherwood Forest Library, Town Talk Library, and artist Josh Ronsen. The goal for this festival was to create a space for Austin’s artists, poets, zinesters, and zine-lovers to come together as a community to celebrate and share work. LSZF had close to 30 exhibitors participate and over 375 attendees during the Sunday afternoon event.
Longhorns were well represented at LSZF as exhibitors and attendees. Several graduate students, undergraduate students and staff shared their zines or small presses. The UT Libraries also had a table where Gina Bastone, English Librarian, and I highlighted the Zine Collection at Fine Arts Library and UT Poetry Center at the Perry-Castañeda Library.
Gina and I also created a zine to use as an outreach tool that playfully describes the two complementary collections to readers. Members of the public along with UT students, faculty, and staff who stopped by our table expressed surprise to hear these two collections were present within the libraries. The library zine proved to be a fun outreach tool that we plan to continue using with our respective departments.
In addition to working with Gina to promote our collections, I also represented UTL on the planning committee for the festival. Serving as a co-sponsor of this event, shows Longhorns and Austinites alike the value UTL places on supporting creativity on campus and within our city. As the liaison to the Art and Art History department, it is important to me to help create spaces on campus and within the greater Austin community that celebrate makers and their creative output. One of my favorite moments of the day was an exchange with an Art History student. Upon checking in to exhibit at the festival, the student remarked that I am their librarian. The student expressed excitement that UTL helped put on an event like LSZF. This was one of the many positive remarks heard from Longhorns throughout the day, demonstrating the importance events like this have to our community.
Stop by the Fine Arts Library or UT Poetry Center to see new zines and chapbooks acquired at the festival.
The FAL began collecting ‘zines in 2010 with some guidance from Russell Etchen, the manager/curator of the much-beloved and gone-too-soon Domy Books, which provided Austin (and Houston before) with an opportunity for browsing (and occasionally purchasing) niche publications and other media in art, design, literature and photography. Domy closed and Etchen moved on, but he’s maintained his ties to Austin, and he recently generously donated his personal collection of ‘zines to FAL — four large boxes of rare and sometimes unique works that represent a breadth of formats and genres, and superlative examples of the form.
Russell is returning to Austin for a visit and a show at Co-Lab Projects’ Demo Gallery (721 Congress Avenue), and kindly accepted an invitation to moderate the panel at FAL. He also took some time out to answer a few questions from us about his own experiences with self-publishing.
Tex Libris: Since they are such a very outsider form, what was your entrée into the world of ‘zines?
Russell Etchen: I started reading Mad Magazine and superhero comics first. Had a subscription box at my local strip mall comic and game shop and went weekly.
RE: I was always both. I collected to create. I created to collect.
How many ‘zines have you produced, and are you still making them today?
RE: I’ve produced two dozen, maybe three dozen ‘zines to date. I still self publish now and then for myself and others. Two last fall. Nothing currently in the works.
My personal memory of you is from Domy Books, and I know that (former head librarian) Laura Schwartz connected with you during that time to get your help in developing what became the ‘zine archive at FAL. Can you tell me a little bit about how you met Laura and what you did to help guide her in choosing materials?
RE: Unless I’m mistaken, I met Beth and Tim Kerr first. They both work/worked in the UT library system for decades. Beth introduced me to Laura, and Laura let me know that she was working with a budget to start purchasing interesting small press and self-published publications.
Selfishly, I guided Laura to works I was particularly fond of and publications I felt wouldn’t get archived anywhere else.
Did you use the same criteria for developing your own collection, or was that more organic?
RE: A mix. Mostly organic, but sometimes strategic. I was seeking the underground and was trying to go as deep as I could. I was looking for fellow outliers and I found them. So many of them.
How would you describe the purpose(s) of a ‘zine? Or does that question even have an answer?
RE: A ‘zine is self published self-expression. An extension of a perceived community and was/is cultural currency. You want to trade? I make one, too.
How would you characterize the relevancy or currency of ‘zines today? What’s their relationship to technology? This is a recurring question that we have to consider at the libraries regarding physical/digital.
RE: To me, these days, they seem to be primarily an extension of the business card or portfolio. Or one-upmanship within a scene (echo chamber). Too precious. A digital generation discovering the analog and turning it into a fetish. Exceptions abound, but it feels like an inversion of itself. I don’t trust them anymore. The intentions have been blurred.
What made you decide to donate your collection to FAL? It’s pretty amazing, and based on the small segment I’ve seen, encompasses a broad variety of types and formats.
RE: After spending twenty years collecting and editing the collection, moving it everywhere I went and hardly ever looking at them anymore, I finally decided that someone else will get much more out of them. That, and I need the space while still wanting to know my “stash” is relatively safe and accessible. Plus, someone else is going to catalog it all for me!
What do you hope people get out of having access to your collection?
RE: Should one person rifle through them and find inspiration, my job is done. Should another person find that obscure publication that helps their research, my job will be done. Beyond that, I just know they’ll just sit in boxes in my closet and continue to decay and that would be a waste. I care too much about analog history to do that to them. And I’m done with them.
Are you still collecting?
RE: I’m actively un-collecting at this point, but I will still pick up cheap paperback literature for the same reason I picked up comics or ‘zines. To feel like I’m saving a small slice of history from absolute oblivion, and ’cause there are just too many books I want to read before I’m dust.
Gallery of covers from Etchen’s ‘zine donation:
Thursday’s panel features photographer/publisher Kelly Dugan of Peachfuzz, visual artist James Huizar of Puro Chingon Collective, editor/curator Amarie Gipson of MUD Magazine, designer/curator Phillip Niemeyer of Northern-Southern, and mail artist/musician Josh Ronsen of Monk Mink Pink Punk.Click for more info.
Mark Goodwin is a project assistant for HeadsUpGuys and student librarian in the Music, Art and Architecture Library at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. He undertook a practicum with Music Librarian David Hunter of the Fine Arts Library at UT this spring. He has graciously provided the following reflections on his time in Austin.
For my two-week practicum, I was extremely fortunate to be given the opportunity to work under Music Librarian and Musicologist Dr. David Hunter at the Fine Arts Library at the University of Texas in Austin. My time there resulted in profound growth on both a professional and personal level.
Dr. Hunter was an outstanding mentor. He has a tremendous amount of experience and knowledge relating to the profession and was more than willing to share this wealth of experience with me. He was also exceptionally kind and constantly made sure I was getting the most out of my time, even going above an beyond my role in the library to inform me of events occurring throughout the city. In terms of my role, Dr. Hunter had me take on an assistant-type position in which I shadowed him and helped with his daily duties. This was key to making the experience an invaluable one for me, and I am extremely grateful to Dr. Hunter for giving me this role. Continue reading →
“Zines are not a new idea. They have been around under different names (ChapBooks, Pamphlets, Flyers). People with independent ideas have been getting their word out since there were printing presses.” ― Mark Todd, Whatcha Mean, What’s a Zine?
As institutions traditionally charged with gathering and providing access to the broadest range of information, libraries have in large part transitioned their focus from the physical to the digital realm of resources. But there are pockets of attention that remain fixed on collecting those materials that hold significantly greater value in a corporeal state.
In 2010, Fine Arts Library (FAL) Head Librarian Laura Schwartz joined a fledgling movement of librarians across the country in establishing a collection of DIY pamphlets, popularly known as “zines.”
Zines — short for “fanzines” — take a variety of forms, but are generally self-published and noncommercial, homemade or online publications often devoted to specialized or unconventional subject matter. Traditionally, zines have been published in small runs — less than 1000 copies — and most are produced on photocopiers or by other, more economical means.
At a time when virtually anyone with access to the web can reach an audience, the idea that your local Kinko’s still has the patronage of a subculture of the most indie of independent publishers seems almost absurd.
Schwartz is determined about her motivation to build the collection. “This is a form of art,” she says. “Museums or galleries do not typically collect this format, so it is incumbent upon libraries to do so.”
“Libraries have a history of collecting ephemeral and personal materials,” says Schwartz. “That is the essence of archives. Libraries are capturing a slice of history and culture of a particular time period by collecting zines.”
The FAL’s zine collection currently maintains over 200 items of state, regional and national origin, and recent donations will potentially double the size of the resource. The content of the materials covers a range of subjects including art, photography, music, skateboarding and Texas culture.
Schwartz was fortunate at the time of the collection’s inception to have a ready resource for development in the form of the manager of a specialized local bookstore, Russell Etchen of Domy Books. Being an artist and autodidact in zine history — as well as a curator/manager for the shop/gallery — Etchen had an informed perspective on the significance of the genre, and offered his insights as a service to preserving the form.
“Laura had an innate sense for what would and wouldn’t work when she started building the collection,” says Etchen. “We would walk through the store together a couple times a year, and I would share the works that I felt, at the time, were most deserving of preservation.”
“When it comes to the underground, there are no ‘right zines’,” says Etchen. “There is a very decentralized history behind self-publishing and generally we chose works that I felt had a unique history behind them or ahead of them.” Continue reading →