Debbie Cox
Elaine Bulluss
Publication date: 
Monday, 16 December, 2013

Zine talk presented on the 31st October 2013 at the ALIA National Library & Information Technicians Symposium 2013 held at the National Library of Australia.

Cataloguers - a quiet revolution is marking their evolution. They are not relics of the past but explorers stepping into the future, using new technologies to add value to the catalogue records they provide. The traditional idea of a cataloguer is someone sitting sedately at their desk with a book in one hand and their cataloguing tools in the other, describing what they have in MARCspeak.

Cast out this outdated image and step with us into the 21st century at the National Library of Australia. Our cataloguers no longer work in isolation without direct contact with the author or publisher, and with the end users nowhere in sight. This presentation will take zine and comic cataloguing as a case study to look at the transformation of NLA cataloguers from simple transcribers/describers into information seekers, who use new technologies to both enrich our metadata and then take the next step of promoting what they have catalogued.


History of zines and what they are

What is a zine? It is hard to give an exact definition of what a zine actually is for several reasons, but mainly because of the organic way in which they have evolved, and because the communities that produce zines often have differing opinions as to what they consider a zine to be.  Here at the National Library we go for the most commonly accepted definition of zines and zine histories.

Originally the word zine was an abbreviation of magazine, but it quickly evolved into its own unique concept.  Zines tend to be small underground publications, usually no more than 20 pages, that are produced for personal rather than financial reasons.  Zines can be monographic or serial, fact or fiction. They can cover any topic or genre, or be a mix of completely different and random concepts.  In short, a zine can be about anything the creator wants it to be, limited only by its maker’s creativity and access to materials. This is one of the benefits of self publication.  Many zines are also anti-establishment and deliberately seek to provoke or shock their audience;we can honestly attest that some of them do a very good job of that!

Zines are customarily created by physically cutting and gluing text and images together onto a master ‘flat’ for photocopying, but it is also common to produce the master by typing and formatting pages on a computer. They can be printed and bound in any manner, though often they are printed sheets that are folded or stapled to produce a booklet. Some zines are published by small commercial publishers, though there is some controversy among zine creators as to whether professionally printed products may be defined as zines.  As an ephemeral medium, zines are rarely collected and preserved the way other documents are.    

Zines are often traded among creators, or sold at house shows, zine events or by zine distros. Prices vary but most are under $10. Some are distributed for free.

People who create and/or collect zines, or who run zine distros, are called zinesters. Most zinesters are involved with more than one aspect of zine culture.  This term is preferred by some zine creators who don’t consider themselves writers, authors, or artists, or who consider themselves to be all of the above and refuse to be defined by just one term.  Zinesters are liberated from the editors or publishers that would regulate the content of their work.  Zinesters can also produce zines independently or as part of a group or workshop or event. For example, the Sticky Institute ran a zine creation event, to celebrate the Eurovision Song contest, with all the zines created required to have a theme based on one of the participating Eurovision countries.  Here are some of the Eurovision Song Contest Zines

Zine distro, or just distro, is short for zine distribution centre.  A distro can be any type of store (although it is usually a music store or alternative bookstore) that has a rack of zines for sale and distribution.  They can also exist as a dedicated online store or physical shop on the street.  This last kind of distro is quite rare.  The ‘Sticky Institute’ also known as ‘Sticky’ is one of the biggest and oldest shop front distros, and they also have an online shop. Distros are mostly a labour of love, rather than being set up for profit.

Another popular method of distributing zines is at zine fairs.  Most capital cities seem to have at least one or two major events each year, with smaller fairs scattered throughout the country.  The larger events tend to be annual, but there are also one-off fairs often associated with an exhibition. These larger fairs are usually all day events and may have 30 plus tables drawing in many hundreds of people.  The tables are mostly held by individuals or small teams of creators.  The teams consist of people who either co-create particular titles or who just team up to sell their zines at the one spot.  Some tables can also be held by distros who have brought along a selection of the zines they hold to sell.  These big events can draw creators and distros from all over the country.  Smaller fairs can be as small as three or four tables grouped together.

Arguably as a format zines have been around since the invention of the printing press.  Many of the pamphlets, chapbooks and tracts printed in earlier centuries could be classified as zines.

However officially zines can be traced back to the ‘fanzines’ of the 1920’s; these zines were produced by the fans of certain genres (usually horror, fantasy or science fiction) of books and movies.  Fanzines are still popular today but their heyday was from the 1920s to 60s.  Zine culture has gone through several evolutions since then, though even at peak popularity zines have never been considered mainstream.

In the 1970s they became associated with the alternative music scene, in particular with punk rock.  In the early 1990s, zines became a part of the Riot Grrrl movement. 

Over the past decade or so, the Bio-zine, also known as the Per-zine, has become very popular. Bio-zines and Per-zines are zines that are biographical and or anecdotal in nature.  And of course art zines are a perennial favorite.  Even as new types of zines emerge and become popular, older types of zines are still being produced

During the late 90s, many zinesters bemoaned the advent of the internet, believing it would be the final death knell of the zine.  Fortunately the opposite has proven true, with new technologies making zine production easier than ever by providing a variety of accessible and affordable publishing options.  The Internet has also facilitated social networking, which is a very important aspect of zine cultures.  And we do mean ‘cultures’ - zines can be produced by all sorts of people for all sorts of reasons. 

The broad range of people producing zines and the ease with which zines can be made has meant that the quality of zines is extremely variable.  Content ranges from literary to trashy, and production values can range from professional to very basic.  It is also worth noting that rougher production values can often be due to the creator’s choice rather than due to lack of expertise

Overall, most zinesters are at the oldest in their early thirties, and this has been true since the 1960s.  There are exceptions, and that youth bias may change. As generation Y ages, they could be the generation of zinesters that continue zine production into their later lives. 

Already we have started to see zines about the joys and trials of parenthood.  

One of the oldest zine titles we have come across, still being made by a ‘mature’ zinester who started this title in the late 1980s, is the weird and wonderful “Bizarrism.

How zines are treated at the National Library and why

Before we describe the way that we at the National Library treat zines, we should mention that we are not necessarily advocating that other libraries do the same thing.  Though if you pick up some useful tips that is great too.


Though the National Library does receive some zines under the legal deposit provisions of the ‘Copyright Act’, we don’t rely solely on the Act to collect zines. Most zines are self published, in very small print runs, non-commercial, and are more like artists’ books than published material.

Instead, the NLA seeks out a representative range of this material. The zines we collect range from the most handcrafted to the more commercial – in a range of subjects

In addition to our regular selection and collecting, the Library has also been fortunate to acquire several collections of zines, both purchased and as donations, from individuals and organisations.

We try to collect a variety of styles to reflect the creative ideas of zinesters, and focus on subjects that are topical or socio-political, or zines that are produced after major events, such as the Brisbane floods or Victorian fires.  Zines often give an unvarnished and very personal account of these events

Cataloguing zines

Zines don’t usually conform to the traditional library categorisations of monographs and serials that we typically catalogue.   We have to make more decisions, use our judgement and be more flexible.  Often when looking at a zine it is not clear if the item in hand is a monograph, serial, multi-volume work or monograph in series.  Zines frequently lack one or more of the following bibliographic details: title, statement of responsibility, date and place of publication, publisher name (often the same as the creator), enumeration, pagination or other consistent numbering.  Even subject matter can be a challenge, as it can be very eclectic, confronting or both.

Despite these challenges, we still treat zines in the same manner as everything else we collect, that is, catalogued individually and with a full record.

Thanks to the internet, we now have access to all sorts of tools to help us with the aforementioned cataloguing dilemmas.  Tools we use to overcome these obstacles include:

  • Zine websites – these often provide additional information about zinesters or particular titles.  Our favourites are Hayase and ZineWiki.
  • Zine distro sites - will sometimes have information about particular titles, if they hold in stock. 
  • Google search – will often provide links to information about the creator and/or the title in hand.  Zine creators sometimes will have their website or blog page where we can contact them about their zines. 
  • Collecting at events – in addition to the fun of browsing the tables and talking to the stall holders, it can give us the chance to talk to the creator (or friend or associate of the creator) as well.  This can be our opportunity to get the details of a zine that are absent from our collection, or at least get the contact details of the creator or vendor if more information is needed. This interactivity with the producers of the material is useful in other ways as well.  By talking to zinesters we can become aware of any new distros that pop up,  a new title to look out for, or a community that is producing zines. In recent times we have been able to take iPads to zine events.  While I loved being able to search the catalogue to avoid duplication when collecting, the iPad experience hasn’t quite been the convenience I thought it would be.  Visiting fairs usually involves carrying a bit of paraphernalia and of course you collect more as the day progresses.  So juggling all of that with an iPad can be quite an art!

Searching the internet for answers is a bit like fishing - sometimes you get a bite and sometimes you don’t.  Often we are flying in the dark when it comes to finding solutions and we have to rely only on our cataloguers’ judgement.  It forces us to think about questions such as what makes a serial a serial, or, if I have a zine with a number, might it be the only issue ever produced, and therefore should it be treated as a monograph? Or is it really a multi-volume monograph?

We were fortunate enough to get notice from a creator when he stopped making this zine.  This slip was added to our record to say the series was now deceased. 

In cataloguing zines you learn to love the notes fields for all sorts of reasons.  With zines that are scant in the regular bibliographic details, the notes fields are often the best places to provide information.For example, the notes for a zine we catalogued called Goldfish acid read “Black [inked?] drawings, goldfish, checkerboard, smiley faces with some Arabic script, on pale gold paper”.  The notes fields are also excellent places to describe any unusual physical features of a zine. 

A favourite zine of ours titles “1:25 pm, City park, under tree.  Raining”, consists of a printed sheet sitting in a tiny replica typewriter. Our notes in the record read “Sheet of paper, is inserted in roll of an Olympia replica typewriter. Possibly made at the “I am Typewriter Festival” in Melbourne (2011). This zine is the anecdotes of Joan, for part of a day in Melbourne. The replica Olympia is a series of images of the typewriter, printed in black and white, cut out in sections and pasted to an inner cardboard frame. It is just over four inches square and an inch high.

When it comes to zines, RDA has made our lives easier.  For example, we can use plain English to say we don’t know where something was published.  RDA is better at allowing us to express the roles of creators, as we can say what their relationship is to the work.  Also, if something is on the item we can put it straight on the record without qualifying it, or if we get information from another source we can simply add this information to the record in square brackets.

As a branch consisting of several teams one of the challenges we face is the fact that zines arrive infrequently.  They are not material that most staff get to catalogue regularly, and even the few of us who do get to catalogue zines on a more regular basis can go months without seeing a zine.  As a result, we have created some pattern sheets that provide a template with most commonly used fields, as well as examples of notes for staff creating records for zines.

Cataloguing zines – other issues

When it comes to cataloguing and accessioning zines there are a couple of other issues we also have to face.


Sometimes we have to be sensitive to a zine creator’s privacy issues and refrain from including their name on catalogue records, or even agree not to collect their work at all.  When collecting at fairs, we always say that the material we collect will be added to the National Library’s collection.  The privacy issues that we encounter range from the creator being a very private person and not comfortable with the idea of their name being made public, to the creator objecting to their material being collected in what they may see as an “establishment” institution.  Even when at its most popular, zine culture has never been considered mainstream – the more anti-establishment creators can object to the idea of zines being collected or preserved at all.  Their view is that zines are of the moment - they are meant to be read and enjoyed (or pondered over) and then discarded.


With many zinesters the way in which a zine is made is as important as content.  Zinesters can be very creative in regard to how they construct their zine and in the materials they use. This can make them very artistic, tactile, amusing and delightful. However, it does have some implications for libraries!

Zines can be made of or accompanied by all sorts or materials, for example: buttons, stickers, bookmarks, feathers, musk sticks, sunflower seeds or plastic cutlery.  Actually, those zines are lots of fun for all sorts of reasons, not least because we get to go and tease the preservation team at the Library. Funnily enough, the materials that upset preservation the most are some that might seem fairly innocuous – staples and rubber bands.  The use of staples in zine making is quite common. 

Common enough for one of our preservation team members to write a blog post encouraging zinesters to not use staples!

End processing

End processing material that comes with added extras like plastic forks or sewn on dangly bits can be quite a challenge.  In addition to this, zines can come in all shapes and sizes; they can be extraordinarily flimsy, or half the size of a matchbox, or twice the size of a newspaper.   You would think that this would present quite a challenge when shelving this material wouldn’t you?  Well it did until we came up with a solution that fits most situations.  We pop them into a Zip-loc bag.  The Zip-loc bags we use are preservation friendly, come in a range of sizes, are relatively cheap, keep the dangly bits all together and keep the evil staples isolated from other material.  Not that we have to bag everything.

The Eloquent page

Well, we have all this wonderful material that is a little bit obscure – so how do we tell people about it?  One way we do that is through our Library blog “The Eloquent Page”.  

The National Library’s Eloquent page is about advertising the more unusual and obscure material in the collection; and trying to engage with the people who makes zines and other fringe materials.  Through the blog, zinesters have contacted us to tell us about a particular title or event to watch out for.  They can also let us know if errors have been made in the bibliographic details, or even alert us to the fact that a creator would not wish their details to be made public.

For example: the Library has a special issue of a Scottish zine called Cyäegha.  Normally we wouldn’t go out of our way to collect an overseas zine. However this special issue is about Vol Molesworth.A reader of the Eloquent Page let us know that a friend of theirs in Scotland was producing a series of zines about pulp fiction writers of the 30’s 40’s and 50’s.  Issue 2 was about Vol Molesworth, an Australian horror/fantasy writer. We were then able to get that particular issue and add it to our collection.  What is exciting about this sort of thing is that it also sheds a light (for us personally as well) on the more obscure parts of the collection which can get overlooked.  Because the first thing we did upon learning about Molesworth was to search the collection to make sure that we had his work (we did) and to find out more about him.  Turns out that Voltaire Molesworth is his real name (and not something made up which was my original assumption) and that he is the son of Voltaire Molesworth (senior) a NSW politician.

While working with zines we discovered that many people found them intimidating and didn’t like to work with this kind of material.  Or thought the material not worth collecting and preserving.  However, those of us who work with zines really enjoy doing so.  Apart from some of the fun “work” conversations that can be generated by a zine made from toilet paper, you also come to value zines for all the things that make them unique, weird and wonderful. Cataloguing zines is a great opportunity to ‘catalogue outside the box’, and if you haven’t already, we hope that all of you here will give them a go sometime.

For those of you who are interested about knowing more about the complex and wonderful world of zines here are a couple of titles to get you started.  We will be handing out a bibliography along with ‘Eloquent page’ bookmarks at the back.

We hope you have enjoyed our paper and have learnt enough to tackle the challenges of cataloguing zines (or as Elaine says ‘Zineing’) with confidence.

 References:  to introduce you to zines

Poletti, Anna. 2008, Intimate ephemera : reading young lives in Australian zine culture / Anna Poletti Melbourne University Publishing Carlton, Vic

Babington, Jaklyn. & Butler, Roger. & Heagney, Din. & Pierce, Eloise. & Young, Alison. & National Gallery of Australia. 2010, Space invaders : Australian street, stencils, posters, paste-ups, zines, stickers / Jaklyn Babington ... [et al.] National Gallery of Australia Canberra

Bartel, Julie. 2004, From A to zine : building a winning zine collection in your library / Julie Bartel American Library Association Chicago <>

Klanten, Robert. & Mollard, Adeline. & Hübner, Matthias. & Commentz, Sonja. 2011, Behind the zines : self-publishing culture / [edited by Robert Klanten, Adeline Mollard, Matthias Hübner ; preface, interviews, and extended project descriptions by Sonja Commentz] Gestalten Berlin

References of zines in the PowerPoint  presentation.

Panda. n.d., Ampersand after ampersand / by Amanda

Yeo, Meggs. 2006, Elvis goes to Parkes / by Meggs Meggs Yeo [Sydney

Garrett, Craig. & University of Canberra. Faculty of Communication. 1997, Pornography, heroin and government : ten tales from the city of roundabouts / [Craig Garrett ... [et. al.] Garret Publishing Canberra

n.d., Paper tiger commix

2009, Celebrity sex scandal [s. n.] [Sydney

Licky the Cream. 2009, Eurovision slut compost : there must be another way / by Licky the Cream Licky the Cream [Wollongong, N.S.W

Dior, Clementine. & Claire (Zine creator). & Sticky Institute. 2011, Let's get Euro-trashy! : (a crazy time of the year) / Clementine Dior Claire [Brisbane

n.d., The boot cupboard

Weber, Jean. 1980, Aussiecon : fifth anniversary memorial fanzine / edited by Jean Weber J. Weber O'Connor, A.C.T

1995, The burning times : a queer punk-alternative fanzine

Mutineers (Group). 2006, Mutiny : a paper of anarchistic ideas & actions <>

Berry, Vanessa. 2013, Ninety 9 / Vanessa Berry Giramondo Publishing Artamon, N.S.W

Jennison, Louise. 2011, Webbed / Louise Jennison [Louise Jennison] [Victoria]

Jennison, Louise. 2011, The interloper / Louise Jennison Lousie Jennison [North Fitzroy, Vic.]

Jennison, Louise. 2011, Five proud birds / Louise Jennison Lousie Jennison [North Fitzroy, Victoria]

Jennison, Louise. 2011, Birds that like to display / Louise Jennison [ Louise Jennison] [Victoria]

Jennison, Louise. 2011, Birds that have caught my eye in print but I've never been lucky enough to see in reality / Louise Jennison Lousie Jennison [North Fitzroy, Victoria.]

Slater, Bernie. & Costaridis, Christina. 2010, Dote B. Slater & C Costaridis [Canberra]

Tasha. 2010, Life as a white picket fence : pregnancy, parenthood & persistence for normality / [Tasha] Tasha Mt. Eliza, Vic

1986, Bizarrism

Mikul, Chris. 1999, Bizarrism / Chris Mikul Critical Vision ; Pluto Press Manchester : Sydney

200- ], [Goldfish acid] s. n [Sydney?

2011, 1:25 pm. : City park, under tree. Raining [Melbourne, Vic.]

Copyright Act 1968 – Sect 201, Legal Deposit

Molesworth, Vol. & Philips, Graeme. & Doig, James. 2010, Vol Molesworth Special G. Philips [Renfrew, Scotland?]

Serwylo, Joy. 2010, Art in Melbourne / photos by Joy Serwylo J. Serwylo [Upwey, Vic.]

Martin, Marc. 2008, A forest / by Marc Martin M. Martin [Melbourne]

Konsumterra. 2008, Crash! : little book of monsters / [Konsumterra] Konsumterra [Sydney, N.S.W.]