Zanne Domoney-Lyttle, a PhD candidate in Theology & Religious Studies at the University of Glasgow and 2015-2016 Hunterian Associate, speaks to her experience as a SGSAH Intern working with Zines at the Glasgow Women’s Library.
For the previous 6 months, I have undertaken an internship funded the SGSAH at Glasgow Women’s Library, working closely with their zine collection. This is a snapshot of my experience, what I have learned and will take away with me, and the importance of experiencing such programmes outside of academia.
Where it all began
Last year I attended the SGSAH “A Creative Enlightenment” programme, which included a visit to Glasgow Women’s Library. It was my first visit to the library, and I was immediately impressed with the space, the various collections, and the people. While there, we were told about their zine collection held in the archives. The zine collection was built entirely through donations—a vital part of all collections in GWL, which relies solely on donations to boost their corpus of books and other material—and at the time, was largely uncatalogued and not easily accessible to the general public—another vital part of the ethos of GWL.
SGSAH recognised the opportunity for an internship at the GWL to help address these issues, and several months later, my application was accepted and I began my internship at Glasgow Women’s Library. My task was threefold:
- Catalogue the zines in an online archive, accessible to the general public;
- Digitise the collection;
- Build and develop upon the collection with new accessions and making connections with the world of zine makers.
What is a zine?
Entering the world of zines was unlike anything I have experienced before. My research is in comics, graphic novels and the Bible, so I am well-versed in text-image narratives, but zines were a whole different ball game.
There are three things you need to know about zines: they are 1) self-made (a.k.a. DIY); 2) self-published (at the expense of the maker); and 3) non-profit. This means they are often hand-written, hand-drawn, doodled upon, stick-and-paste photocopied, scribbled, and very, very personal.
Zines can be about anything – in the GWL archive for example, there are fanzines on music, comics and literature, there are ‘perzines’ (or personal zines) on illness, mental health, sexual abuse, falling in love, friendship and family, and there are zines on LGBT+ lives, feminism, Riot Grrrl and body image.
Their very nature of being self-made makes them unique, personal records of their makers, their status of being self-published makes them almost anarchic, subtly sticking two fingers up at the establishment by sometimes going against the rules of copyright, ethics and distribution, and their identity as non-profit is a message that not everything is for sale.
Beginning to catalogue such a diverse collection was an interesting challenge, and I spent the first part of my internship tucked away with the archive boxes, meticulously going through each zine to learn about its contents and understand its purpose. Becoming familiar with the collection was vital when it came to cataloguing them. The online archiving programme I was using asked for keywords to describe each zine, and a short description including location, size, contents, appearance and creator was needed. Learning to use the archiving programme was a challenge in itself, and in all, it took me between 180-200 hours to catalogue over 300 zines, which included having to revisit the entries several times to fix mistakes.
Digitising was a lot more straightforward in terms of practicalities, but a minefield in terms of exploring copyright ethics, intellectual property rights and permissions. Many of GWL’s zines date back to the early 1990s, and contact information is out of date. Originally we had wanted to digitise all of the zines, contents and all, but the inability to ask makers for permission, coupled with the fact that we had to think about space on the server to host so many images, meant we scaled back our initial aspirations – we decided to digitise only the front covers of about 130 zines, making sure each image was coupled with full information concerning the creators/owners of the images. The images were included in the online archive, and made a real, visual, difference to the look of the online collection.
The last part of my remit was to help develop the collection— both through adding new material to the archive and by getting to know local zine makers and other communities of zine makers across the UK. I e-mailed, tweeted, facebooked and talked to people across the UK, including other zine librarians, archivists, makers and distributors, and struck up conversations and friendships. Along with Alice, a zine-maker and colleague at GWL, I hosted a stall at Glasgow Zine Fest in April. That helped a lot with accessions, as people kindly donated zines to us and we could spread the word about the newly catalogued/digitised collection at GWL.
Zine and Heard
To pull all of this work together, I have organised an event “Zine & Heard” which takes place in the community room of Glasgow Women’s Library on July 14th, 5-7pm. The event is a chance to showcase the newly catalogued and partly-digitised collection to the public, and to continue to build networks and partnerships with local zine makers, distributors and fans – all of whom have been invited. We’ll have a panel of zine experts to talk about the culture of zine collecting, making and storing, and we have invited local zine makers to come along and set up mini stalls to sell their zines and engage with the public. I will also give a short presentation on the experience of my internship.
What this internship has meant for me
Aside from being a lot of fun and a new experience, undertaking this internship has developed my skills in many areas —learning how to archive, digitising, networking, creating connections, time management, and knowledge exchange to name a few. It has pushed me outside of my comfort zone on many occasions, which I have found real value in. As a PhD student, my focus on research has become narrower and narrower, and it has been easy to forget there is a world outside of the Bible and comics. Working with zines has forced me to look at text-image narratives in a new light, but most importantly it has given me the opportunity to meet new, like-minded people in a whole other context outside of academia. I would like to express my thanks to Glasgow Women’s Library, in particular Nicola Maksymuik and her guidance throughout the project, to Gabrielle MacBeth for her support, and to SGSAH for the opportunity to undertake this role.