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Banned Books Week 2020: What is a Zine?

Zine exampleZines are a unique subculture which has emerged around making and collecting as a powerful tool representing creative, low-cost, DIY means of self-expression and idea sharing. In libraries, zines are a creative way to learn about visual culture, open-access, visual literacy, information literacy, self-expression, problem solving, and more. Making zines with images from rare and unique ephemera lets individuals reuse, remix, and recreate art while learning about histories and ideas from the past. At the same time, zines can be an engaging and non-threatening way to talk about issues around cultural appropriation, cultural sensitivity, and inclusivity.

Zines are associated with other terms such as fanzines, little magazines, and sometimes you will find zines in artist books collections. Zines were first created in the science fiction fandoms of the 1930s. Long before the advent of the Internet, zines allowed fans to create networks, share ideas, and collaborate on writing and artwork.

zine examplesAlthough the underground press from the 1950/60’s often involved significantly more people and resources in the production of materials, it provided a function that became a key part of zine culture in the 1980s and beyond: giving people a voice outside the scope of the mainstream media. Art and literary magazines of the 1960s and 1970s were based on a similar need to circumvent the commercial art world, and were printed cheaply and spread through small, niche networks. The punk music scene of the 1980s expanded upon the self-published format by creating a wide of array of constantly evolving zines dedicated to the musical genre that were both fanzines and political tracts. Punk zines were more than just magazines–they represented the aesthetic and ideals of an entire subculture, a condensed version of this cultural revolt against authoritarianism. Similarly subversive, the riot grrrl movement grew out of the punk subculture and developed a zine culture of its own, focusing on feminism, sex, and chaos. These days we see zines everywhere.

Want to incorporate zines into your courses, project, or everyday life?

Zines provide an opportunity to talk about visual culture, open-access, information literacy, visual literacy, self- expression, and flexes one’s making muscles and problem-solving skills. There are many ways to incorporate zines into your courses.  They tell stories and might involve citing images, articles, books, or other scholarly information. Zines are a low cost way to share your ideas with others.

All you need to make a zine is a piece of paper and a writing implement of any sorts.

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