Though anything self-published can be a zine, the word implies a certain scrappiness that differentiates a zine from its more glamorous cousin, the glossy, ad-filled magazine. Scholarly Communications Librarian Maria Aghazarian calls it a “punk ethos.”
“I see a zine as a counter-cultural publication, something DIY,” says Aghazarian. “Zines can be free, or traded without currency, and often are informative.” There are zines about knowing your rights if you're stopped by the police, for example.
The zine collection in Swarthmore Libraries is largely donation-based and includes about 175 publications. It can be found on the second floor of McCabe Library in the lounge opposite the main stairs, in the same room as the comics collection. The creators, Aghazarian and Nooria Ahmed ’22, curated for diversity from the very start.
“We were really lacking both independent publications and independent voices [in the comics collection], so voices that are not in the mainstream,” says Aghazarian. “[Nooria] came up with the idea of creating a zine library as a way to balance that, and to highlight really diverse and local voices.”
Because zines don’t need to have the mass appeal of larger publications, zine-makers have the freedom to explore whatever topic interests them.
“We actually have quite a few zines about the moon,” says Aghazarian.
The zines cover a wide range of topics, from pets and plants to Ukraine and unionizing. There are also photography zines, poetry zines, and comics.
“Some are fantasy, some are realistic, some are just purely art with no words,” says Aghazarian. As a nature-lover, her favorites include People Holding Hands with Trees and The Bear and The Moon.
Because zines can be deeply personal, authors may choose to leave their name off their work. Not having that information can make cataloging and organizing zines a challenge for librarians.
The best way to find what you’re looking for in the Swarthmore collection is to browse. Or ask Aghazarian, your friendly zine librarian.
As an extension of the participatory, punk ethos of zine culture, anyone can donate to the collection. Aghazarian is also looking for help decorating the boxes that house the collection.
“We’re collaging the boxes with stickers, so if you have a sticker you want to add, stick it on the box.”