Un/Common Copies: Zines in Special Collections and Archives

Zine Fest sold out
Offered as a free, ticketed pre-conference event, the visit to our Special Collections and Archives reached maximum capacity just 16 hours after the notice was posted.

Special Collections and Archives is home to a wide variety of research materials that are rare, unique, and valuable (think vellum, embellished leather bindings, university records, one of a kind letters and photographs, etc.). So why are collections of photocopies getting so much attention? Our zine collections have  attracted recent interest from faculty, students, a graduate student intern, and the organizers of Chicago Zine Fest. In fact, a pre-conference Zine Fest event showcasing DePaul’s zine collections “sold out” less than 24 hours after being advertised.

Riot grrrl 3 cover
This riot grrrl can be found in the Kim Nolan zine collection.

Zines are self-published, small-run, inexpensive, DIY publications on topics that are often quirky, esoteric, niche, political, and highly personal. Many are hand-written and illustrated, often with collages and cut-outs, then photocopied for distribution. Others are created on digital platforms and circulated in print copies, while a newer generation are hosted on digital platforms and incorporate media files. DePaul’s Special Collections and Archives zine collections share a geographic focus of being produced in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin (a scope established by the Chicago Great Lakes Underground Press Conference ). The content within varies considerably – Julie Koslowsky, our recent graduate student intern from the School of Information Sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, identified 92 topical terms currently applied to zines across 18 collections, including comics, culture, fanzines, literature, music, prison, and women’s issues, to name just a few.

Some faculty (like the College of Communication’s Daniel Makagon) have worked with these collections for years, and have donated their own zines to Special Collections and Archives, and we have met other faculty through our table at Zine Fest who have then scheduled instruction sessions with us. Most recently, we have added zines to instruction sessions when they complement the content, format, or learning outcomes for the course.

Madeline Happold
Pages from DePaul student Madeline Happold’s “meta-zine”.

This latter scenario was the case for John Shanahan’s winter course, ENG 471, Book and Media History.  One of his students, undergraduate Madeline Happold, analyzed print and digital zines, and how the two media influence the reading and creation of zines. Her final product is presented as a digital “meta-zine” of her research.  Professor Shanahan found Madeline’s project particularly exciting, “especially as it embodied one of the core concepts we talked about in class: ‘remediation.’…[I]t remediated one form (print zine) into another (presentation and editing software). One could see the original AND also think about its affordances in light of its new presentation.”  He also admitted he had overlooked the zines in the past, not being familiar with the strength of the collections held at DePaul but that they bring new media breadth to his Book History course.

Philosophy instructor Amelia Hruby recently brought two sections of her LSP 200 course to Special Collections and Archives to examine zines. Professor Hruby provided a set of questions to help guide students through their exploration.  While written specifically for zines, the questions prompted students to consider elements such as author, content, format, and aesthetic. These careful analysis and interpretation skills are part of artifactual literacy, and Special Collections and Archives works to model and teach these skills with a variety of materials and formats in our collection. What’s especially fun with the zines is that students can often find materials that reflect some of their own fears, beliefs, experiences, and interests and the fact that these are self-published inexpensively can suggest to students that they, too, can be authors.

Students in Amelia Hruby’s LSP 200 class examine zines in the Special Collections and Archives classroom.

Special Collections and Archives partners with faculty in offering an average of 65 instruction sessions per year, reaching over 1,000 students from a variety of disciplines (more than 20 different departments per year).  To discuss ideas, please contact Special Collections Instruction Librarian Morgen MacIntosh Hodgetts or submit an instruction session request. To learn more about DePaul Special Collections and Archives, visit our webpage or contact us at spca@depaul.libanswers.com.

“I find that when students are tasked with making a zine they become more engaged in the creation process and produce radically different results than when I assign an essay. I love helping them realize that they can be active creators of media and information, rather than just consumers of other peoples’ ideas… ”  ~ Amelia Hruby, Philosophy

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