Zines as Teaching Aides

| September 21, 2011

If your goal in teaching is to inspire your class to create works of text or art, you might consider using zines as teaching aides.  Alison Piepmeier, author of Girl Zines: Making Media, Doing Feminism, reports that, “Every time I teach a class about zines, a significant percentage of the students begin making their own. Many of them have never heard of zines, but when I bring in a pile for them to flip through and take home, they become inspired. This doesn’t happen if I require them to read a published anthology of zines… getting their hands on actual zines is necessary to ignite this creative urge.” Piepmeier goes on to discuss the materiality of zines–that their physical form is inherent to their creative charge–but rather than leverage the community-building aspects of paper verses electronic formats, I felt curious about investigating the possibility that zines ignite a desire to learn and create in students (or perhaps anyone) discovering them for the first time.  How can teachers incorporate zines into their lesson plans?

But first: what’s a zine? Zines are independently produced publications, usually hand-made and self-printed, stapled together, and handed out or sold through the mail at or slightly above cost. Zines tend to be self-edited or perhaps overseen by a friend, but do not adhere to standards of professionalism found in mainstream media.  A particular set of socio-political mores tend to accompany zine production: anti-capitalist, unpretentious, pro-message, do-it-yourself mottos inform the subculture whose participants create zines. Zines are most often compared to blogs, though zines are their print precursor and continue to occupy a separate, if tangential sphere. What makes zines so accessible to new readers is how easy they are to make.  Anyone with thoughts, a pen and paper, and access to a photocopier (or printer) can make their own small publication and join the zine community.

So, how can you get your hands on some zines?  Well, you can buy zines at a few independent bookstores in the city–St. Marks Books and Bluestockings come to mind.  But in the true spirit of zine credo (accessibility, spreading the word, distributing the publication at or below cost) you probably want access to zines for free.  Luckily, there are a number of zine libraries in New York City where you can search through, view, and sometimes check out copies of zines.  ABC No Rio is the oldest zine library in the city, and their collection focuses on anarchist and political zines, though they also collect personal zines. Their collection is open to the public, though you should check their hours carefully before making the journey to Rivington Street.  Brooklyn College, whose collection focuses on zines connected to Brooklyn, newly created a zine library this year. NYU’s Fales Library houses a riot grrrl archive collection that features zines by and about riot grrrls (to access the collection you need to email the archivist first).  Closer to home, and most relevant to Teacher’s College students, Barnard has one of the only circulating zine libraries in the country, and their collection is accessible through CLIO.  You can visit the library in person to peruse their collection, or you can search through their online catalog (CLIO).  A handy tip: their call numbers all start with “ZINES” so if you want to browse, simply type ZINES into the call number entry field and then select to search within call number.  And lastly, the annual NY Art Book Fair hosted by Printed Matter and held at MoMA’s PS1 features tables and tables of current, active zine publishers.  You can meet the authors and buy their zines.  This year, the event is September 30-October 2nd.

But how would you go about using zines in your classroom?  Handily, a number of librarians and teachers have created teaching guides on using zines in the classroom. The best of these is by Nicole Pagowski, a reference librarian for Dallas County Community District, who created a thorough teaching guide.  Another excellent resource is We Make Zines, an online social networking resource for those who make and read zines; they host a group called Teaching Zines that features a discussion forum with excellent advice on using zines in the classroom.  To read academic research on the topic, try searching “zine” as a keyword in ERIC (EBSCO) database, the Education Full Text database, or try Library Literature and Information Science Full Text (many zine authors who create instructional guides happen to be librarians).  You can further narrow your search by adding subject terms.

I hope this is helpful!

Alison Piepmeier. “Why Zines Matter: Materiality and the Creation of Embodied Community.” American Periodicals: A Journal of History, Criticism, and Bibliography 18.2 (2008): 213-238. Project MUSE. Web. 21 Jan. 2011. <http://muse.jhu.edu/>.