“Wait here! Let me go get Heidy, it’s really her baby.”
When Research Librarian Carol Marshall returned to the research desk, she was trailed by Heidy Berthoud, Head of Acquisitions and Cataloging Services, each carrying a plain black filing case. They couldn’t wait to start talking about the library’s new zine collection.
The filing cases contained the seed collection of zines that Berthoud had been buying from a range of zine distributers.
“Zines are really DIY, anyone can make them,” Berthoud explained. “They can be really whatever you want them to be. If you want to make lists of things you like, if you like to draw and you want to make comics, or you want to make a collage of things, it’s just a way for everyone to get their voice heard.”
“You can go really simple, like this one, ‘My Mother’s Cats,’ it’s just someone who is making goofy little drawings, and that’s what they wanted to say. You don’t need any huge artistic talent, but then you have people like Carrie who really are making these mini works of art,” Berthoud went on to say.
The library’s book collection is not the only thing that extends beyond Vassar’s campus. The idea for the zine collection originated from that at the University of Chicago library, where Berthoud worked before she came to Vassar.
The collection at the University of Chicago was kept, for the most part, out of students’ reach. “All of their zines at Chicago lived in special collections, so the only way you could see any of them was if you got a special reader pass to see special collections, and then the archivist or whoever would bring some zines out to you.”
Berthoud wanted a different approach with Vassar’s zine collection. “Here, I really want the zines to be more public. So we have a plan for zines that students donate. We’re going to keep a copy in special collections just so we always have it for sure, but then we do plan on displaying some of the student zines in the public area, as well.”
The hope for this new collection is that it will be more accessible to students, not just in the way they’re displayed, but also in who writes them. “We would love to have students make zines and donate them to the collection, because we really want them to record what’s important to students on campus right now, and what their thoughts are,” Berthoud said. “So we’d love to get students involved in this.”
The main issue now is figuring out how to spread word around campus that this collection is waiting to be created. “We’re trying to figure out a way to tell people about it, since it doesn’t have a public place in the library yet,” Berthoud said.
Marshall and Berthoud started pulling a few zines out from the cases—a few of over a hundred they have amassed so far. “These all just live in my office.” She added, gesturing to the nook near the Q Center, “We’re going to be redoing this space right there for the zines.”
The little research desk was starting to fill up with the pamphlets, but Berthoud and Marshall were still pulling out more. There was a series called “Daisies and Bruises” about a zinester who dealt with abuse as a child, but there also were zines with titles like “Things My Dad had to Take Out of Animals” and “How to Talk to Your Cat About Gun Safety.
People who write zines are as diverse as the topics that they write about: There are those who already have a public voice, and those who are just have a particular passion. “I think they’re just willing to put themselves out there and create something and send it around to a lot of people,” Berthoud said.
Break the Silence at Vassar (BTSAV) have already put themselves out there and contributed to the library’s zine collection. Sara Cooley ’15, a member of BTSAV, wrote in an emailed statement that BTSAV would hope to serialize their zine. “Our group has spoken about doing another zine, thanks to the overwhelmingly positive reception of our last one, but I’m afraid it won’t be a possibility for us this semester,” Cooley wrote.
“As for putting together the BTSAV zine, we sent out a call for submissions for any form of media (art, poetry, prose, etc) that responded to the theme of community and healing after trauma,” Cooley added.
Already, Berthoud and Marshall have been in touch with professors with the idea of using and creating zines as part of academia.
“We heard from one women’s studies course where the students are actually making a zine as part of their course work, so these will be good examples for that class,” Berthoud said, referring to the seed collection. The hope is that zines will be able to provide great primary sources for research. “We’re still working on how exactly to incorporate zines into the curriculum, and finding out where there’s interest on campus,” Berthoud said.
Berthoud would hope to see the zines in Vassar’s collection distributed not just around campus, but also to other colleges. “At Barnard, they even have zines they send out on interlibrary loan, but we’re taking a long trip in a month or so to the city to see how their zine library operates, and hopefully we’ll bring some of those practices back here,” Berthoud said. “There’s [also] a zine collection, at SUNY New Paltz, and they have a zine group, so we really want to invite them to come over and maybe do some SUNY New Paltz-Vassar activities.”
She added, “It would be fun if we could swap zines between places. It would also be fun if we could get maybe some high schools in the area interested in zines and come in and doing zine things with us and just reachout more into the community beyond Vassar.”
Zines have always transcended time and distance. “It can be whatever you need it to be,” as Berthoud put it. “If you need to write about heavy stuff like in ‘Daisies and Bruises,’ you can do that, but if you need to just write about pizza, or the best takeout places in Poughkeepsie, someone needs to make that zine so I can read it.”
She added, “We really want people to come use the collection—we’re really excited about it, [and] we hope people are excited about it too.”