Summit - For the people by the people

For the people by the people

Mount Royal's Library celebrates unique voices in publishing and community journalism through an eclectic Zine collection

Words by Jonathan Anderson

Before the days of the Internet, Google and blogs, there were Zines — a non-traditional publishing model used to represent voices outside of mainstream publishing.

A way for writers, poets or artists to share their perspective and ideas to the world. Zines were the original self-publisher, or you if will, blogs are the new Zines.

Although few academic libraries house them, they are often found in anarchist book fairs, book stores, and — during the 1990s — you could even find Zines in vending machines at bars in some major cities. Many magazines including Bitch, a famous feminist publication, have roots as Zines.

Today, Mount Royal University is home to one of Canada’s Zine libraries.

Still not exactly sure what a Zine is? Katharine Barrette, faculty member and librarian, oversees this subcultural collection at Mount Royal along with faculty member and Librarian Jessie Loyer and Barrette can tell you everything you need to know.

Barrette has been with Mount Royal since 2007 and helped create the University’s Zine collection at the initiative of a former Policy Studies student, Cheri Konsmo.

“She was taking a women and politics course and became interested in Zines,” said Barrette. “(Konsmo) saw it as a vehicle for political expression and democracy for women.”

Demonstrating her findings, Konsmo ended up doing a class project on their uniqueness and their value.

The project began when she was on Mount Royal’s Student Library Advisory Council and got involved in the Student Association. She put together a proposal to create a Zine collection and approached Barrette as collections coordinator at the time.

“They are very non-traditional,” said Barrette. “They fall into a number of different categories, per-Zine — some are more of a personal story, but then others relate to opinions on topics.”

Mount Royal’s Zine collection is well over 200 and contains plenty of Canadian content. One particularly fascinating Zine even offers criticisms of the Vancouver 2010 Olympics. The Library at Mount Royal offers Zines related to policy studies, women’s studies, indigenous studies, and micro-fiction.

One of the biggest contributors to the collection is Kimiwan, offering the perspectives of indigenous persons, voices and artwork.

Based on their non-traditional academic focus, Barrette feels “Zines are unique and very useable.”

“They are interesting to have,” she said. “Students can come in, pick one off the shelf and be exposed to different ideas.”

Why should anyone be excited about this collection of non-traditional publications?

“I think its demonstrating to students that there is value to be had from other voices and other perspectives.”

Barrette insists that the uniqueness and originality is second-to-none. Having the ability to share this information from a non-mainstream viewpoint is something Mount Royal should be proud of.

“Students are actually producing these themselves to have their voices heard, they are creating new knowledge by sharing their own knowledge,” she said. “It’s great for them to feel empowered. There’s a lot to be learned through different non-traditional media.

Barrette believes this section of Mount Royal’s Library offers a welcoming environment to students who are looking for something different.

“It’s not all about the scholarly, peer reviewed journals,” said Barrette. “Folks tend to think that’s what librarians are all about.

“Plus they’re fun!”

Barrette feels that all students, staff and faculty should learn about Zines and their value. There is importance in recognizing other voices and perspectives from different communities that can have an impact in certain context, conversations and disciplines.

Readers can obtain knowledge from reading newspaper and Internet articles but Barrette feels there is something particularly rich and valuable about firsthand accounts from people that have lived that time which are available in Zines.

“I think its demonstrating to students that there is value to be had from other voices and other perspectives,” she said. “This really is grassroots, for the people by the people.”