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Zines: Tiny papers, big words

By Elizabeth Hansen, Assistant Culture Editor

Carly Sentieri, the special collections librarian at the Wertz Art and Architecture library, was sifting through items that had not yet been catalogued when a small booklet caught her eye.

Its print was faded from multiple photocopies, but the message was still visible. In her hands she held a list of demands from the students of the New University conference to Miami University. The publication date read 1969.

"The society invades and corrupts the university in no way more visibly than by the draft or the threat of the draft and by the questions government asks faculty members to answer about students. Questions about their loyalty and their affiliation, their friendships, their moral values..." the book carried on, demanding the university to not cooperate with the draft.

But this was not just a book. It was a zine.

Zines are short, creative publications that often express countercultural ideas. Zines can be persuasive, like the zine Sentieri found from 1969, or they can be comical. One of Erin Vonnahme's favorites is called "Zebra Pizza," written by a librarian who simply loves pizza.

"The spirit of zines is getting your message out there however you choose to, whether it's something relatively polished and text heavy, more traditional like a journal or a joke conveyed through's super rad," said Vonnahme, the humanities librarian.

During an academic library conference last fall, Sentieri and Vonnahme encountered a poster presentation about the concept of zines from the Columbus College of Art and Design. This presentation sparked an idea between the two librarians. What if they could use these small, but powerful publications to create a collection for students to browse and even use for research?

"We were familiar with zines generally before that, but this was the first moment where we felt like we could make it part of the work we do for Miami," said Vonnahme.

Their idea came to life last spring when they held their first zine workshop.

"Students have a lot of pressure in their lives, and we thought it would be nice to have a space to doodle for a little while. Zines are all made from one sheet of paper that you just cut once and fold, and it becomes a book," said Sentieri.

The zines from last semester, along with zines printed from a variety of different university libraries, are scattered around the tables as inspiration for new zines. Eventually, these zines will have their own database.

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"If you consent to have your zine included, we will keep it in the physical copy. We are trying to build a digital depository of contributions too so that way, eventually, we can get them on the library's website and they'd be browseable to not only use as a learning tool for librarians, but also other classes," Vonnahme said.

Among these zines is a final project that was completed for a biology course. The zine raised awareness about trash dumping in lakes -- specifically in Hueston Woods. It discusses the negative impacts with extensive research, but uses a medium more interesting than a black and white APA paper.

"They cite their sources and everything, so it's still very much a traditional research document but it is totally fun and readable," said Vonnahme. "It's just one option to remember exists instead of only thinking that scholarly journals in an academic database are where you go to find stuff."

Another opportunity zines provide is an alternative method to publishing works. For Sean Poppe, library associate and a part time illustrator and comic maker, making zines is a nice change in medium.

"It's nice to make something small to feel like I'm actually making progress and have it finished in my hands instead of having a larger project to do," said Poppe. "And I think that's a really great thing for aspiring artists too. They want to have their big magnum opus they want to do and they should do, [but] it's great practice to finish something mentally and physically -- even if it's dumb. Especially if its dumb."

So whether the zines students decide to make are rooted in passion or are just a dumb, silly stream of consciousness, freedom remains a constant.

"We like it because it's an opportunity for you to just feel like you can make something meaningful. You can promote an idea you feel passionate about, or you can just take a moment to not do homework and still be creating something and still be creative and still be mindful just of being present," said Vonnahme. "There's no stress, there's no wrong way to do this."

Zine workshops are held from 2-4 p.m. on the first Tuesday of every month in the Wertz Art and Architecture library.