Sunday, October 13, 2019

Queer Zine Library Catalogue

As we get ready to take the Queer Zine Library on our first tour, QZL volunteers have been working on our online catalogue, making our collections searchable.

Here you can search our titles and browse the collections. Having a good online catalogue is super important, particularly when the library has no permanent home. When Queer Zine Library isn't on tour the collection is held in storage. Our catalogue allows the collection to be searchable at all times, to promote the zines we hold, and to help people discover zines in the library, requesting specific titles for workshops, displays, and residencies. 

At the moment only 1/4 of the library is catalogued, but we are adding zines and cataloguing the collections all the time. Also cataloguing takes time! Cataloguing is a collective activity carried out by QZL volunteers in collaboration with zine makers as we attempt to represent zines in ways which are meaningful to both zine makers and zine readers.

Over the last two months we've been holding cataloguing parties, inviting volunteers to come and have a go at cataloguing, no experience needed, just a love of queer zines! 
Together we created a queer zine library cataloguing manual This manual offers some basic cataloguing guidelines specific to QZL based on our library system, collections focus, and the skills and knowledge of our amazing volunteers. Armed with this manual and hardcore zine love we began our cataloguing parties, encouraging cataloguing as a group activity, with lots of chats about the keywords we were using, creating descriptions based on zines makers own words, and examining our own bias.

We asked QZL volunteers to share experiences of cataloguing the collection and shine a spotlight on some of our favourite zines we've catlogued so far:


Cataloguing at QZL has been really rewarding-I've catalogued items before in my job as a library assistant but I've never had the chance to work with zines, so this has been a great opportunity for me! As a queer person who makes, collects and wants to work with zine/small or alternative press collections in libraries, volunteering at QZL has been really wonderful; I'm really passionate about making libraries as accessible and diverse as possible, so working with a DIY catalogue without the fear of inundating users with library jargon is really refreshing.

Cataloguing this kind of material is always really interesting-I've been able to find really special zines from zinesters I may never have heard of before and about topics I may never have looked into otherwise; firm favourites include Kirsty Fife's 'Hard Femme' series and pretty much anything created by Daikon collective. 

Creating the catalogue has been challenging at times considering the nature of zines- they often don't contain the information you'd find in a published work (author, date and place of publication etc.), so there's often a lot of research involved. Additionally there's often also ethical issues to consider (e.g. with inclusive terminology in subject tagging)- but working collaboratively with the QZL family through discussion, debate & with an arguably excessive amount of snacks has made it easier to solve any issues we find! Brainstorming ideas and making decisions together has definitely made constructing the catalogue far more manageable and a really enjoyable experience.


I had no experience of cataloguing prior to joining QZL volunteers. I learned a great deal the first session about library cataloguing in general and about how the process had been adapted (using cheaper cataloguing platforms and adjusting the codes and tags we use) for the zine library. 
I wanted to volunteer with QZL primarily because I wanted to support the zine library (as a queer bisexual genderqueer-ish woman I think it is an important resource) and also because I was interested in learning more about the process and the added benefit of delicious snacks…

I really liked the A-Z of Biphobia Zine and the Queer Sailors series. I also love that the library cataloguing instructions come in the form of a zine, it was great to be able to take that home and if I didn’t have a little zine collection of my own already, I bet it would have been lovely to have that as someone’s first zine!

There are lots of challenges when cataloguing queer material; the main one being choosing the right categories, known as ‘tags’. These can be difficult to decide upon depending on how someone refers to something within a zine (if it’s an older zine they may use outdated language etc) or how the individual cataloguer interprets the themes of the zine and the contents. I think the way Holly has set up the cataloguing as a group where we bounce ideas off each other and maybe discuss some of our personal viewpoints and life experiences as reference points it makes the cataloguing more accurate and precise. It means we can avoid our own personal biases or prejudices, which is really important when some of the zines are very personal and/or political.

I am so grateful that the zine library exists and how it can help to raise visibility of different groups of people and individuals. Being involved in the cataloguing is important to me on a personal/emotional level because it is a way of connecting with my community in a different way than would normally be available. Getting to read the zines together is probably the best part!


Before cataloguing with Queer Zine Library, I had never catalogued anything before! I wanted to try something new, and liked the idea of doing it socially, and getting to meet new people, as it’s something I’ve found harder to do as I’ve gotten older. It’s made me think about how much time I could realistically give to other voluntary roles, in areas I enjoy and think are important, like LGBT+ History

I’ve catalogued a whole heap of zines that I’ve enjoyed reading afterwards! My most recent favourite is probably ‘Rumours’- it’s an anonymous exploration of the gay scene in my home town area of Thanet. It’s made the place look so much more exciting than I remember it being growing up!
I really enjoy talking with others at the cataloguing parties about what tags to use when cataloguing zines, particularly ones that don’t have a lot of text – it can be really challenging, because you want to respect what the author is trying to convey, but sometimes it’s not clear or obvious, and it’s led to some really interesting conversations about people’s perceptions and how how we all identify with zines differently.


In my day job I'm a librarian and I have experience of cataloguing zines but I've often felt frustrated with the limitations of zine cataloguing based on cataloguing rules and standardised language depending on the institution. I was excited to try and think about cataloguing as more of a collective activity and to feature voices from the queer community with no previous library experience as part of the library catalogue. No cataloguing is ever perfect and zines are always at odds with some of the ideas behind cataloguing, but it's been fun to think of it from a collective perspective and hopefully try to make these zines more visible. Having a catalogue is also going to be really useful for us as we start to plan future tours and zine residencies and will help us manage the circulation side of things, keeping an eye on what zines are on loan at any given time.

One of the zines I've really loved cataloguing is Homospective which was produced for the last ever Homocrime event. I've been part of the UK queer diy scene both as a musician and as part of diy queer punk collectives, and these histories disappear too easily, and so it's really exciting to see these kinds of zines continuing the legacy. Homocrime meant a lot to me, and so I felt super sentimental cataloguing this zine.

We've had some really interesting discussions about the ways we describe zines, the tags that we use, and we've come up with collective solutions around problems of deadnaming in some specific catalogue records. We avoid a one-size fits all approach and I'm very grateful that we are able to challenge each other, reach out to zinesters where possible, and consider viewpoints other than our own during the process. Also we eat a lot of really great snacks, I'm only in it for the food to be honest.