Issues Reflection: Zines and artist's books

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    • #2695
      Ruth McConchie

      While reading this week’s readings I started thinking about the correlation between the ethos behind punk and zine culture, the creation of artist books and the support of Open Access Publishing and Creative Commons by libraries. As it argued by Robertson, by selecting, collecting, organizing, preserving and making available the material effects of culture, librarians make libraries the most viable of venues for cultural programming.

      Digitising ephemera, zine and artist book collections, and making these collections open access online could be a way of avoiding situations like those described in Wallace, Tolley, Stokes and Estep, where an ephemera collection is forgotten or dismantled when the librarian who originally championed it falls into disfavor with or leaves the institution. But as I discovered in Ballmer and Evans‘ discussion, digitising artist book collections and making them available is often not possible due to copyright restrictions on the majority of print journals published after 1923. Some ephemera has been digitized, where copyright permissions have been attained, for example the visual poetry collection available on UBUWeb and the State Library of Queensland‘s digitised artist book collection, but there is still ephemera stored in artist files uncatalogued at many galleries. Even indexing ephemera, zines and artist books on Directory of Open Access Journals and Google Scholar is problematic as this type of small-run publications… fall largely outside the indexing/web-crawling policies of these databases. Zine makers and artists today engage with many different methods of copyright licensing including Creative Commons as a kind of conversation between zine readers and other zine makers.

      Although this kind of ephemera collection present issues around digitising and indexing, the importance of zines and artist books will increase in research value as time passes. They will come to serve as a unique account of their era, one that offers insight unavailable from the mainstream press. These small-press and avant-garde artist-books and zines are primary resources, produced by artists and intertwined in the conversations, and transient and developing ideas of the time. These ideas, and ephemera that record it, unlike the books and articles published about the movement long after it has passed, reflect the artist’s rather than the critic’s voice. These primary resources are very useful to students, artists and other researchers.  From my own experience of looking at artist’s books and writings, like in zines, students and researchers find a reflection of their own voice, their own feelings and perceptions. This is also reflected in Gisonny and Freedman’s discussion of zines, as they argue zines provide a platform for marginalised writers, documenting popular culture and under-represented opinions at the time. As Robertson describes, the first function of the Library in fulfilling its cultural role is to serve the arts information needs to the community (including the needs of artists and scholars. Through indexing and, where possible, digitising ephemera, zine and artist books, libraries can serve the arts information needs of their communities now and into the future, as well as help to create networks and collaboration in the greater arts community.

    • #2722
      Stephanie Venturato

      Hey Ruth, I agree zines and artist books are going to be really important artifacts in the future, so important to collect them digitally. There was this arts and culture zine around when I was finishing high school and it was unique at the time and really well written and presented, I wonder if it’s been collected anywhere?(much nostalgia, sigh) Got me thinking though my main gripe is how they’re accessed. I had a look at the state library artist books a couple of weeks ago and they have some great stuff but it’s just not presented very well, I’d like to be able to browse and find thing sort of by chance sometimes, just like you would a physical zine. This post is spot on BTW, nice one!

    • #2771
      Stacey Larner

      Oh such an argument for fixing the copyright laws right there! The idea that ephemera might be lost due to copyright issues is pretty disturbing. A provision for digitisation for archival purposes surely makes more sense than letting fragile but culturally important works disintegrate!

      Great reflection :).

    • #2782

      Hi Ruth, I was reminded strongly when I was reading your reflection of my time as a lawyer with the ABC. It was at the time when they were looking at releasing some old Countdown clips for the first time on DVD/CD – OK everyone in this class is way too young to remember Countdown so you’re just going to have to believe me, it was once a huge ABC hit! Anyway, I was given the happy task of thinking about how the copyrights and performers’ rights for this ancient show could possibly be cleared. So many beloved songs, so many beloved performances, so many sequins! So many old rockers to try and track down, that’s if they were still alive 🙂 As it turned out, it was possible, but not for years after I had left the ABC to go and live in Paradise.

      I guess my point is that it takes people who care enough about this stuff to find the way to preserve it and your point about collections being lost or forgotten when their champion leaves is well made. I discovered that a lot of Countdown material had been recorded over because the ABC was short on video stock. Just about broke my heart, but we saved a load too. I’m sure my contribution has long been forgotten but it always makes me smile when I hear those old songs 🙂 So let’s jump in and record and save those zines! Copyright will catch up one day.

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