Tweens, Teens, & Zines at the Library

Here’s how to get young people to explore creative writing and the arts with a zine-making workshop at your library.

Photo by Ayde Rayas

This winter, the International School of Brooklyn’s library will host the second annual Zine Mania!—a series of four or five workshops for fourth to eighth graders all about zines and the art of zine-making. A zine is a self-published, DIY-style “magazine” that can be simply and affordably made by anyone. The slim publication’s content can range from instructional material, to fiction, comics, art/illustration, biography; the subject matter is limited only by the author’s imagination.

Different local guest artists visit our school to lead the workshops. Each artist brings something new to the students: a story of who they are; a set of skills and experiences; or different techniques, topics, and themes. We try to feature a diverse roster of guests—across race, gender, age, occupation/area of expertise—and encourage them to choose unique and interesting themes that they’re passionate about and want to share with our students. Last year’s series included a variety of artists, such as a public outreach librarian whose topic was zine construction, a published comic creator who presented on making pop-up character zines, a photographer who spoke about photo collage zines, an archivist/activist who focused on autobiographical zines, a letterpress printer who led a workshop on making accordion zines, and an arts therapist who discussed zines about social justice.

We spread the word about our workshop series far and wide among our school community: through word of mouth, by posting it on our school’s website, and including it in the newsletter. We stocked up on our library’s kid/YA friendly zine collection from Zines for Kids, Sweet Candy Distro & Press, Brown Recluse Zine Distro, Stranger Danger Zine Distro, and Portland Button Works and put together a display in the library. This also included a stack of copies of How To Make This Very Zine by Anne Elizabeth Moore and Whatcha Mean, What's a Zine? by Mark Todd and Esther Pearl Watson to increase awareness and excitement around the series. The Booklets, our library elective club, helped to get the word out by making fliers and creating The Mega-Zine—a giant, oversize zine all about zines.

We also created several zine-making kits that included markers, glue sticks, collage material, rubber stamps and ink pads, and scissors, making them available to students in the library during their lunch and after-school hours. We tried to emphasize the idea that zines can take many styles, and that one popular look is simply Xeroxed pamphlets in black and white, resulting in a punk-DIY aesthetic.

Photo by Maggie Carson

Zine Mania! was a hit at our school. One fourth grader remarked, “it was fun! I made two: one was a tiny article about my life, kind of like a biography. The other one was a birthday card for my friend!” A seventh grader shared, “making a zine was an amazing experience, I learned how to make zines with images from magazines and make them interesting and funny. The teachers helped out a lot when I was not confident, and as a result, I made a cool zine called ‘A Series of Unfortunate Animals.’”

Zine-making workshops can take a tremendous variety of forms and directions, both at school and public libraries. At the Huntley Area Public Library in Huntley, IL, young adult librarian Karin Thogersen has been hosting an ongoing teen writers’ club called Teen Zine since 2008. The library prints and distributes a quarterly collection of participants’ stories, artwork, and photography. “The teens (in grades 6–12) who contribute sometimes help with editing and the selection process [for the] publication. [Mostly], the group functions more as a safe place to share whatever they happen to be working on [and where they can get] some feedback from other members,” said Thogersen. She allows the group to morph and change depending on the desires of the participants.

“When we first started meeting, the teens who were involved were more interested in the publishing aspect and wanted to design logos for our zine and decide layouts. Later, others wanted to work on things while we met, and then most recently, it’s been more of a low-pressure open mic/sharing atmosphere.”

Thogersen acknowledges the challenges of drawing in participants. “Because we are a public library, it’s sometimes difficult to get teens here to participate in activities— they have a lot to choose from in school and after school, so I’m honored when they do want to participate in any clubs or activities that we offer.”

Whether it’s housed in a school or a branch library, each community will have its own rewards and hurdles when putting together workshops. Should your library host a zine-making workshop, I encourage you to collaborate with local artists and public librarians. Encourage your participants to share their work within your community and beyond.

Are you planning on hosting a zine workshop in your library? Would your patrons be interested in participating in a zine swap? Contact me at mcarson@isbrooklyn.org; i'd love to hear from you!

Maggie Carson is the library coordinator at the International School of Brooklyn in New York City.

See also:

Middle School YA Zine Project Makes Kids the Bosses

Strategize: Great Ideas for Library Writing Programs

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