Project History

History of ZineCat

from a forthcoming book chapter by Lauren Kehoe, with light edits by Jenna Freedman

Discussion of developing a union catalog officially began in 2009 at the first Zine Librarians unConference (ZLuC) held in Seattle, WA. In the first ZLuC meeting regarding a union catalog for zines, the brainstorm for the zine union catalog included what metadata fields should be included in a holding record: cover images, bibliographic information (zine title, author, format, pages, pub date, etcetera), description / summary, table of contents if included in the zine, MARC record, list of zine libraries that carry it, link to electronic download, if there is one, LoC subject headings, tag suggestions (like LibraryThing), and a zine thesaurus tags (based on the Anchor Archive Zine Library). Additionally, the attendees discussed platform selection. Some early considerations were Drupal and ZineWiki.

Later on in the first unConference, several attendees presented on different content management systems that should be considered in addition to the ones suggested earlier in the unConference, including Drupal,, ZineWiki, Anthaeneum, and LibraryThing, outlining pros and cons for each. At the conclusion of the session, it was decided that a working group should be formed to pursue union catalog possibilities. Over the last several years, the evolving and changing working group has been active in making incremental progress on developing the union catalog.

A major breakthrough for ZineCat’s development came in 2013 with establishing a metadata standard for zine description based on DublinCore: xZINECOREx. It was decided that certain cataloging fields would consistently be used to describe any particular zine and that this would become the standard that zine collections could adopt.

After the first ZLuC in 2009, a collaborating group of zine librarians, metadata specialists, and web developers has worked to continue ZineCat’s development and drafted an NEH grant proposal (the application was pulled--the casualty of an institutional reorganization) where the project’s aspirations were outlined as follows:

  • A cross­-repository resource for zine research, providing access to metadata about as many zines, and in as many ways (linked open data, links to digital content, etc.) as possible.
  • A collaborative platform for cataloging zines and creating authority files for their creators, by persons both within and external to the library profession.
  • A hub for zine research, where partners can seek inspiration and collaboration.
  • A promotional and educational resource for the zine genre.
  • A tool capable of supporting projects to incorporate digitized (and born digital) zine (and zine-­related) material into other platforms such as the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA).
  • A model for bringing together data from disparate schema, replicable by developers working with other types of materials, including, but not limited to
    • Ephemera from dispersed protest movements like #BlackLivesMatter or Occupy Wall Street
    • Menus from archives and special collections
    • Alt-right materials not widely held in research collections

The ZUC, as a reference resource for the zine genre, will contain three primary components:

  • Catalog records for zine titles (descriptive metadata), which give both identifying (e.g., title, creator name, production date and locality) and contextual information (e.g., subjects, genres, abstracts, biographical and historical details)
  • Holdings information (details about libraries that hold specific issues, and how to access them)
  • Digitized and/or digital content when available

Beginning in September 2014, the ZUC planning team held regular virtual meetings and undertaken preparatory work for the development of an online platform that aims to be a fully inclusive metadata aggregation and discovery interface to enhance free access to information about zine holdings across the United States.

In 2017, Jenna Freedman, who has been a pioneering member of the union catalog working group proposed to their classmates in the Digital Humanities program at the City University of New York Graduate Center (CUNY GC) that they work on developing a union catalog prototype. Over the course of four months in the spring, 2017 semester, a group of four graduate students, including the author of this chapter, worked on building the prototype. It was at this time that the group decided that the catalog would be built using the digital asset manager, Collective Access (CA). This decision was reached based on work that Milo Miller and the Queer Zine Archive Project (QZAP) had undertaken in determining what platform their collection of zines would be hosted on.

After a review process of some of the platforms mentioned earlier in this chapter, QZAP decided to use CA. Their collection required a platform that could handle large quantities of digital files (they provide digital access to many, if not most, of their zines) and a robust cataloging system. CA fit that profile. When it came time for the Zine Union Catalog team to choose a platform to build its prototype on, they were able to clone QZAP’s instance and to rely on Milo and QZAP for technical assistance and guidance. In addition, a major consideration for the Zine Union Catalog team was to choose a platform that allowed the most access to a diverse group of institutions. CA can be used by public, academic, barefoot libraries, museums, and archives alike.

Upon cloning QZAP’s instance of CA, the team was able to begin adding sample records, with minimal metadata, from four collections: ABC No Rio, The Barnard Zine Collection, Denver Zine Library, and QZAP to experiment with batch ingesting disparate metadata from different collections. These collections were chosen for their variety in metadata formats (xZINECOREx, xZINECOREx inspired, MARC, LibraryThing) and because they represent different kinds of institutions (academic, public, barefoot) that are collecting zines.