publications, research

The Librarian-As-Insider-Ethnographer

Journal of Library Innovation, 4.1 (2013): 1-9.

This article considers preliminary findings from ethnographic fieldwork undertaken in Australia and Canada in do-it-yourself (DIY) libraries and archives. These spaces are usually run on small or no budgets, often in squatted or donated spaces, with no paid staff. They are motivated by a DIY ethos, and often have a connection to so-called “underground” communities. In this article the author responds to Chris Atton’s model of librarian-as-ethnographer, which argues that information workers can draw on ethnographic methods to build cultural maps of grassroots and DIY communities. The author proposes that there are information professionals already in these communities, and their roles in both professional and DIY libraries enhances the librarian-as-ethnographer model by providing an insider perspective that may mediate tensions between the two collection spaces. The author draws on her fieldwork in zine libraries, infoshops, and social centers as example.


publications, research

The zine anthology as archive: archival genres and practices

Archives and Manuscripts, 2013

Building on Eichhorn’s concept of ‘archival genres’, this article considers the recent spate of zine anthologies published in Australia and the United States as examples of these genres. It proposes that the anthologies are archives of content, form and practice, given that they commonly reproduce entire zines as visual material, not just text, and are produced by members of zine communities. This article argues that the anthologies’ narratives, presentation and distribution preserve ideologies of zine culture and that archival genres create spaces for the preservation of practices.

DOI: 10.1080/01576895.2013.769861


Reproducing production: the photocopier, the original and the zine

Cultural Studies Association of Australia 2012 Conference, University of Sydney, December 4-6 2012 

Drawing on material from ‘the archive’ often requires some sort of reproduction – a photocopy, a photo or perhaps a scan – and, like access to the material itself, this reproduction is usually regulated by the caretaker of the material (the archivist). There are strict regulations around the copying; the researcher asks for the copies to be made on their behalf, the material needs to be classified as ‘reproducible’ by the donor, and there are restrictions around use, further reproduction and circulation. The reproduction process both acknowledges the ‘originality’ and authenticity of the material, and also grants the researcher a position of privilege through their access to archival material.

Reflective of a broader societal interest in DIY culture, zines are being collected and preserved by archival and other preservation institutions, and an emerging body of literature analyses the presence of these ‘objects’ in the archive. Building on this literature, I argue that broader zine practices (such as photocopying) disrupt archival reproduction regualtions and challenge notions of the original and authentic. I propose that the photocopier, with its reproduction-ability, enables a queer temporality in the archive (Halberstam 2005). Situating the photocopier at the centre of my argument enables questions to be asked about the role of reproduction in both the creation of and disruption of memory. I draw on examples from various zine collections in North America and Australia to suggest that the reproduction of these materials (both before and whilst in the archive) challenges contemporary understandings of archives and their use in cultural studies research.


Making personal learning and professional development meaningful

Research Application in Information and Library Studies, June 2012
University of South Australia
Co-written with Sarah Fearnley and Liz Stokes

View more presentations from jessie lymn

This paper reflects on the linear ‘career progression’ model of industry specific and organisational continuing professional development (CPD) programs. We propose to extend and innovate current developments in Personal Learning Network (PLN) models through the consideration of non-traditional, informal professional development activities.

Formal professional development programs are endorsed by both institutional employers and professional organisations in the Library and Information (LIS) sector. Drawing on previous research into LIS PD programs (Brooker 2010, Dalby 2008) we argue that these programs are delivered top-down and reflect a linear based career progression model. More recently PLNs have been suggested as alternatives or enhancements to these formal PD programs (Howlett 2011, Bennett 2010). However, these alternative models are still focused on career progression and measuring ‘success’ in a professional context.

This paper reports on an experimental case study undertaken to interrogate the efficacy of a formal LIS industry PD program in addressing the CPD needs of university based information professionals. A modified PLN model was used to critically reflect on a series of examples (activism, community engagement and personal practice) which trouble the traditional scope of these formal programs. We argue that these examples, whilst not part of a formal (or informal) professional development program, reflect the passion and pleasure that information professionals develop through their study and work practices. These examples take place outside of the formal programs, without recognition, and enable a space for critical reflection and innovative application.

projects, research

What is an archive? Zines as temporal and spatial disruptions to the archive.

Jessie Lymn (
PhD candidate, Faculty of Arts & Social Sciences, University of Technology, Sydney

This project is motivated by the desire to disrupt what, where and when archives are, questioning the temporal and spatial assumptions made when working with and in the archive.

Everyday cultural research regularly delves into archives without asking (many) questions of, or around it. Located within these broader questions of what, where and when, this project focuses on a (somewhat) containable set of (sub) cultural artifacts – zines – and presents a collection of tangible and intangible archival spaces as potential (leaky) containers of memory and history. Through the uncertainty of zines, and using a queer methodology, this project will demonstrate the vagaries of what ends up in the archive, and present variations on what an archive could be.

In September 2010 Teal Triggs, Professor of Graphic Design and Head of Research, School of Graphic Design, London College of Communication, published her latest book, Fanzines, lauded as a ‘high-impact visual presentation of the most interesting fanzines ever produced’ (Thames & Hudson 2010). The book presents over 500 images of fanzines (covers, pages, websites) sourced from Triggs’s own collection and other personal and archival collections. Within days of the book’s launch, public (online) discussions were taking place between zine makers about Trigg’s reproduction of (some of) their zines without permission. Much of the discussions focus on how academics and publishers ‘should treat’ zines and zinemakers, with surrounding discussions about subcultures, reproduction, copyright, communication and for- profit publication.

This anecdote highlights uncertainties in the relationship between contemporary cultural materials in the archive, the people who produce them, and their subsequent (post-archiving) use, and it is these uncertainties that motivate my doctoral research. Historians and cultural researchers regularly rely on preservation institutions such as archives to source these ephemeral materials – there are numerous collections of zines and other subcultural ephemera in collecting institutions around the world. The archive is active in constructing ways of knowing cultures and subcultures, but there is little consideration of this active role of the archival institution in preserving what is traditionally though of as non-mainstream culture. My doctoral project is significant because it highlights these uncertainties, and, like the subcultural material it is considering, presents various ways of thinking about the archive.

Research question
This thesis considers the meta-question ‘what is an archive?’ by asking how zines, as subcultural products, are temporal and spatial disruptions to the archive. In addition, the thesis asks ‘how do specific sites of non-normative research (ie zines) inform a research practice, and what form can this research take?’


Feeling at home in ‘little library spaces’

May 2011

Research Applications in Information and Library Studies 2011
Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane

This paper considers preliminary findings from ethnographic fieldwork undertaken in Australia and Canada in do-it-yourself (DIY) libraries and archives. These spaces are usually run on small or no budgets, often in squatted or donated spaces (including people’s homes, social centres and community spaces), with no paid staff.  They are motivated by a DIY ethos, and often have a connection to so-called ‘underground’ communities or practices.
Of note in these spaces is the prevalence of professionally trained, or in-training, information professionals (librarians, library technicians and archivists) who identify with DIY communities. These professionals are often working ‘day jobs’ in public, university or corporate libraries, and spend time in these DIY collections spaces in addition to their paid work.

I argue that the motivation of LIS professionals in these DIY spaces is not simply explained through a traditional model of building experience for career advancement. Using Michael Warner’s notion of counterpublics I suggest that the importance of these spaces for creating and strengthening community and identity provides motivation for all those involved, including information professionals.


When zines meet archives: above- and below-ground collections

First published in Artlink, vol 30 no 2, 2010

Why do we keep things in archives? They are traces of the near and distant past, preserved for future reference. In Archive Fever Derrida argues that we archive our past to enable our present and future. Archival objects and documents give us reference points to define and understand the present, putting them in context and creating a pathway for the future1. So, we understand contemporary media phenomena by comparing them to those in the archive: blogging is likened to Victorian era scrapbooking and YouTube videos are variations on Super-8 home movies.

Archivists are charged with the mission to preserve ‘authentic evidence of … cultural and intellectual activities’ in order to support ‘understandings of … life through the management and retention of its personal … and social memory’2. They curate the memories that consequently inform our futures. But what histories are being kept and where? This article will explore these ideas through zines and zine culture; they can be seen as part of the underground, but are also finding their way into mainstream memory institutions.

zines as underground activity

Zines are (very broadly) publications that are self-published, self-printed and self-distributed, with a small circulation and within specific sub-cultures or groups. They are usually photocopied and often have a do-it-yourself (DIY) or cut-and-paste aesthetic. Zine topics are endless, reflecting the creator’s obsessions and identity.

Unlike mainstream print publications, zines are usually published only to the standards of the zine maker, without regard to formal print standards and hence preservation practices (acid-free paper, archival binding or ink processes). They might be photocopied on office paper, screenprinted, stapled together, sold at outdoor zine fairs, or kept in a backpack for a few months.

Zines are sometimes designed to be be discarded, or destroyed on reading. Take YOU zine, for instance – a weekly, anonymous letter to ‘you’ which you might stumble upon across Australia and the world. Each week the letter is enveloped in some way – most commonly a stapled paper bag, but potentially a VHS video cover, wrapped around a rock, or in a kraft yellow inter-office envelope. In her introduction to YOU: some letters from the first 5 years, Anna Poletti discusses the ‘terrible, irreversible dilemma: the letter or the bag?’ when opening this zine3. Opening the container to get to the letter inside involves a destruction of some sort, and is part of the experience of reading. But once opened the zine is no longer a ‘perfect sample’.

inside the institution

The past that we ‘know’ is the past that has been preserved. Formally preserved by archivists, librarians and curators, who work in formal institutions of memory preservation and making (archives, libraries and museums) and informally preserved through interpersonal networks, storytelling and hearsay. Institutional spaces are regulated by professional guidelines, national and cultural identities and social processes, and entrusted to preserve the memory of people and nations. They are containers of materiality, paying attention to order and preservation. Archivists are trained to select items of potential significance, label and describe them, and house them in a way which is hoped will preserve them for generations to come.

Traditionally archivists have worked with documents, both public and private, from Government legislation to personal letters and diaries. More recently they are grappling with how to archive less tangible documents such as blogs, online newspaper comment sections and text messages. The intangible document is finding its place in the vaults of the archive.

These institutions are also archiving the underground – the National Film and Sound Archive has a program archiving Australia’s experimental music, and the State Library of Victoria has a well established zine collection. More and more, underground activities and ephemera are finding their way into these institutions, and presenting challenges to existing standards, containers and practice.

putting zines in the stacks

The State Library of Victoria has a collection of over 4000 Australian zines in their Rare Printed Collection. The collection spans more than a decade of zine making in Australia, and has grown over time through established acquisition arrangements with Polyester Books (renowned for its progressive attitude to publishing and censorship) and the Sticky Institute, an artist run initiative and zine shop in Melbourne’s CBD. The collection can be seen as representative of parts of Australian underground culture in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, with a caveat that it can never capture everything in the underground.

Currently the collection is mostly maintained by a dedicated volunteer (and zine maker) who is working on cataloguing the collection, ensuring each zine is recorded, preserved (in an archival plastic sleeve) and put in its place in an archival box. The boxes are stored in chronological order in the stacks of the Library, accessible only by appointment, and with no searchable finding aid. The zines are safely locked away for future use; occasionally they are accessed by a researcher, and supervised tours of the collection take place once or twice a year.

zines in diy spaces

There are other, less institutional collections of zines in Australia, working outside of the standardised preservation and archival forms.

The Octapod Association in Newcastle, NSW, is home to a zine collection of potentially the same size and breadth of history as the State Library of Victoria collection. The Octapod collection is uncatalogued, unsorted and stored on open shelves in a common space, with no gatekeeeping or preservation standards. It is estimated there are approximately two to four thousand zines in the collection, donated by members of the zine community mostly during the annual zine fair at Newcastle’s This is Not Art festival.

The collection’s history reflects the nature of its community, of DIY action, passion and burnout. Various projects have been undertaken on the collection over the past twelve years, including an initial zine anthology compilation project, a National Library of Australia significance assessment and a Work for the Dole cataloguing project.

In Brisbane, the Copy & Destroy zine library is housed in a corner of a youth centre in the Valley, watched over only by passers-by and maintained by a dedicated volunteer. There’s a sign that asks you not to steal zines; if you really need to, you can photocopy them. (The sign then gives instructions on how to remove the staples and make double-sided copies for yourself).

a shoebox of their own

In bedrooms, living rooms and garages around the country there are suitcases, shoeboxes and bookshelves full of zines – some numbering into the thousands – mostly unsorted, uncatalogued, ‘unpreserved’. These are ephemeral collections of ephemeral things, where the cultural memory lies in other dimensions of the objects: the trade done to acquire a zine, the letters written back and forth between zinemakers (and the addresses written in address books then crossed out as people moved), the zine fair that got rained out or where you met the love of your life (at the time, at least). Or the zine you read about an ovarian cyst that you lent to a friend when she was diagnosed with one, or the recipe you cooked from a zine your housemate had on their bookshelf.

the archive in print

Zine anthologies highlight the role of other spaces in preserving the cultural memory of this underground community. Recent publications like YOU: some letters from the first 5 years and Strawberry Hills Forever, a collection of zine maker Vanessa Berry’s writing, are archiving zines in another way. They bring together the content and often the aesthetics of the zines, without the materiality of the original objects. Instead they are collected together in one edition, published by independent publishing companies (Breakdown Press and Local Consumption Productions respectively).

it’s all about options

The DIY nature of underground communities and the limitations and freedoms of the spaces expose different and exciting ways to think about archiving culture. Unrestricted by formal standards of preservation, storage and order, there is potential to rethink how we use and collect our histories.

Zines are being archived not only in the vaults of the State Library, but also in community centres, shoeboxes and print publications. In all these archives the zine is transformed, but there still lingers a memory of a time and place for those who were there. And for those who weren’t, there are enough traces in these spaces to build an idea of what memories could be there. And to have a long, lingering read.

to explore the collections yourself


  • The Octapod @ TPI House, King St, Newcastle NSW
  • Copy & Destroy Zine Library @ Visible Ink, 54 Berwick St, Fortitude Valley Queensland
  • Sticky Institute, Degraves Subway, Campbell Arcade, Melbourne Victoria
  • The State Library of Victoria (by appointment only), Swanston St, Melbourne Victoria
  • Bedrooms and living rooms of friends around the world – ask around and you’ll be sure to find a shoe box or two.

Buy or borrow

  • Strawberry Hills Forever Vanessa Berry (2007) Local Consumption Publications
  • YOU: some letters from the first 5 years (2007) Breakdown Press

Read more

  • Intimate Ephemera: Reading Young Lives in Australian Zine Culture Anna Poletti (2008) Melbourne University Press
  • Notes from underground : zines and the politics of alternative culture Stephen Duncombe (2008) Microcosm Publishing
  • From A to Zine: Building a winning zine collection in your library Julie Bartel, (2004) ALA Editions, Chicago


1. Derrida, J (1998) Archive Fever (trans. Eric Prenowitz) University of Chicago Press: Chicago
2. Australian Society of Archivists guidelines,
3. Poletti, A (2007) ‘Introduction’ in YOU: some letters from the first five years Breakdown Press: Melbourne