Zine Union Catalog (ZUC): An Updated Project Plan

The problem ZUC will address:

One sentence version

Zine readers, researchers, and librarians need a unified resource for finding finding and sharing zine metadata and location information.

Expanded

For the same reasons readers, scholars, and information professionals benefit from resources like WorldCat and DPLA (Digital Public Library of America), people concerned with zines would be well-served by a union catalog for zines. ZineCat will aid academic and independent readers who want to find information about individual zines, as well as about the breadth of zine resources available on particular topics. A ZineCat user could type < cutting > into a search and find zines that reference cutting/self-injury in libraries all over the world. As WorldCat does, at a later point in its development, ZineCat will facilitate loans between zine libraries, even beyond the scope of WorldCat because ZineCat will include among its members the types of independent libraries that are not typically OCLC members, libraries without budgets, paid staff, or formal status.

ZineCat will offer a similar benefit to zine librarians, allowing them to share catalog records, metadata, and knowledge. Further, having developed a Zine Librarians Code of Ethics, the zine library community has proved itself thoughtful, loving, and critical, which bodes well for a carefully built tool informed by deep processing and cooperation.

The Five Ws and an H: 

Why

Due to diverse standards and practices among zine libraries, archives, and community organizations that collect zines, there is no one-search database available to view, find, and access zine collections.  The Zine Union Catalog would provide one-search functionality to researchers, scholars, and others interested in discovering zines and their collections.

What

A cooperatively run union catalog of zines where catalogers would provide the metadata and description of their zine collections and researchers, scholars, and others interested in locating zines could search for them.  Zines often feature content that is countercultural, political, and artistic.  Zines are rarely represented in mainstream research, so having the ability to search for and locate this content would further the access of rich primary resources that can be used by humanities scholars and beyond.   

Who

Since 2014, the Zine Union Catalog (ZUC) planning team, a nationally distributed group of zine librarians, metadata specialists, and web developers, have been meeting regularly at virtual meetings and zine conferences to undertake the preparatory work for the development of an online platform.  Then, in spring 2017, students in the digital praxis class at the CUNY Graduate Center built a prototype of the ZUC with sample records from three zine libraries (Barnard Zine Library, Denver Zine Library, and the Queer Zine Archive).  Ultimately, this catalog would be used by zine librarians, archivists, catalogers, and collectors to include their collections in a searchable database so that researchers, scholars, zinesters, and enthusiasts would be able to find the zines and collections for their information needs.  A big question remains though about the costs of maintaining this project.  For the next two years, ITP has provided a grant for the ZUC to be hosted Reclaim Hosting, but there will be additional costs as the project grows.  A main goal of the work done during ITP is to identify grant opportunities and other funding streams to keep the project moving forward.  

Where

This project will be deployed online at www.zinecat.org.  Users will access it at their point of need.

When

This development of the ZUC is ongoing, but a major goal for the time in ITP is to set up a multiphase timeline for the development.

How

through collaborative work conducted in courses at the CUNY Graduate Center and the ZUC planning team.

Audience

It is hard to choose among zine librarians, scholars, and lay zine readers as a primary audience for this round of project development. I’m going to hold off on that until we get a better grip on the broad scope and individual aspects of this step of the project.

Some participant collections in the prototype:

Project Model(s):

There are two models for the work we hope to accomplish with ZineCat:

OCLC’s WorldCat

OCLC’s WorldCat – a union catalog with 72,000 members in 170 countries and territories who contribute their metadata and collection holdings to the database. This tool provides ZineCat with a model for standardizing metadata and building a collectivized community of contributors to ZineCat so that users (researchers, scholars, students, zinesters, etc.) can discover information about zines, and zine collections, closest to them and in the world at large.  

The Digital Public Library of America

The Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) – a discovery tool that provides information from libraries, archives, museums, and other cultural institutions on their digital collections.  Although many of the zines in ZineCat will not be available in digitized form, the project development for DPLA will set a model for ZineCat development.  Below is a description of that model and its workstreams.

Steering Committee – A collection of vested stakeholders meet to discuss the development of the project.  In ZineCat’s case, this refers to the work commenced in 2014 with the ZUC Planning Team (and prior to that less formally starting in 2009) and continues with the work being carried out at the Graduate Center.  

Board of Directors – Provide support and advisement to the project’s development.  In ZineCat’s case, it is currently called an Advisory Board.  During spring, 2017, members of the DH Praxis team identified librarians, technologists, zine makers, and others to be contacted as asked to be on the Board.  

Content & Scope – What is the Collection Development Policy for the project?  For DPLA, this question had a larger scope than ZineCat.  The ZUC will make disparate zine collections discoverable in a single interface.  The project will respect and represent the Zine Librarians Code of Ethics.   

Prototype Development and Technical Aspects – DPLA put out an RFP to present proposals on how a national digital discovery system should look and function.  In ZineCat’s case, this work was begun during the 2014 Planning Team and continued in the spring, 2017 DH Praxis course.  During ITP Core II, the prototype will continue to be refined, but a major outcome for this semester is to develop a strategic and scaffolded plan to continue the project’s growth.  The accessibility and scalability of ZineCat are important aspects of the project’s development.   

Funding (Financial/Business Models) – The DPLA is funded by several foundations and government agencies.  ZineCat plans to identify similar funding streams through its planning process this semester and beyond.  Additionally, there were some preliminary discussions about a membership contribution model that could work on a sliding scale.

Governance – DPLA defines this as a system of decision making and management of the project.  In ZineCat’s case, this aspect has not been determined in great detail up to this point.  However, as part of the planning work for ZineCat this semester, it should be a major goal to define the future of governance.  A major responsibility of the governance structure should be ongoing and regular assessment, both internally and with external stakeholders and community members.  

Legal Issues – Recognition and knowledge of the myriad legal issues involved in providing access for intellectual property in an online environment is essential to the success of ZineCat.  The DPLA planning initiative wiki defines it very well: “…how to approach and influence the legal and copyright environment in order to support equitable knowledge distribution in a digital world.”

Skills: What We Have and What We Need:

Jenna

My most significant contribution to this project isn’t so much a skill as knowledge of the zine community–as a zine maker, a zine librarian, and a zine scholar. It is knowledge, but also feeling. Like the people whose work I collect and write about, my wants, needs, and vulnerabilities as a writer need to be considered throughout the process. My being on the inside of those concerns allow me to serve as an advocate for people who normally don’t have a voice in catalog development. The skills I need to learn are legion. Lauren and I decided to take on learning php, which is the code behind Collective Access. Learning php will be useful/necessary to building the catalog, but just as import is beginning to feel mastery over any kind of coding language. I could use it simply as a confidence booster, but the main point is to gain comfort with coding logic.

Lauren

I have not been a member of the zine community before working on this project, so I do not have the depth of knowledge about zines, and organizing zines, that Jenna does.  However, as a librarian, I am committed to making underrepresented collections, especially zine collections, more visible to a larger community.  I believe in this project and am excited about developing ZineCat and sharing it with the world.  I’m not entirely confident in my independent technical skills, especially with programming and building a database, but I am confident in my willingness to work hard and learn what I need to in order to make the project successful.  I also know I’m not working alone and that I am good at building a community of stakeholders.       

Please find our commentary on the collaborative nature of our project work for ITP Core II below:

Introduction

The Zine Union Catalog (ZUC) has been a collaborative process from its beginnings at the Zine Librarians (un)Conference (ZLuC) in Seattle in 2009. The ZLuC crew continued to develop concepts for the catalog at its annual conferences, including in 2011 when zine librarians formalized xZINECOREx, the project’s metadata standard, derived from Dublin Core. In 2014 a geographically disparate group began working on the project in a more systematic way, with regular conference calls, community surveys, and in-person project meetings. However, it was when Jenna, Lauren, and their other two DH Praxis II project group members Alex Segal and Martí Massana Ferre built a prototype as their class project, that the most demonstrable progress on ZUC was made.

With a group of four halved, we look forward to great unity of thought and accountability, as well as a greater interdependence and deeper collaboration. Working as a pair, we will respond to our assignments similarly to our ITP Core II classmates who are working alone. To ensure that we are creating a comparable level of work to our classmates, we are going to document and share our collaboration process. We hope this act of self-documentation will be useful to our classmates, the zine librarians involved in ZUC, our advisory board, and of course ourselves.

As a group of two, we have decided that we do not yet need to use a formal project management tool, or even a segmented communication tool like Slack, which we used for our DH Praxis project. For now, we are using shared documents (Google), taking advantage of built-in tools like outlining with headers, suggesting, commenting, and assigning tasks. We have not made as much use of spreadsheets and sharing a calendar, which we may as we go forward. We have discussed tagging items in our shared document to make topics easier to identify and navigate, but at this point find-in-page is sufficient.

It may be that using Google is not ideal, because it is, in some ways, The Man, all-powerful, and always gathering data on us, but at the moment it is expedient, and at the moment an acceptable risk to our privacy and autonomy. We plan to use the class blog and the Zine Cat blog as the public face of our project. If members of our advisory board from the DH project are willing to remain, the blog will be a way of continuing to keep them apprised of our progress. Depending on advisory board members’ ability to commit to keeping an eye on the project and our needs, we may change the composition of the board. It is important to us to have accessibility, accountability, kindness, and feelings baked into the ZUC development process at every step.

To that end, as we continue our work this semester, we intend to routinely review and explore, either individually, or as a pair

  • Lessons learned
  • Feelings
  • Ongoing and revised goals
  • Challenges
  • Progress made
  • Concrete steps

Jenna

  • Lessons learned – As much as I thought Getting Real was neoliberal corporate self-help from, as Jonathan put it, people with no values, I did get a powerful takeaway from it: scale down. I want to be methodical about this project, which is a challenge to my doer workstyle.
  • Feelings – I’m less excited about this project than I have been in the past, maybe a little burned out and sick of it. I hope to regain my passion for ZineCat through my ongoing collaboration with Lauren, the support of the zine librarian community, and the skilled, caring, and critical guidance of our professors, Maura Smale and Luke Waltzer.
  • Ongoing and revised goals – My biggest goal right now is to make a roadmap for the project.  My goal for before our next meeting is to begin to wrap my head around php. Lauren is going to attempt to learn it using Code Academy, and I am going to follow a Lynda.com video.
  • Challenges –
    • Burnout
    • Work-life balance issues
    • Learning php
  • Progress made
    • Updated WordPress installation on zinecat.org
    • Deleted spam on zinecat.org
  • Concrete steps
    • Bring copies of Shared Authority zine
    • Complete the beginner php video

Lauren

  • Lessons learned – That the progress of projects is often much slower than one would hope for.  Despite the wholehearted commitment to this project, it is not the lone project Jenna and I are working on.  For school it is, but we both work full time and have other commitments.  However, a major goal for us this semester is to get strategic about the roadmap for ZineCat, so I’m hopeful that by the end of this semester, we will be in a good place with a plan for the project’s future.
  • Feelings – I have a range of feelings.  Mostly good, but I have developed an anxious streak when it comes to my ability to balance the work for school and other work commitments I have.  I do think I learned a lot last spring about balancing my expectations of the work I thought should be getting done and the good work that was getting done.  
  • Ongoing and revised goals
    • Learn php.  
    • Maintenance of ZineCat.org (current records and adding ongoing metadata)
    • Strategic roadmap for the project’s development
  • Challenges
    • Identifying viable funding sources to keep this project growing.  
    • Technological skill set to continue development of ZineCat.org
  • Progress made
    • Strong communication with Jenna,  project collaborator
    • Identification of project goals for this semester
  • Concrete steps
    • Complete the beginner php video
    • Social media outreach and communication of ongoing ZineCat work
    • Contacted by University of Michigan librarian regarding contribution to ZineCat

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