PUNK 8 (2) pp. 227–242 Intellect Limited 2019
Punk & Post-Punk
Volume 8 Number 2
© 2019 Intellect Ltd Article. English language. doi: 10.1386/punk.8.2.227_1
University College London
Not for you? Ethical
implications of archiving
The archival value of zines (self-published pamphlets often produced by radical
and marginalized communities) as historical records has been well documented in
academic research. Red Chidgey refers to zines as ‘sources of advocacy and empow-
erment for those who make them, an attempt to bear witness to their own lives’.
As evidence of networks, cultures, linguistics and experiences of marginalized indi-
viduals and communities, zines often exist as the only representation of ephemeral
and otherwise undocumented spaces, which makes them incredibly valuable as the
primary source material.
Following the establishment of large zine collections at heritage spaces includ-
ing the Women’s Library, British Library, Wellcome Library and Tate, zines are
now regularly collected and used in programming at heritage organizations. But
what does it mean to archive and make use of zines – particularly those created by
marginalized makers and communities – in an institutional heritage context? This
article considers the ethical implications of archiving zine practice and cultures –
anti-institutional in its nature – in institutional spaces. Through a case study analy-
sis of the community-led archive project Queer Zine Archive Project, I argue that, if
zines are archived, it is imperative that archive workers are critically thinking about
and incorporating the originating politics of zine culture into protocols for catalogu-
ing, access, interpretation and use of these materials.
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228 Punk & Post-Punk
The value of zines as historical objects has been well documented in scholarly
research. Red Chidgey refers to zines as ‘sources of advocacy and empower-
ment for those who make them, an attempt to bear witness to their own lives’
(2006: 6). As evidence of networks, cultures, linguistics and experiences of
marginalized individuals and communities, zines often exist as the only repre-
sentation of ephemeral and otherwise undocumented spaces, which makes
them incredibly valuable as a primary source material.
Following the establishment of large zine collections at heritage spaces
including the Women’s Library, British Library, Wellcome Library and Tate,
zines are now regularly collected and used in programming at heritage organ-
izations. Examples of this use include the facilitation of zine-making work-
shops in recent queer history programming at Tate Britain (2018), themed
blog posts exploring intersections of zines and health by the Wellcome Library
(Cook and Vigour 2017) and the announcement of a collection of zines relat-
ing to DIY sound and vision technologies at the National Science and Media
Museum (Fife 2017). This, and other uses of zines by large heritage organiza-
tions, affords value to these objects within an institutional context. In relation
to popular music heritage, Roberts and Cohen refer to this process as author-
Heritage can be officially authorised in a number of different ways. In the
UK, for example, government bodies may categorise a building as ‘herit-
age’ by including it on an official register or awarding it a commemora-
tive plaque. This gives it a special status and may have moral and legal
implications, increasing its value and importance and making it worth
protecting and placing under formal protection.
The aforementioned programming and projects situate zines as historically
and culturally significant in national heritage contexts. By bringing zines into
a library, archive or museum, the creating communities are legitimized and
authorized – and as such, community-led projects might be more able to
access funding from heritage bodies (such as the Heritage Lottery Fund) to
undertake other projects.
However, this also raises further questions when we consider the anti-
institutional and punk ethos that underpins zine-making practice. What does
it mean to archive and use zines – often made by marginalized makers – in
perpetuity? This article considers the ethical implications of archiving zine
practice and cultures from marginalized communities. I begin by introducing
zines as medium, practice, community and historical record. Following this I
will summarize academic research on the interrelation between archives and
societal power by postmodern archival theorists, and then go on to exam-
ine the impact of this power upon marginalized subjects, particularly (in the
context of this article) zine-makers. I conclude by looking at the ways in which
zine communities and other marginalized groups resist institutional power
through the establishment of their own community-based archives using
the case study of Queer Zine Archive Project (an online and community-led
zine archive, hereafter referred to as QZAP). QZAP is selected as a case study
because it is a community-led archive collecting zines made by a marginalized
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group (in this case, LGBTQ people) with both a physical and an online access
function – thus making it an appropriate case through which to explore archi-
val practice in this context. I will argue that, to preserve and facilitate access
to zines as archival objects, it is important to incorporate the originating non-
hierarchical and radical politics of DIY cultures and cultural production into
WHAT IS A ZINE?
Zines, ‘non-commercial, small circulation publications which are produced and
distributed by their creators’ (Spencer 2005: 17), are commonly produced as a
method of engagement with, and documentation of, countercultural move-
ments and communities, and incorporate a variety of narrative and visual
techniques that may include autobiographical writing, music and gig reviews,
comics, illustration, collage, essays, political commentary, satire, life testimony
and personal reflection. Zine-making practice began with science fiction fans
in the early twentieth century, who produced ‘fanzines’ containing their own
stories (in language informally referred to as ‘fanspeak’ within the culture),
which were then traded and sold in the community (Spencer 2005: 82). These
zines also contained extensive letter sections that enabled fans to communi-
cate with each other through the medium and established networks for fans
of the medium. Zines were later adopted by the Beat Generation in the 1950s,
small presses in the mid-twentieth century and the punk community in the
1970s. A variety of communities have adopted the medium in the decades
since, including football fans, third-wave feminists, queer people, anarchists
and independent music fans.
Zines are often made by creators without any formal knowledge of
publishing, and as such often possess a haphazard aesthetic that is colloqui-
ally referred to as ‘cut and paste’ in the community. Many creators will piece
together zines by hand or through a basic grasp of desktop publishing, employ-
ing whatever few resources and skills that are available to them. This choice
of aesthetic breaks down the boundaries that divide professional and amateur
cultural production – as Stephen Duncombe writes, ‘In an increasingly profes-
sionalized culture world, zine producers are decidedly amateur […]. By their
practice of eroding the lines between producer and consumer they challenge
the dichotomy between active creator and passive spectator that characterises
our culture and society’ (1997: 133). A zine may more resemble a photocopied
scrapbook rather than anything that we would otherwise consciously iden-
tify as a ‘publication’ – creators often appropriate, annotate and re-print copy-
righted images, text and other copyrighted materials. This technique illustrates
further some of the central politics of zine culture – disrespect for institutional
rules, professional techniques and the re-writing of majority and mainstream
culture to reflect subcultural and often subversive values.
DIY politics also factor into the ways in which zines are distributed. Zine
creators are also often the people who manage the circulation and distribu-
tion of zines throughout the network. As Lymn writes, it is not only the zines
themselves that are thus important, but ‘how they exist within communi-
ties […] [as] the people who write them (zinesters) are often the producers,
distributors, collectors and consumers – roles in a zine’s production and life
cycle are not discrete’ (Lymn 2013: 45). Zine creators thus not only control the
content of their zines, but the people who have access to it.
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230 Punk & Post-Punk
The way in which they are circulated and distributed ensures that the crea-
tor of the zine is still able to maintain some control over who has access to it –
it is thus hard to entirely consider them as publicly available and/or published
documents. For example, a zine may have a total of 30 copies printed to
distribute within a friendship group or local network, handed out individu-
ally by the zine maker. This method of distribution can make a zine markedly
different to a published document such as a magazine or periodical, which is
widely available from online retailers (for example) and that requires little or
no interaction with the original creator(s). As Chidgey writes, these methods
of circulation act
as a safety net giving zine writers a little more freedom to speak out
about their personal lives, yet with the belief that their disclosures will
remain relatively private to the general public and their immediate fami-
lies. They are therefore written within a context based on an imagined
community of truth-telling and the safe sharing of secrets and testi-
These methods thus not only allow the creator to control who accesses their
writing, but also provide the protection and anonymity needed to publish
WHY ARE ZINES IMPORTANT AS HISTORICAL RECORDS?
Alison Piepmeier (2009) has linked zines to other historical practices of self-
publication including scrapbook making, radical pamphleteering and commu-
nity newsletters. Piepmeier writes that each of these genres of documents
shares similar qualities; they are ‘created by hand, reproduced on a small scale,
and shared in intimate settings’ (2009: 39). Elizabeth Keenan and Lisa Darms
(2013) connect zines to manuscript traditions because they share commonali-
ties with personal archival documents including diaries and journals, which
illustrate the way in which individual subjects have experienced events, time
periods and passages of life. Sue McKemmish conceives of record-keeping
as ‘a “kind of witnessing”’. On a personal level, record keeping is a way of
evidencing and memorialising our lives – our existence, our activities and
experiences, our relationships with others, our identity, our “place” in the
world’ (1996: 175). Zines, often produced by one person, serve both as a repre-
sentation of the way in which one person experienced an event or period of
life; however, in turn they can also act as allegories for the experience of a
wider group within society e.g. young women. As such, zines, as personal
archives, represent both evidence of ‘me’, and what McKemmish refers to as
‘an accessible part of […] society’s memory, its experiential knowledge and
cultural identity – evidence of us’ (1996: 175).
Zines are rarely created with the intention of becoming historical records;
however, processes of documenting and memory making are central to many
activist communities involved in zine creation and distribution. Zine-makers
often engage with their exclusion from mainstream history and knowl-
edge production practices, choosing to create and circulate their knowledge
independently rather than interact with more formalized and academicized
practices of history making. As a result, zines may be the only archival traces
of marginalized communities. As Chidgey writes,
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zines are considered sources of advocacy and empowerment for those
who make them, an attempt to bear witness to their own lives. This
often occurs through a politicised historical consciousness (written in
the vernacular) which seeks to privilege and explore the agency and
actions of the non-elite; that is, to give testimony to the movements and
complexity of their own lives.
Zines, thus whilst not intended to be historical records, offer rich amounts
of materials for research into subcultures, communication and commu-
nity networks and marginalized subjects who are otherwise not represented
within archival holdings. In her article about zines made by young women,
Kelly Wooten also draws attention to the historical merit of zines as evidence
of networks and communities. As she writes,
Zines are artefacts of a particular moment in culture, where women and
girls have access to the technology to publish their own works full of
their opinions and ideas about the world in which they live. Their value
lies not in the individual issues, but in the network and community that
they represent as a whole.
(Wooten 2002: 25)
In addition to this, the zine network itself is of interest both academically and
historically because of what it represents – the creation and maintenance of a
community and space in which marginalized subjects are able to share expe-
riences, strategies and resources. Whilst zine-makers may never meet, the
processes of correspondence and interaction through letters, e-mails, fliers
and commentary in zines allow participants in the community to ‘instigate
intimate, affectionate connections between their creators and readers, [creat-
ing] not just communities but embodied communities that are made possible
by the materiality of the zine medium’ (Piepmeier 2008: 214). This network is,
thus, a lens through which it is possible to understand zines not as isolated
objects created by one person or a single collective, but as a record represent-
ing the ways in which zine-makers communicate and relate to one another,
and to society as a whole.
ARCHIVES AND POWER
The interrelation between archival institutions and societal power struc-
tures has been explored extensively in archival theory since the turn of
the twenty-first century. Theorists including Joan Schwartz and Terry Cook
(2002) and Eric Ketelaar (2005) have addressed ‘the power reflected in the
records and of the power of the records’ (Ketelaar 2005: 184). Archives, often
part of powerful institutions, hold the right to write and shape history, with
archivists in control of what is kept, made available and how it is under-
stood by users. Power has the capacity to oppress and marginalize minor-
ity groups, particularly when understood in conjunction with national and
international histories of cultural appropriation. As Ieuan Hopkins writes,
the very practices of acquiring, describing, arranging and exhibiting ‘are
inextricably linked to and implicated in past projects of colonialisation, with
heritage institutions having been deployed in the establishment of domi-
nance and control’ (2008: 89).
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232 Punk & Post-Punk
These practices of collecting and exhibiting become particularly politi-
cally charged when the collecting institution and/or archivist and the archived
subject come from different positions of power within society. Hopkins writes
about two ways in which materials relating to minority communities are
(or are not) managed in heritage institutions. These are
Firstly, through ‘erasure’ or ‘censorship’, creating an ‘absence’ of evidence
of different groups within the heritage. Secondly, where there is a pres-
ence within these institutions, through a misrepresentation or percep-
tion that the presence was ‘ABOUT us rather than FOR us’.
(Hopkins 2008: 90)
This tension is omnipresent in heritage institutions, where calls to ‘diversify’
our heritage are often misinterpreted and lead to tokenistic or even exploita-
tive approaches of marginalized subjects. As Flinn writes,
in reality the mainstream or formal archive sector does not contain and
represent the voices of the non-elites, the grassroots, the marginalised.
Or at least if it does, the archive rarely allows them to speak with their
voice, through their own records.
It is not enough to merely include materials relating to marginalized subjects
in our holdings without also further considering the way in which the very
action of archiving can lead to further oppression and silencing of these
The consequences of our failure to acknowledge the power imbalances
between the archivist and the archived subject or community are drastic
– as Joan Schwartz and Terry Cook write, ‘when power is denied, over-
looked, or unchallenged, it is misleading at best and dangerous at worst.
Power recognized becomes power that can be questioned, made account-
able, and opened to transparent dialogue and enriched understanding’
(2002: 13) Whilst we may not be able to entirely undo the privilege that
remains embedded within the sector as a whole, we can actively question
our role to remain transparent and accountable to those whose records we
ZINE-MAKERS AS MARGINALIZED SUBJECTS
In defining zines as a medium in the first section of this article, I also began
to situate them as documentation created to engage with, subvert and
critique the politics of mainstream knowledge and culture production. The
zine maker is frequently positioned as a marginalized subject in scholar-
ship. Duncombe believes that zines are most frequently made by ‘losers’ with
‘loser ethics’ that
stem from and appeal to those considered losers in a societal sense:
people who are losers not because they are awkward and shy, but simply
because they are denied or reject the wealth, power, and the prestige of
those few who are the winners in society.
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Julie Chu also perceived zines as offering a place for the disenfranchised, writ-
ing that ‘zine publishing […] reclaims the importance of “small people” by
articulating a place where those on the margins of power and, particularly,
“outcasts” are central to the vitality of the space’ (Chu 1997: 78).
Freedman sees zine-makers as ‘people who have chosen to claim the
margins’ (Freedman 2012: 13). This process of choosing to claim the margins
allows zine creators to find agency in this position, and to use it to docu-
ment and record their methods of resistance. Writing about third-wave femi-
nist activism as a whole, Lincona perceives this position as a ‘third space’
which ‘reveals a differential consciousness’ capable of engaging creative and
coalitional forms of opposition to the limits of dichotomous (mis)represen-
tations. As a location, third space has the potential to be a space of shared
understanding and meaning-making’ (2005: 105). Subjects producing docu-
mentation at the fringes of society thus produce ‘decolonized imaginary […]
that creatively resists and actively challenges the entrenched oppressions of
structures and practices that have perpetuated dominant (mis)representations
historically’ (Lincona 2005: 105).
The zine-making community makes up a proportion of society that is struc-
turally oppressed and excluded in practices of knowledge production, history
making and preservation. The inclusion of zines within traditional archival insti-
tutions is, in itself, a radical act, given the types of voices and narratives present in
their content, and the absence of these voices within pre-existing archival hold-
ings. However, it is important to acknowledge that this process of collecting can
in turn disempower the zine subject – through taking the materials out of their
control, archivists can create what Julia Downes (writing in reference to riot grrrl
culture) calls ‘a set of meanings that reaffirm cultural power in masculine hands’
(Downes 2007: 12). Archival workflows including access protocols (including
handling guidance, arrangement and description, digitization and interpretation
through exhibition and display) all individually contribute to the way in which
zines are understood and incorporated into history writing and other research.
If these protocols do not align with the participatory context from which zines
emerge, we risk further marginalizing the creators of these records.
NEGOTIATING MARGINALIZATION: COMMUNITY-BASED ARCHIVES
As a marginalized subject, engagement with history and knowledge produc-
tion within an institutional context often involves negotiating the aforemen-
tioned processes of erasure or assimilation. The establishment of archives by
marginalized communities indicates an awareness within these groups of both
the importance of their histories and the need to retain control and ownership
over the way it is used, who accesses it and how it is interpreted. Flinn defines
community-led archive projects as incorporating ‘the grassroots activities of
documenting, recording and exploring community heritage in which commu-
nity participation, control and ownership of the project is essential’ (2007: 153).
Community-led archives are often established in a way that directly
engages with the politics of history making and knowledge production.
They are, in a parallel sense, another form of counter-cultural knowledge
production – often created in response to feelings of invisibility and exclu-
sion within more traditional or institutional archival organizations; they seek
to establish spaces in which marginalized voices are recorded, documented,
preserved and made accessible for those seeking them. As Stuart Hall says,
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234 Punk & Post-Punk
‘the activity of “archiving” is thus always a critical one, always a historically
located one, always a contestatory one, since archives are in part constituted
within the lines of force of cultural power and authority’ (2008: 92).
The establishment of alternative spaces that allow communities to manage
their own records without institutional support or management can be read
as an act of resistance against these processes of assimilation and integration
within problematic institutional structures. In addition to retaining ownership
and custody of their records, this process of refusal also highlights the prob-
lems inherent in archival processes as a whole. As Barriault writes,
by removing themselves from the public archives arena, these special-
ized research centres have been able to challenge, to deconstruct, and
to redefine what an archival institution should be in order to meet the
needs of the […] community they strive to document.
This process of deconstruction and redefinition acknowledges the complexity
and dynamism of the archive as a conceptual, physical and political space. As
Long et al. write in relation to archives of popular music, this ‘promiscuous
deployment of the title archive, the exploration of it as idea and its ontological
status presents particular challenges to conventional practice for both archivist
and user’ (2017: 63).
However, it is also important to acknowledge the issues and struggles
that community-led archives can also face. Existing outside of an institutional
context means less access to resources including funding, preservation qual-
ity storage, online catalogues and professionally qualified staff, less protection
for heritage assets and a higher likelihood that an archive will need to move
or relocate due to property development or other causes of loss of physical
storage space. Community-led archival practice is a constant balancing act
between navigating these precarious circumstances and limited resources, and
the benefits of the autonomy of community-based contexts.
The following section of this article uses the case study of Queer Zine
Archive Project, a community-led zine archive project that focuses on collect-
ing zines made by LGBTQ people, to explore the ways in which marginaliza-
tion, zine collecting and archival functions (such as digitization, cataloguing
and access facilitation) intersect. The following is not intended to be a series of
recommendations, but rather as a way to make visible and critically consider
the impact of daily archival workflows on archives of and research into
marginalized people (whether zine creators, users or archivists).
CASE STUDY: QUEER ZINE ARCHIVE PROJECT
Queer Zine Archive Project (‘QZAP’) is an online and physical archive project,
created in 2003 by Chris Wilde and Milo Miller. The project holds a collec-
tion estimated during this interview to contain over 1200 zines. The website
consists of a database of categorized and searchable archived zines. Each zine
is viewable as an embedded document and is downloadable in PDF format.
Topics range from queer punk music, queer culture, short stories, poetry, poli-
tics, to art, gender and sex. The physical archive is located in a flat in the base-
ment of Miller and Wilde’s home in Milwaukee, with physical access facilitated
by Miller and Wilde. Researchers are able to stay in the apartment/archive
during their visits.
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1. Queeruption is an
and gathering started
in 1998 where queer
people can exchange
and get inspired,
society with do-it-
yourself (DIY) ideas
and ethics. Shows
featuring queer punk
artists and other
put on at night,
take place during the
generally takes place
in a different city in a
different country every
Radically different to most traditional archival organizations, Milo classes
the project ‘as a (dis)organization’ – ‘we are collectively run, and our members
are a mix of punks, librarians, academics, burlesque dancers, and BMX bikers’
(Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh Zine Collection 2012) Formed from within the
radical queer community itself, QZAP’s mission statement is as follows:
The mission of the Queer Zine Archive Project (QZAP) is to establish a
‘living history’ archive of past and present queer zines and to encourage
current and emerging zine publishers to continue to create. In curating
such a unique aspect of culture, we value a collectivist approach that
respects the diversity of experiences that fall under the heading ‘queer’.
The primary function of QZAP is to provide a free on-line searchable
database of the collection with links allowing users to download elec-
tronic copies of zines.
(Queer Zine Archive Project 2013:)
By enabling access to zines across a wider context than was perhaps initially
intended by their creators (via digitization and an online catalogue), QZAP
allows the zine community to engage not only with their peers in the specific
geographic and generational context in which they are producing work, but
also on international and cross-generational levels, facilitating new levels of
discussion and discovery.
The motivation for establishing QZAP came from an awareness of the
continuing relevance of queer zines to current activism projects, instead of the
value of zines for future research. As Milo says,
When Chris and I met, we were doing organising work for Queerruption1
[…] questions kept coming up about what is queer, or what are we talk-
ing about, or how do we provide safe spaces? […] And because Chris
and I had both been making zines and collecting them, we kept looking
at each other and looking at some of the other folks in the room and
saying ‘this is in a zine somewhere, I know that somebody wrote this!’
(Miller and Wilde 2013)
This comment illustrates both the impetus behind the founding of QZAP
and a wider issue about the lack of historical documentation within activist
communities, leading to what Sarah Dyer calls ‘the discontinuity of history’,
that so often happens when material is ephemeral or marginal […] So
much information and thinking is lost, and then so much information
has to be rediscovered again and again, wasting time and energy that
could be used to move forward.
The lack of preservation of materials often leads activist communities to have
to ‘reinvent the wheel’ when issues recur and problems need solving. In this
sense, QZAP functions as much for current generations as for future research-
ers. As Sarah Baker and Alison Huber write, projects such as this
are not solely about the creation of storerooms ‘for the future’, but are
equally as important for the memory practices of ‘the present’; by this
we mean that those involved in the DIY enterprise are engaged in the
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236 Punk & Post-Punk
process of materialising their own experience and expertise through the
collection, declaring and naming its importance.
QZAP is both housed in and run by the queer community itself, and as such
the managing collective are able to preserve zines without engaging with
formal institutional archives. This builds trust and enables empowerment in
a way that is harder to achieve within the context of a formal institution. As
who can we trust to archive our stories and our zines and our history?
[…] We’re entering the historical phase of queer zine legacy and we
have this amazing opportunity to be there as part of the preservation as
people who were part of the original movement, who were the original
creators of zines. That’s also something – I mean we take it for granted,
but when we see it reflected back to us, we understand that a lot of
historical movements are usually documented or preserved by folks who
have no connection to it […] it definitely puts us in a very different posi-
tion […] having been content creators and now preserving the material.
[…] that’s the trust that it engenders and what we really see as a role
(Miller and Wilde 2013)
Trust is a concept discussed frequently in relationship to official and govern-
mental records, particularly in relation to ensuring the authenticity and trust-
worthiness of our archival holdings. As professionals, archivists invest in ‘the
twin pillars of the archivist as “trusted custodian” and archival institutions as
“trusted repositories” [and their capacity to] combine to ensure “trustworthy
records”’ (Flinn and Shepherd 2011: 171). However, less attention is paid to
the importance of trust in relationships between donors, users and archives
themselves – particularly in relationship to marginalized communities. Queer
history is, by its very nature, a traumatic research area, and those seeking the
records that exist in archival holdings (community-led or more traditional
institutions) may seek more private discovery experiences than more tradi-
tional users. In turn, those depositing materials may wish to specify differ-
ent access protocols from those expected of traditional archival records. As
a result, a ‘trusted’ custodian or repository in this context may well be differ-
ent to what archival theorists have traditionally believed. Trust can instead be
fostered through the capacity to care for it in a way in which centres the rele-
vant community, rather than postgraduate education and qualification. This
‘represents a tremendous challenge to the basic assumptions of archival fixity
and materiality’ (Burton 2005: 2) and indeed our very conception of what trust
is in relation to archival records.
The need for trust and ongoing suspicion around the use and manage-
ment of materials made by marginalized and subcultural communities is
further heightened when the materials in question are also personal, contro-
versial and potentially dangerous for the producers and the users of a collec-
tion. QZAP’s collection consists of intensely personal materials, and it is also,
through its commitment to online access, heavily driven to provide wider
access via digitization. The juxtaposition of intensely personal, sensitive and/
or controversial content and online access to materials means that issues
around consent have an extra dimension for them. In Miller’s own words,
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‘we recognise that the material in our collection is potentially dangerous,
and it threatens the status quo and it talks about things that you might not
want your mum to know that you’re reading about or whatever’ (Miller and
With both a physical and an online dimension to QZAP, different levels
of consent are required depending on the mode of access that a user chooses.
Some donations are kept restricted and unavailable for online access –
‘certainly we have stuff in the archive that people have sent to us and they’ve
asked us to preserve it and hold onto it but they’ve also asked that it not be
made available online’ (Miller and Wilde 2013). The archive ensured that trust
was retained through the acquisition process – first, donors signed consent
forms clarifying terms of access (online/physical/closure for a period of time)
upon deposit, and second, where collectors had donated copies of other
peoples’ zines, effort was made to contact the original creators and obtain
permission. As Milo says,
There definitely is a consent issue around putting things online, and
we try our best to do due diligence, meaning that if there’s any sort of
contact information or if we know somebody who knows somebody
who might know that person, we try to ask permission before putting
things online […] we tend to err on the side of it’s okay unless some-
body tells us otherwise, but that’s only if we cannot get a hold of people,
and usually, um, y’know in some instances the creators are deceased
or their friends that would know them say yes it’s fine that you could
do this, um, we very rarely, a couple of times, but not often, had people
request that we either change information related to the digital zine or
that we take things down but we try very, very hard to ask first.
(Miller and Wilde 2013)
The archive’s procedures around consent have evolved over the decade that
it has been in operation. As Chris says, ‘for the longest time we just sort of
collected, and thought, and sort of felt oh we’ll get to it in a few months and
then we’ll ask, and now I think we’re having those conversations right away’
(Miller and Wilde 2013). The practice of immediately asking ‘when people
donate things to us if we have their permission to put things online’ (Miller
and Wilde 2013) means that the archive is now able to negotiate the terms of
deposit directly with donors at the point of donation. This is not always possi-
ble – particularly with collections donated by collectors or containing histori-
cal materials made by creators who are now uncontactable; however, in these
cases, clear communication about the capacity to remove zines or alter cata-
logue on the website enables the archive to remain access focused without
infringing upon the privacy of those who are uncontactable. This arrangement
was not ideal; however, it represented the best balance between the need for
access by the community and the right to privacy for creators.
Trust factors into both the donor-archive relationship and the user-archive
relationship. As an online archive, QZAP are in the position of being able to
choose whether to monitor their online user visits. However, as Milo says,
‘for a number of reasons we have never kept track of who visits the website,
and so we don’t totally know what our reach is in the digital world’ (Miller
and Wilde 2013). Chris elaborates, saying that ‘we also strongly believe in the
freedom to seek information, so we don’t necessarily want to know what it is
that people are looking for in general […] it’s sort of a principle of open stacks’
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238 Punk & Post-Punk
(Miller and Wilde 2013). This policy is a logical extension of the archive’s
awareness of the intensely personal and sometimes controversial nature of
queer zines. In choosing not to monitor their online users, QZAP enable users
to have an entirely private discovery experience, something that is not possi-
ble with physical access. This focus on private discovery through browsing
enables the user to engage with the archive as ‘“an archive of feelings”, an
exploration of cultural texts as repositories of feelings and emotions, which
are encoded not only in the content of the texts themselves but in the prac-
tices that surround their production and reception’ (Cvetkovich 2003: 3). The
importance of privacy is also discussed by Keenan and Darms in relation to
the archival traces of riot grrrl culture (which include a substantial amount of
zines). In relation to this they write
The relationship of these two ‘publics’ – the public from whom these
personal papers are drawn and the public who uses the collection –
raises questions about access, privacy, and privilege, as well as the
protected but complex nature of the safe space that Riot Grrrl sought to
establish and that the archive mirrors.
(Keenan and Darms 2013: 57)
The right to privacy is, in many cases, the right to a safe(r) space/safety in
queer and feminist cultures. When the documentary materials of these
cultures become archives and primary sources for research, it is again impera-
tive to think about how this need for privacy and safety intersects with the
desire for access to and publication or digitization of materials.
In its very conception, as a predominantly online project handling mate-
rials of a highly sensitive nature both to creators and readers alike, QZAP’s
collection contains objects to which it is challenging to facilitate access. As
a community-led project born out of the queer zine community itself, the
archive is able to preserve and facilitate access to zines in a way that, to some
extent, keeps them within their original creating context. However, the facili-
tation of international online access means that, whilst the zines themselves
are kept within the creating community, the reach of the documents is vastly
larger than the creators often intend. This juxtaposition of personal, sensitive
materials, online access and long-term preservation means that good consent
and ethics have to form a central part of all parts of the archival process.
This is particularly important in the context of an archive of queer zines by
marginalized makers, which is in many ways reliant on creators sharing inti-
mate and personal records with a wide and unknown user base. As Keenan
and Darms write, this collaborative and community-led practice is reliant on
‘the willingness of these donors to make themselves vulnerable – to make
their private lives public – [to allow] this evolving history to be preserved’
This article has sought to consider the ethical implications of and methods for
archiving zines. By seeking to collect and preserve zines, we are documenting
history in the voices of those who are otherwise not present in mainstream
media, knowledge production or culture. As records, they fill in the gaps
between history as recorded by institutions and as experienced by individuals.
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Not for you?
Zines sit awkwardly between public documents (such as pamphlets or
newsletters) and private documents (such as letters or diaries). This nego-
tiation ‘of the specific and the generalisable – their sometimes messy
careening between the local and the global, the personal and the political’
(Piepmeier 2009: 10), typifies them as a genre, and is part of what makes
them interesting and radical as documents. It also means that they do not
easily fit within categories of records. As a result, it is important that the
archivists collecting and preserving them maintain an understanding of this
somewhat precarious, messy positioning and how it relates to traditional
The right to claim control over one’s voice and the ways in which it is
circulated and understood is at the very centre of zine-making culture. Zine
creators often produce their zines in response to feelings of alienation and
marginalization by mainstream, hierarchical models of cultural and knowl-
edge production. This ‘desire for self-determination indicates a desire to act
politically and to assign significance to one’s own life and the lives within
one’s community’ (DiVeglia 2012: 78). In seeking to archive these materials,
it is thus imperative that there is (as a minimum) some community involve-
ment, dialogue and participation in archival workflows, extending the politics
of self-determination beyond the documents themselves to their preservation
within archives. This need for communication, participation and collabora-
tion has clear parallels with sector-wide calls for a more ethically engaged
approach to collecting activities in marginalized communities (Dunbar 2006;
Keenan and Darms 2013; Hopkins 2008; Caswell et al. 2017; Flinn 2011). The
dialogue around consent, communication use, access and circulation also
should not stop once materials are deposited – it is an ongoing process that
should continually inform the preservation and future use of these materials
for learning and teaching, history writing, research and all forms of knowl-
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Kirsty Fife is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Information Studies at
UCL. Her Ph.D. research is about methods for documenting and archiv-
ing current UK-based DIY music spaces. Prior to commencing her research,
she worked as an archivist for organizations including the UK Parliamentary
Archives and the National and Science and Media Museum. Outside of her
academic and professional roles, she is also an active DIY cultural organizer,
musician and zine-maker.
05_PUNK_8.2_Fife_227-242.indd 241 7/4/19 11:26 AM
242 Punk & Post-Punk
Contact: Department of Information Studies, UCL, Gower Street, WC1E 6BT,
Kirsty Fife has asserted her right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents
Act, 1988, to be identified as the author of this work in the format that was
submitted to Intellect Ltd.
05_PUNK_8.2_Fife_227-242.indd 242 7/4/19 11:26 AM