New Zine Librarian Zine

by anchorarchivist... ()

The new issue of Zine Librarian Zine is out! In case you can’t tell from the title, it’s an awesome zine about zines and libraries. I wrote an article for the new issue about subject cataloguing and making a thesaurus for the Anchor Archive Zine Library. The PDF is available for viewing and printing. For a quick read, here is my article:

Adventures in Zine Subject Cataloguing

Last year we started cataloguing the zine collection at the Anchor Archive Zine Library, a small zine library run by volunteers out of a rented house in the North End of Halifax, Nova Scotia. I had just graduated from library school and had made an electronic catalogue for the Anchor Archive as a school project with my friend Zac using the open source content management system Drupal. The biggest challenge has been to create a catalogue that is easy to use, makes sense to Anchor Archive patrons, and fits the DIY ethic of zines, yet incorporates enough library standards to function as an effective tool for searching and managing content.

One of the most difficult aspects of the catalogue that we continue to struggle with is subject terms. The first question was whether we should even include a field for subject terms in our zine catalogue records. Some zine libraries do not, most likely because of the extensive time it takes to assign subject terms to zines and the control systems that are usually needed to standardize subject terms. Many zine libraries use a free-form description or abstract field instead of a subject field. Even public and academic libraries with zine collections often assign all zines a generic subject term for zines rather than performing subject analysis on individual zines. The Salt Lake City Public Library, on the other hand, has a separate catalogue for zines and incorporates user tagging instead of subjects. This cuts down on the time spent cataloguing each zine and hands authority over to the patrons to attach their own subject terms to zines, which keeps with the DIY spirit of zines.

Despite the popularity of not using subject terms, we decided to use them in the Anchor Archive catalogue. I felt that it would make search and retrieval of content more effective. As well, I’m kind of a cataloguing nerd and I thought it would be fun to subject catalogue and create a thesaurus of zine subject terms. I think I also underestimated the size of the collection and the time it would take to catalogue all the zines. We decided to have user tagging in the catalogue too, so that if zine library patrons were unhappy with the subject terms chosen by cataloguers they could add their own.

When you decide to use subject terms, you also have to decide if you’re going to use a controlled vocabulary (predefined set of terms usually collected in a thesaurus, which also shows the relationships between terms) or natural language. If you decide to use a controlled vocabulary, you have to decide which one to use. Unfortunately, there aren’t many to choose from. Most libraries use Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH) but I ruled these out right away because they collection is huge and unwieldy, many are outdated and problematic, and I don’t think hierarchical subject terms (e.g. “travel – Arizona”) are necessary in an electronic catalogue. I searched madly for an alternative thesaurus of subject terms that would work for zines but found nothing. So I decided to make my own thesaurus.

It hasn’t been easy choosing preferred terms and determining relationships between terms for the zine thesaurus, especially when I want to be both culturally sensitive and colloquial. Questions like, “Is ‘gender politics’ the same concept as ‘gender?’” will plague me for days. Sometimes I think I should have just stuck with user tagging, but luckily I have over twenty volunteers who enthusiastically attend weekly cataloguing parties and choose most of the terms themselves as they catalogue zines, as well as provide criticism and feedback on the thesaurus as it progresses.

I would love to make this thesaurus even more collaborative and invite others to contribute, but I haven’t thought of a good way to do this without creating chaos yet. For now, I’ve made the thesaurus available online at and I invite you to send me criticism and feedback at You can get to the Anchor Archive catalogue from this location too and check out our awesome collection.