Looking for a creative way to connect with teens at your library? Look no further! We’re here to tell you all about The Zine Project.

This summer, with generous support from YALSA and the Dollar General Literacy Foundation, the Middle Country Public Library in Centereach, NY, hosted a hands-on workshop for teens to collaborate and have fun while making their very own zine.

Teens at the Zine Showcase with Nicole Rambo, Youth Services Librarian.

The idea for this project first came about when we received feedback at the library from a patron looking for more opportunities for her teenager, an English language learner, to practice conversational English outside of the classroom. One of our Youth Services Librarians, Nicole Rambo, suggested pairing zine-making with this concept, as we found through our research the collaborative process and peer socialization in a comfortable, inclusive setting allows them to gain practice with writing and conversing with each other. As stated in Teen Services Competencies for Library Staff (2017), best practices for interacting with teens include “creat[ing] opportunities for all teens to express their needs and interests in a non-judgmental and welcoming environment.” It was our goal for the creative process to encourage discussion and collaboration, as well as help teens develop personal connections that make learning English more meaningful.

Teens Rachel, Olivia and Jasmine at their table discussing their compilation art zine at the Zine Showcase.

The library offered The Zine Project as a five-week workshop for teens in 7th-12th grade on Tuesdays for two hours each night in the month of July. Ms. Rambo, Youth Services Librarian, along with professional artist, Anu Annam, facilitated the workshop. Together they emphasized a safe space environment and encouraged the teens to express themselves however they desired.

At the very first session, facilitators defined what a “zine” is for any teens that were not already aware: a small, self-published handmade magazine or mini-comic on any topic or interest. Then, teens received a short history lesson on zines, learned how to fold and lay out a zine, and learned tips on self-publishing and copyright. Then they were on their own to create, with guidance if needed.

Most of the teens turned out to have an interest in drawing but it was not a prerequisite for participation; teens of all abilities were encouraged to make a zine. Ms. Rambo and Ms. Annam worked with the teens one-on-one which made them feel more comfortable with discussion and collaboration among peers. Some teens attended with friends and decided to work together to create a compilation zine, a collaborative publication with multiple perspectives. A few decided to make solo zines. We let them each decide their own creative journey through the workshop. Throughout the process, teens shared their ideas and goals with one another and the project facilitators. Over time they built confidence in their work and their conversation skills.

Zinesters Caralena and Lily talking about their work at their themed zine table.

The facilitators allotted extra time for the teens to work on their zine projects to ensure they had enough preparation to get their zines ready for the fifth and final session, a culminating “Zine Showcase.” This was a chance for teens to show off their finished work to family and friends along with refreshments. Many teens chose to take advantage of this time. It was very rewarding for library staff to see the teens’ dedication to this project and their creative goals.

The goal of the Zine Showcase reception was to mimic an actual “zinefest,” a public venue in which the publishers of zines can promote and distribute their work. Each “zinester” (i.e. any person that creates a zine!) had their own themed table and teens had the freedom to set up and decorate their table in a way that would best reflect themselves and their zine. Over thirty families, friends and library staff attended the reception. It was the perfect environment for teen participants to practice conversing with new people who were not familiar with their zines, and zine culture in general.

The Zine Project tent at the Middle Country Public Library’s Island Idol teen music competition.

After the Zine Showcase, teens were invited back to the library’s thirteenth annual Island Idol summer teen music competition in the library’s parking lot to distribute copies of their zines at “The Zine Project” tent. It gave them a chance to show their work to a wider audience, as over 400 community members turn out for this particular event each year. Teens had the opportunity to converse with community members to talk about zines and the zine-making process, and make buttons (another fun part of zine culture!). It was certainly a night enjoyed by all the teens.

Overall, the feedback from both parents and teens was very positive. Parents remarked that the teens were working and collaborating at home and they appreciated that it gave them something fun to focus on during the summer. They also really liked that the library provided them an opportunity to show off their work in a unique way that allowed them to talk about it with others.

The teens commented, “My favorite part was showing off my art,” and, “I loved hanging out with my friends and writing.” Everyone involved left feeling that they had accomplished something truly special. Due to the program’s success and our new following of official “zinesters” we have established a monthly Zine Club meetup that will begin in October.

Kristine Tanzi is the Coordinator for Teen Services at the Middle Country Public Library in Centereach and Selden, NY. She recently presented on The Zine Project at ALA Annual 2018 in New Orleans at the Zine Pavilion.

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