Written by: Valerie Cummins

And now, as we enter summer, one final blog covering a Spring 2024 event and some new materials at the library.

I attended the From Artists’ Books to Zines Symposium that Special Collections held on March 23rd; it was held not just in celebration of their Biannual Artists’ Book Competition, but as part of the grand opening of Special Collections’ new zine library.

The Arists’ Books panel consisted of Dottie Love, Kathy Lovas, Christine Adame, and David Wolske, artists who have all worked with artists books as a medium, with Wolske currently a professor at UNT’s College of Visual Arts and Design.

During this panel, they discussed the various elements that led them to artists books as a medium, as well as some of the ways they portrayed their art using artists books. They mentioned and referred to other book artists that both served as inspirations for their own entry into the medium and were well-known artists in the field, such as Edward Ruscha, Susan Kae Grant, Keith Smith, and Philip Zimmermann. Wolske additionally mentioned art book resources that were useful for people interested in learning the craft: Making Books by Hand, The Art of the Fold, and Keith Smith’s various books on the art of bookbinding. One of the questions from the audience was regarding creating and publishing artists’ book as more than limited runs and as commercial works instead. As an example of commercially published artists’ books, Anne Carson was brought up.

The Zine panel consisted of local zine artists and publishers, which included the Denton Zine and Art Party’s Founder and Coordinator Rachel Weaver and Assistant Coordinator Alex Khraish, Trilobite Press’s executive editor Tom Sale, and the founder, CEO and editor-in-chief of Triangle Nonprofit Publishing Michael Bartels. University of North Texas lecturer and multimedia artist Meredith Cawley was also present on as part of this panel.

A green and gold patterned booklet with black and gold bordering in front of a pen pouch that says "Artists' Books to Zines'.
Zine by Valerie Cummins. Image by Valerie Cummins.

The attitude of this panel was more informal, best underlined by one of the responses to a question of what made the difference between an artist’s book and a zine: “You can lick it”. The rest of the panel discussions included discussions on issues like legal and illegal zine distribution (such as slipping zines into newspapers or mailboxes) and how zines can be not just artistic or hobby-based but a form of political activity, with Bartels providing as an example the available online zine “12 Things to do Instead of Calling the Cops”.  Zines were discussed and brought up as being works that can be created individually or as part of a collective community with others. 

After the panels, there were two workshop locations to provide the audience the opportunity to create their own zine; one hosted by the Denton Zine and Art Party and the other by Trilobite Press, who brought in a large photocopier so that participants in that room could create copies of what they made.  

The keynote speaker was Candace Hicks, a local Texas artist whose start was in artists’ books that used embroidery and fabric as their medium. The UNT Libraries’ Special Collection has one of her works, Volume LXXXVII of Common Threads, as part of its collection. She has additionally done a variety of exhibitions, including ones using gallery walls as the writing surface, and the “Many Mini Murder scenes” series, which include inset dioramas inspired by murder mystery novels.

One of the questions regarding her exhibits was whether her works were altered to fit other galleries beyond the original one they were first designed for: For one exhibit which featured the writing going around the gallery in two full lines, Hicks said that she did a great deal of editing and alterations to make it fit in the new gallery; she additionally mentioned that unplanned changes or unexpected environmental differences were common, such as a second floor that people were able to enter that allowed them to look down below; one of the exhibition items had not been designed with the expectation that people would be able to look down at it, so it had no ‘roof’ to hide the interior from that viewing angle.

Following the keynote, the audience was invited to the reception that was held for the Biennial Artists’ Book Competition, where the winners and honorable mentions for 2023-2024 were announced.

As a follow-up to the Symposium, I conducted an interview with Meagan May, the Special Collections Public Services Librarian, regarding the symposium, zines, and Special Collections’ new zine library.  

Q: What inspired the push to develop the zine library and run the zine symposium?

A: We first started noticing an interest in zines from our faculty and students about a year or two ago, as zines became more commonplace in class discussions and assignments, so this collection has been in the works for a while now. There is a lot to consider when it comes to zines in libraries, and a lot of that revolves around the ethics of purchasing zines at the institutional level, and the unique challenges that come with displaying and making zines accessible. It kind of feels like the wild west of collection development at times. I would say the foundation and decisions surrounding this collection took about a year, and for the last year we’ve been working on purchasing zines and getting the library prepared for students and visitors to browse. 

The idea for the symposium wasn’t directly inspired by our new zine library. The symposium was initially meant to be a celebration of our Biennial Artists’ Book Competition which had its latest cycle in the fall of 2023. Traditionally, we’ve held an exhibit to accompany the competition, but for this cycle we wanted to try something a little different. I had begun to notice that there was this really unique crossover that was happening with zines and artists’ books, and that the lines between the two mediums were beginning to blur in some ways. With the competition and the launch of the zine library happening so close to each other, it just made sense to combine the two into a wider topic, more general books arts symposium – and I think this really allowed us to do some fun things for the symposium.

Q: What kind of zines are you hoping to obtain in the future for the zine library? Or for yourself? Is there a specific zine you’re hoping to collect?

A: Our zine library does have a primary area of collecting focus, and that is zines related to topics of gender, identity, and sexuality. We also prioritize zines created by members of marginalized and underrepresented communities. Historically, zines have been an important means of communication for underrepresented communities because they provide a sharing news and information that wasn’t available through traditional publications and media.

 However, these aren’t the only zines we are hoping to collect. We also have a large interest in zines from our students and local community members, and those can vary significantly in topic and genre! One of the great things about zines are their ability to be about anything, and I would certainly like our collection to reflect that as it grows through zines from or by our campus and community.  

Q: Since the opening of the zine library, Special Collections has taken part in events around the library to encourage zine making and introduce it to students, staff and other community members; is there a process in place for members of the UNT community to submit their zines to the new zine library?

A: I’m so glad you asked this question! We welcome and encourage UNT Community members and others to submit their zines to the collection, and we have a couple of different ways they can do that. The first way is probably the easiest, and gives you the chance to browse the zine library. We have set up a box in our Reading Room where people can donate their zines along with an attached form that makes sure we get the information needed to add it to the collection. 

We do prioritize paying makers for their zines though, so if you’re a zine maker with an online presence or have an affiliated distro I encourage you to reach out to me (meagan.may@unt.edu) directly with information on where your zines can be found and how it can be acquired.   

Q: What kind of challenges have you encountered with proposing the zine library and then developing its initial collection? What are the plans for displaying the zine library in the long-term?

A: I’ve been really fortunate to have full support from our Department Head, Morgan Gieringer, from the get-go on this collection so navigating its development has been a fairly smooth process, at least in terms of direct support. As mentioned above – there have been some unique collection development related challenges, but I think those are pretty universal for librarians working with zines. 

As far as permanent display goes, the plan for the foreseeable future is to continue to have a space for the zine library within the Hughes Reading Room so that is available to browse during open hours of the reading room. We have recently reconfigured half of our reading room to act as a browsable archive we’re calling the Open Stacks, and the zine library is a part of that space. We’ll be officially launching the Open Stacks this fall, but in the meantime, anyone is welcome to come in and take a look.

Q: Are you hoping to host future zine symposiums or was this one intended to be done to celebrate the zine library’s opening?

A: We’re presently hoping to continue hosting a book arts symposium biennially in conjunction with our Biennial Artists’ Book Contest. The incorporation of zines into this one was definitely due to the launch of our own zine collection. There’s a lot of different areas of book arts that we would like to explore in the future as themes for both the competition and the symposium, but nothing that been decided on just yet. You’ll have to wait for the announcement about the 2025-2026 competition cycle for that to be revealed. 

Q: This symposium was combined with the artists’ book competition reception and featured a panel regarding artists’ book. What do you feel is the similarity between artists’ books and zines? How would you define both in ways that distinguish them?

A: It’s strange to thing about the similarities between artists’ books and zines when they seem to be on opposite ends of the book arts spectrum in some ways. Historically, zines are rooted in their ease of reproduction so they’re often considered ‘cheap’ or ephemeral, and artists’ books are literally books as art objects, right? So it seems strange to view them through similar lens, but artists’ have long been interested in zines and zine creation. The Brookyln Museum even held an exhibit, Copy Machine Manifestos: Artists Who Make Zines, earlier this year exploring artists’ zines and their history and impact.

For me, what I have been coming across more and more and has been raising questions at least in my mind, are zine makers incorporating more artistic elements into zines by using different bindings and folding techniques, more complex print making and reproduction methods, and even sculptural elements through the shapes of their zines and the containers they come in. These elements seem to blur those points of distinction between artists’ books and zines, and tend to leave me with more questions than answers. I’m definitely interested in further exploring this cross-over though as I continue working with zines and artists’ books in my capacity at UNT. 

Q: I noticed that many of artist’s book panelists were connected to the UNT community; was that coincidental or did that play a role in approaching them?

A: This was definitely not coincidental. Since this was our inaugural symposium, we really weren’t sure the kind of response we’d receive if we put out a call for proposals for traditional presentations and sessions. To avoid any issues with programming, we decided to curate panels composed of invited guests that had previously worked with Special Collections through instruction or outreach. This included several UNT faculty members, but also a TWU faculty member, regional book artists, and local community organizations. 

The only speaker who had not previously worked with Special Collections was our keynote, artist Candace Hicks, but even then, she’s still connected to our collections. We invited her as our keynote based on the interaction students have had with the volume of her Common Threads series that’s in our artists’ book collection. During artists’ book related instruction sessions, her work is often one of the first examples students are introduced to and interact with so we felt like inviting her to be our keynote would be a draw for students and faculty who work with our collection. 

Special Collections can be visited on the fourth floor of Willis Library in 437, the Sarah T. Hughes Reading Room, during their listed hours.


UNT Libraries. (2024) 13th Biennial Artists’ Book Competition Winners. https://library.unt.edu/news/2024/04-12-artists-book-winners/

UNT Libraries. (2024) From Artists’ Books to Zines. https://library.unt.edu/news/2024/01-19-from-artists-books-to-zines/

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