Student Perspectives is our series of guest posts written by current #citylis students.
This post is by #citylis student Hannah Kolleff.
My fellow #citylis students Tristan, Amy and I participated in the #citylis zine-making workshop at the Clapham Public Library Fun Palace this weekend. The workshop was set up by #citylis members James Atkinson and Ernesto Priego, prompted by Matt Finch.
I wasn’t sure what I was walking into—I’d never made a zine before. If I’m being perfectly honest, I wasn’t 100% sure what one was. Vague images of comic fan magazines I’d seen at New York Comicon and a few anime conventions came to mind, though they were hazy and indistinct.
Turns out, zines are pretty simple. They are essentially small press magazines that you make and photocopy or print yourself. They can be about anything—seriously, anything. We had video games, sports, and fashion zines, though my favorite was a ‘fake movie review’ that created a made-up vampire movie worthy of Nicholas Cage.
We ended up working with a lot of preteens and a few younger kids, and all of them were amazing. One of our kids, Ben, made a fanzine about a UK football team (he supported Chelsea). Ben wrote the word ‘football’ using twopictures of soccer balls for the o’s. Then, as if that wasn’t cool enough, he substituted white out for a white pen and drew a football field on the back of his zine. The kid was creative. I wish I had taken some pictures but after helping the kids my fingers were too covered in glue to work my phone!
Another of our kids made a zine titled “Being a Millionaire.” It was as hilarious as that title suggests, and included pictures of mansions, boats, and “the kind of car I think a millionaire would drive”. Finally, Emma, who came in just before the end, made a zine all about coding and technology. Her use of space? Perfect. Amazing. There aren’t enough words. All the kids were really creative, and I loved working with them to bring out their ideas and push them to think outside the box. They really didn’t need much pushing—all it took was the opportunity to be creative and the materials we provided, and bam! Out came these awesome projects.
But the real ‘a-ha!’ moment came for me when Ahmed, one of our funniest participants, was discussing talking about his mom with his sister. They were debating about when to go home, and Ahmed, after calling his mom, turned to me and said, “we can stay till 5. She’s just happy we’re out of the house.”
Which brings me around to the point of these Fun Palaces, or at least the one that stuck out to me as a former (and hopefully future) library worker. Now, here is the Fun Palaces manifesto from their website:
“WE BELIEVE IN THE GENIUS IN EVERYONE, IN EVERYONE AN ARTIST AND EVERYONE A SCIENTIST, AND THAT CREATIVITY IN COMMUNITY CAN CHANGE THE WORLD FOR THE BETTER.
WE BELIEVE WE CAN DO THIS TOGETHER, LOCALLY, WITH RADICAL FUN – AND THAT ANYONE, ANYWHERE, CAN MAKE A FUN PALACE.”
This is laudable, and our zine workshop certainly fit this bill, as you can see from the examples above.
However, I’d like to focus on the secondary goal of Fun Palaces as I understood it—to connect communities with libraries in a real, tactile manner.
Now, there are a million articles out there arguing about how to keep public libraries alive in the modern era of slashed budgets (almost as many as articles arguing that libraries are irreversibly dead as doornails). More technology! Better equipment! State of the art video rooms! Access to eBooks, old books, new books, self-published books…!
These are all great ideas. But they’re small fries. Little strategies that miss the bigger picture. Public libraries, at their very best, have always been about the community and serving the community’s needs. Ok, maybe for the first few thousand years of human history they were more for keeping records and showing off how rich people were. Let’s narrow our time frame to the last few hundred years of modern society and the library emerges as a center for public gathering and use.
Now, people who claim the library is dead and ought to be put out of its misery have forgotten this fact. I know, because I’ve spoken with many of them and read their blog posts and the occasional article that makes its rounds online. It was a popular opinion in my hometown, sad to say. Books are free online, they argue. Ebooks lack the bulk of a real text. And why should they head to the library in their spare time to get something they can order off Amazon in their pajamas?
If you listen to these folks enough, you’ll hear a common refrain: Libraries are houses of paper books, and paper books are a dead medium. Therefore, libraries are a dead medium.
Put aside the ‘paper books are a dead medium’ thought for another post. Let’s focus on the common perception that libraries are only as good as the paper books inside their walls.
Those who would argue this haven’t been new mothers desperate for a place to entertain their little kids during the summer. They haven’t had teens and preteens to occupy after school ends but before their parents get off work. They haven’t come to the many free classes, group meetings, book clubs, movie clubs, language-and-anything-else clubs that libraries offer. Not to mention the services for seniors, the community evens such as Fun Palaces, the way libraries teach new technology to the community for free…I could go on. Oh, yeah, there are also some books there? I heard a rumor. (If you haven’t yet guessed, I really like libraries).
These people claiming the library’s death may not have participated in existing programs. But I guarantee they will eventually talk to someone who has—and that person may excite them enough to come by the library themselves. And as each person is infected with this excitement, they will go out into the community and relay their experiences, spreading a new, contagious love of the library through mother’s circles and around water coolers, at check out counters and in houses of worship. Keep in mind that these are the same people who vote for city council members, who then vote for library funding.
Overall, I learned two things at Fun Palaces:
- zines are super fun and are improved by the spontaneous hilarity of children, and
- community events are vital to the future of the library.
The best way to combat the false, deadly perception of libraries is by repeatedly enforcing, through the community at large and word of mouth, that libraries play a vital role as the heart of any city or town. We must continuously bring this to the forefront of public thought through diverse, publicised community events.
In other words, more Fun Palaces and community events for all!
Hannah Kolleff is on Twitter @BraveWorldGirl.
You can download the handout used at the #citylis zinemaking fun palace here.
Student Perspectives is our series of guest posts written by current #citylis students. If you are a current #citylis student or alumni and would like to contribute a post, please contact Dr Ernesto Priego.
For current and future Library and Information Science news, opportunities and events follow the #citylis blog on Twitter @citylis.