Contributing Editor Interview

Featured Researcher Spotlight On: Violet Fox

Violet Fox speaks with editor Nimisha about zine cataloging & sharing information in our communities.

20180720_161205Violet Fox is one of the editors of the Dewey Decimal Classification. In her spare time, Violet is one of the administrators of the #critlib Twitter chats, one of the editors of the LIS Mental Health zine, and an occasional zine fest organizer. Find her on Twitter @violetbfox.

This month’s featured researcher is Violet Fox, co-author of the forthcoming book Zine Cataloging: A Guide for Libraries and Independent Collections (2019) from Library Juice Press: “Zines can be crucial information resources for communities as well as valuable primary sources in learning and research. Cataloging zines can prove challenging because they defy conventional means of publication. Barton and Fox draw on their experience to provide practical guidance for cataloging zines in academic and public library contexts (using MARC, RDA, LCSH, etc.) and in independent library contexts. Additionally, the authors speak to special considerations for zine cataloging that address privacy concerns for zine creators and ethical factors that should be weighed when making zines accessible and discoverable in library collections.”

You are co-authoring a forthcoming book with Joshua Barton on zine cataloging – there aren’t many books out there on this subject. In true zine fashion it seems like the community has put together resources for one another, creating zines on the subject to share information freely. What first sparked your passion for zine librarianship, and what is the process like creating this groundbreaking scholarship that will surely go on to be a formative resource for all zine catalogers?

I started volunteering at Seattle’s Zine Archive and Publishing Project (R.I.P. ZAPP) in December 2008, when I was working at a soul-crushing job at Bank of America. Being a part of such a casual organization required me to temper some of my more persnickety qualities, but also helped me realize that those qualities could be useful in bringing order to the chaos of self-published works. Once I started my MLIS degree in 2011, I quickly fell in with the zine librarian community, which is an informal, somewhat amorphous group of amazing folks who work in a variety of ways at the intersection of zines and libraries. In 2012 some of us presented a workshop on zines; that was also the first year of the Zine Pavilion, a space on the exhibit hall floor during ALA Annual where we talk to librarians about how they might use zines to encourage creativity and community via programming and collections.

Joshua and I met as part of that community. We’ve presented together and hosted meetups at conferences to discuss some of the idiosyncrasies of cataloging zines. For the book, Joshua’s focus is on representing zines as well as possible in MARC cataloging and relying primarily (though not exclusively) on Library of Congress Subject Headings, while my focus is on providing a crash course in zine metadata for those outside of traditional libraries. We both have a lot to say about the power of metadata and how wielding that power has the potential for harm, especially for resources like zines which are often created by people from marginalized groups.

Librarians are sometimes guilty of creating information silos within our individual departments or research tracks without knowing what our colleagues are doing locally or across the field. Catalogers can feel like what they do is hyper-specialized and that other librarians aren’t interested, but often librarians who don’t catalog “are keen to learn more about what shapes the catalog records they use every day,” as you say in your Library Journal article from March of this year. How do you view the intersections of cataloging, zines, and research? As a cataloger who sometimes has to work with zines, it can feel like the Wild West to me! What is it like to write about the inner workings of a specialization like zine cataloging?

One of the joys of coming together to create the Zine Pavilion each year is letting people know they don’t have to reinvent the wheel if they’re not sure about how zines might work in their libraries: there’s a wealth of resources on and an entire community of folks via the Zine Librarians email list and Facebook group. Research and writing serve that same purpose: sharing information so we can build on each other’s work and stop having the same “101” conversations over and over.

I’m so grateful to have spent years learning about zines and zinesters at ZAPP and describing zines outside of traditional MARC cataloging because it’s provided insight into how the frameworks we use for conventionally published works like mainstream books and media don’t always translate well to works with a smaller intended audience. I recently co-wrote two chapters for the forthcoming Library Juice Press book Ethical Questions in Name Authority Control. One chapter (co-written with Tina Gross) argues that catalogers creating authority records should reach out to living authors as a matter of routine, not just in special cases; the other (co-written with Kelly Swickard) contends that our current investigative approach to authority work doesn’t adequately take the privacy issues of creators into account. Both chapters were heavily influenced by working with zines, and I see both as attempts to get catalogers to recognize that our shift from authority records to the more comprehensive idea of identity management is not without potentially serious drawbacks.

You recently launched the Cataloging Lab, a wiki where people can collaborate to construct subject heading proposals. Expanding on the concept of information silos within our field, I love that your website encourages an open platform not just for catalogers who are familiar with MARC and the research requirements for new subject heading proposals but also those outside the cataloging process who are knowledgeable about the subject matter. This is a great example of an avenue where catalogers of all knowledge levels and librarians outside of cataloging can come together and have a dialogue. Do you see this collaborative process being equally applicable to publishing, conferences, and the field as a whole?  

Absolutely. As much as I feel like catalogers are “my people,” I’ve tried as much as possible to present at non-cataloging conferences and write with non-catalogers in mind. I’ve also tried to read widely outside my own specialty (though I could do better with that). Helping facilitate the critlib Twitter chats, which range widely in topics, has made me more well-rounded in my understanding of the exciting things people are making happen in libraries to address inequity and injustice. Cross-pollination of ideas is vital to the growth of the profession.

It can be daunting for a cataloger to venture into the world of research and publishing. It can sometimes feel like there are a lot of resources and support for other library research specialties but not technical services. Do you have any advice or words of wisdom for catalogers who want to publish?

“Who is forging new paths in your area or other areas of the profession? Who is writing articles that make you think differently about what you do? Who inspires you, and why? Think about how you can incorporate their inspiring practices into the way you approach your own work. And if that community doesn’t already exist, build it yourself!”

In some ways, it’s been a boon that I’ve never had publishing as a required part of any of my library jobs. I’ve never felt pressure to publish just for the sake of publishing, and I’ve had a lot of flexibility in how I choose to collaborate and share information, whether that looks like helping put together a zine, presenting at a niche conference, giving an impromptu lightning talk, or co-authoring a peer-reviewed article. But I definitely struggle with feeling depleted, since I’ve done nearly all those things on my own time (and with funds from my own pocket).

I guess my best advice would be looking to find a community of folks who are doing things you find exciting. Who is forging new paths in your area or other areas of the profession? Who is writing articles that make you think differently about what you do? Who inspires you, and why? Think about how you can incorporate their inspiring practices into the way you approach your own work. And if that community doesn’t already exist, build it yourself!

Featured image [CC0], via Pexels

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Nimisha is a subject librarian at University of Cincinnati, where she supports all research, reference, collection development, and digital scholarship for history, gender studies, and anthropology. In her spare time you can find her riding her bike, knitting, or reading. @mishiebhat on Twitter.

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