The MCTC library zine collection is awesome, but not for the reasons you’d expect.

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Zine: a small magazine that is written by people who are not professional writers and that usually has stories about a particular subject. (Merriam-Webster)

I’m not qualified to write about zines. I don’t know much about zine culture (90’s? Punk? Portlandia?), and I’ve never so much as stapled two pages of angsty poetry together. Truth be told, I’m way too square to get into the scene.

Treasures at the MCTC Library

But I’m still writing about the zine collection at the Minneapolis Community & Technical College library, which is perhaps an indication of how awesome it is.
What is this collection? Around a thousand zines, all housed in a three big metal filing cabinets in the MCTC library reading room. That’s right, around a THOUSAND. Every topic you can imagine, from homemade sex toy tutorials to band interviews to movie reviews to bread-baking instructions. Every level of design skill you can imagine, from half-legible photocopies stapled together to incredibly rich popup books printed on luxurious cardstock. Every writing style (and level of competence) you can imagine, from barely literate to highly literate.

You can’t take them out of the library, but if you’ve got a couple hours to kill, you can pick out a short stack and get comfy in a reading chair to peruse them. I won’t suggest you’ll be blown away by the beauty of the writing or personality among them because usually you won’t. Something about zines encourages navel-gazing and mopery, even more so than blogging.

So, to be honest, the vast majority of what you’ll read is sad, sad observations about the loneliness of having freedom in the 21st century and music reviews that basically consist of “I like it because it’s fun to listen to.”

What’s the Point, Then?

So why would I suggest reading them in the first place? First off, because you DO find the occasional treasure that makes trawling through the rest worth it. Second, because it’s a weirdly intimate experience. There’s something about handling a physical object that someone else made – regardless of the quality, it’s precious because you know effort went into creating it. You feel the same connection you do when you’re looking at Roman ruins or holding a Native American arrowhead. You get that “Wow, there’s a person on the other side of this” feeling.

It’s encouraging too. If you’re a perfectionist, and you tend to worry about writing more than you actually write (guilty), reading zines is a great reminder that the work you put out doesn’t have to be perfect. The world is full of crappy writing – yours isn’t going to make that big a splash, even if it eats you up inside to let something go unpolished. On the flip side, finding the really great zines also reminds you that you don’t have to be a “professional” to make good shit. Like I said, nice to remember if you find yourself caught in a paralysis of perfectionism.

It’s good to keep up a speaking acquaintance with low-tech tangible objects too. The Atlantic recently published a thought-provoking article detailing how fragile digital media objects really are. If the servers the objects are stored on disappear (a tech malfunction, a company going out of business, etc), they disappear. The zine collection at the MCTC library might not be canon material, but when the apocalypse comes, they’ll be all we have left. And for that alone, they deserve to be appreciated.

You should go check them out.

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