Attending My First Small Conference

iStudent Blog

Published: October 12, 2023 by Kesheena Doctor

At the beginning of this August, I was able to attend the 2023 Zine Librarian unConference, a conference for zine librarians and zine library workers, which is a specialized subset of librarianship. I was excited to represent the iSchool at this conference, meet new librarians in the field, and learn more about how zines can support librarianship.

What Are Zines?

For those new to zines, they are self-published printed media that have been around for decades, but grew in popularity with punk subculture and the advent of photocopiers. Zines are able to be created with very few resources and minimal skill, and as such, make great programming for all types of libraries. Though zine librarians is a newer library position, it has grown in popularity in recent years and many academic libraries and public libraries have zine collections, including the Library of Congress. Barnard Zine Library also provides some virtual access to their impressive zine collection for anyone interested in zines, including zines created by librarians.

Being a zine librarian involves learning a lot of specialized information, from zine librarian ethics, cataloging, collection curation and even building partnerships with local zine communities. Since I want to work with zines as a librarian, I thought attending this year’s ZLuC would be a great opportunity to learn about these specific skills and network with other zine librarians.

The Conference

ZLuC was held in San Francisco, California from August 4-5 and took place at the University of San Francisco’s Gleeson Library, the San Francisco Public Library’s Main Library and a few offsite specialized libraries in the San Francisco area. The conference is run by the Zine Libraries Interest Group, who also hosts the Zine Pavilion at ALA each year. The group is an entirely volunteer event and is composed of working professionals in zine librarianship. To attend ZLuC I applied for the ZLuC BIPOC Travel Grant and was awarded a small stipend from the Zine Libraries Interest Group that covered my airfare. I was able to make arrangements to stay with a friend and only had to pay for my food and public transportation expenses, which made attending the conference very affordable for a graduate student.

The conference was primarily in-person, with a few sessions on the first day held virtually. ZLuC’s in-person capacity was 100 attendees, which made the conference very intimate and aided its informal structure. As an unconference, attendees selected the session topics through consensus and were expected to notetake and facilitate the session. As such, all participants had an expectation to contribute and share their skills and experiences to have the most informative and productive sessions.

At the beginning of both conference days, the in-person attendees set the agendas for each session, making note of any popular topics that might cause scheduling conflicts for attendees. The topics for this year‘s conference ranged from cataloging, issues within BIPOC librarianship, using zines in library instruction, and starting zine residencies. With the small nature of the conference, I was able to meet every attendee and make a considerable connection with them. Since the conference was also structured so that attendees learned from each other, sharing contact information was expected so session conversations could continue post-conference.

In addition to the conference sessions, ZLuC’s schedule also included a keynote speaker and many visits to zine libraries and zine spaces in the Bay area. ZLuC’s keynote speaker was V. Vale, an Asian-American artist who has been creating zines since the 1970’s. Post-conference events included an in-store social at Silver Sprocket, a local comics store, and Prelinger Library, a public library in San Francisco with a geospatial-based cataloging system and hefty zine collection. ZLuC also offered a post-conference field trip to the East Bay on Sunday, August 6th, which included stops at the Oakland Public Library, the Oakland comic store ABO Comix, and art community space, Rock Paper Scissors Collective

Benefits of Attending a Small Conference

If you are interested in attending a small conference like ZLuC, I highly recommend going! There are so many benefits to attending a smaller conference than larger conferences like ALA’s Annual Conference & Exhibition and ACRL, including:

  • Getting to know every attendee
  • Building lasting relationships
  • Specialized education sessions
  • Opportunities to learn more information about specialty from peers
  • Greater chance of being awarded a travel grant
  • Greater chance of presentation proposal being accepted

I had such a great time at ZLuC! Not only did I learn a lot about zine librarianship, I visited with old friends, re-met acquaintances from my zinemaking past, and made many new connections with zine librarian professionals from across the country.

Many thanks to the Zine Libraries Interest Group for not only organizing the conference but also providing a travel grant so I could attend. 

Did you attend a smaller specialist conference or have a recommendation for one? If so, please leave a comment.