December 15, 2010

Using zines as an introduction to library research

I've used my zine lesson plan with 5 humanities classes now and posted the information (including handouts) to my portfolio. This is at an urban community college with many typically under-served students that may have low literacy skills and are pretty brand new to research and libraries.

The purpose from the instructor's perspective is to offer another option for the students to complete a final project; this arts appreciation class is one of the first courses a new student might take at this college. From the librarian's perspective, this is a way to introduce students to how publishing works, give them an opportunity for informal research and creativity. By allowing students to choose any topic relating to art that is of interest to them, it takes some of the pressure off potentially intimidating library resources being explored for the first time. This also falls under critical instruction by talking about whose voices get heard in which platforms and why. Who gets published in a magazine or journal, of course, differs from who might publish a blog or zine.

Many of our students are not familiar with zines, nor blogs. One of their other options for an assignment is to create an autobiographical entry in a blog, so I introduce that mini-lesson first and we talk about what blogs are and how they have evolved (most students have never had their own).

After getting an introduction to electronic self-publishing, I introduce zines but only minimally; I don't want to impose my view of zines before the students get a chance to form their own opinions. I break them up into groups and give each 1 zine, 1 magazine, and a Venn diagram worksheet to compare those items and blogs. After explaining how a Venn diagram works, I allow about 10 minutes for groupwork. After they compare and contrast, we discuss as a class and will look at things like appearance, cost, required knowledge/background, subjects covered, credibility, and publishing processes for differentiation. An interesting point that Jenna Freedman discusses in Zines Are Not Blogs is the digital divide. Students will say that blogs are free as opposed to zines and magazines, but that's not necessarily the case. One must have computer and internet access to read a blog, as well as at least *some* computer literacy to create a blog. If there is not a school or library nearby, an individual would be required to pay for computer/internet at home, and that is not free. This is an interesting perspective on where zines and blogs differ; there are people who believe zines are dead and why make a zine when you could just make a blog, but there are still people out there who don't have access to the tools required to read/create the electronic version of self-publishing.

After the discussion, I explain they will be making a mini-zine (1 piece of paper turned into an 8 page zine). They can choose any topic (as I mention above) as long as it relates somehow to the arts. It can be any style they want: typed, drawn, comic, collage, handwritten; they just need to include at least 2 sources in a citation from any library database. I demonstrate how to use one of our most user-friendly databases (Student Research Center) and then show them how to cite a source in the citation management software our library uses, NoodleTools.

I tell the students if they are going to make a zine, it's only fair if I make one too, in exchange (I am looking to collect student zines after grading to display in the library). After using sample search terms for yarn bombing (knit graffiti), I show them my final product so they can get a sense of the assignment from start to finish.

This has been a successful IL session so far and I am in the process of collecting zines from Fall semester and will be getting more from Winter term students! You can have access to learning objectives, the lesson plan, and handouts from my portfolio.