This blog post contains annotated and edited excerpts from a conversation about zines, being a student worker, and working at the Barnard Library by Zine Assistants Megnot Mulugeta ’19 and Jade Levine ’19.
We’ve been zine assistants together since our first year at Barnard (2015-2016), for a combined 7 years (14 semesters) of zine abstracting. We’ve written hundreds of abstracts (of which over 100 contain the brilliant Megnot-originated phrase “visual elements include”) and placed over 1000 zines into the Barnard Archives.
Megnot: (singing) Zines, zines, zines.
Jade: So this is Megnot and Jade talking about our jobs as zine assistants.
Megnot: Zines zines, zines zines.
Jade: What has it been like for you to be a zine assistant?
Megnot: You get a reputation. (laughs)
Jade: Oh, do you?
Megnot: For being zine-y, I feel like. Or zine adjacent, for me, at least, like you were like, Barnard Zine Club.
Jade: Right. But I also think that the zine job is where we get the real creds.
Megnot: The nitty-grittiness of working with old zines from before I was born.
Jade: Yeah. And I feel like nobody understands what our job is—
Megnot: I don't understand what our job is!
Jade: (laughs) Because it's like a combination of technical library skills and then also writing descriptions of zines.
on abstracting zines:
Megnot: I was talking about this with Jenna a couple minutes ago, about how you get invested in peoples' lives. So you're like, where's the next issue? Jenna, how could you not get the next issue?
Jade: Or when they skip, when you read issue 1 and 2 but then the next one we have is like 7. So you're like, what happened in these five? They're like, I'm dating somebody new, I live in a new city.
Megnot: Or they have a new job, or something majored happened, and you're like, oh no! We made so much progress! (laughs) It's really intense, cause you're also just like by yourself, reading them.
Jade: Did you ever write down zines that you liked, or make notes of zines? Can you think of favorite zines that you had?
Megnot: Yeah. I can recognize them from far away. Or like, usually, the creators that I like have a particular way of making their zines, so if I see a stack, I can pretty much be like, oh wait, we got an issue. Oh god, I forgot what the name was. Philosophactivists?
Jade: Oh, I know what you're talking about.
Megnot: It's super thick, super jargony. But really cool to think about, and I really appreciate the creators' input on topics of justice, and how that ties into gender and all these other different things. It's super academic-y, but also super real. That I can recognize.
Jade: Is it the Philosophactivism one? It looks a certain way.
Megnot: Yeah, it's also kind of bland looking, but also really recognizable.
Jade: There's something to be said for that.
Megnot: I agree.
on zine assistant skills:
Jade: I feel like you and I together have this really bizarre wealth of knowledge.
Megnot: (laughs) Yes!
Jade: Cause I'm thinking, oh, like you know that zine that has a feather on it?
Jade: Like I feel like we just have this very strange wealth. I remember what I was gonna say, which is that we've also talked about how part of our job is sleuthing, when you're trying to enter the metadata for a zine. And then you are like, ok, time to start Googling, and then you can get really into it.
Megnot: I know! Like trying to figure out, like, if the person whose name, or whose contact information is provided, is still relevant, the same person who made the zine. Cause some of them are donations, or sometimes Jenna will like, forget to put down whether they're donations or not. And so then, like, obits will come up, or peoples' Twitters or Tumblrs from 2012..
Jade: Or earlier. You can get into it.
Megnot: Yeah. And it's really hard to get out of the hole. (laughs)
on what makes a zine a zine:
Megnot: If you can define what a zine was in 4 words, what would you say?
Jade: In 4 words? Oh man. Paper. I feel like that's an important part—it's not going to be a phrase, it's just going to be 4 words. First word is paper. Second word is sharing. Cause I think there's always a sharing element in it. The third word is stories. Cause I think even if it's images or art, it could still tell a story, and then the fourth word is... I don't know what the fourth word is. (laughs)
Megnot: I think it kind of summed it up.
on having zines in the zine library:
Megnot: Do you feel weird—not weird—but having your own zines in the library?
Jade: That's such a funny question.
Megnot: It's gonna be archived—cause every once in a while I come across your zines and be like, oh my god, this is Jade's.
Jade: I really did that sophomore year. And sometimes now, I'm like, oh I shouldn't have done that, I should have waited. I'm really happy that my Arthur zines are in the collection cause those are fun and I made them with my sister, but then I have some personal zines and I'm happy that they're in there, but then sometimes I'm like, oh man, these are really about my life at a time that feels really different from now. But I think it's ok. But I haven't put any more recent ones, I think I might take a little more discretion and time. (laughs)
Megnot: Yeah, that's been something that I've been thinking about, as my time comes to an end. I've been thinking about archiving my presence at Barnard—I don't want Barnard to ever forget me. (laughs) And so I've been thinking, should I submit mine to Jenna? But at the same time, I don't want to have that feeling of any person can just come in and can just read about this one time in my life. Which is great, but also kind of scary.
Jade: Sometimes I wonder if someone will donate my zine—
Jade: I just have sometimes thought—I have sold like 5 of my zines in like 3 years at zine fests, but I've sold them to random people, and sometimes I'm like, what if this ends up in a zine library? Like either this one, or another one, and then I'm like, oh my god, that's so goofy. But I guess that that's kind of part of sending them off into the world. But that would be like—they kind of take on a life of their own.
Megnot: Like imagine someone requests your zine from the archives.
Jade: I would love if someone wrote about my zine in their First Year Writing class. (laughs)
Megnot: That would be so cool, wouldn't it?
on being zine assistants:
Jade: I was gonna ask what has it been like—we've had this job for so long—what has it been like to have this job over the course of your time here? For multiple years?
Megnot: It's like the one constant in my life at this point (laughs). No matter what, I can always come hang out here. Also it's super flexible, so like (laughs). It's really accommodating, you know what I mean? It's just really nice to know that it's not going to ruin my life in any way. This can only improve my life.
Jade: It's never a negative, it's always a positive.
Megnot: It's always a net positive.
Jade: And what else can I say that about at Barnard?
Megnot: There haven't been any downs. I think, the spreadsheet, losing that was a down. That's just me being weirdly attached to this document I was involved in for four years.
Jade: Yeah. That's you being a Taurus.
Megnot: That's me being a Taurus, essentially.
Jade: No change.
Megnot: But yeah, what about you?
Jade: I definitely think it's also funny—I also sometimes think Jenna has seen us grow up in some ways. And just like, all the things, like when we went out to lunch together at Vine long ago.
Megnot: RIP Vine.
Jade: Pre Shake Shack. Oh wait, it wasn't pre Shake Shack. It was pre Pret.
Megnot: Pre Pret!
Jade: Yes, we went to Vine. We went to that zine fest in Newark last year… Do you remember when we moved into—we were in Lefrak, and then we had to add all these shelves?
Megnot: The math.
Jade: The math day [a day when we added a number of shelves to our existing shelves and conducted a shift, necessitating calculations and math]. Where we had to— it's funny, cause it's obviously all a continuum, but it feels like long ago.
Megnot: Yeah! I think like being a part of a process for so long—it's really jarring for it to suddenly stop. I know it's not suddenly because it's been four years, but it's sudden.
Jade: I realized I've been doing something wrong. I was adding all these zines to Access, and Jenna was like, oh yeah, if a zine has an article at the front for the title, you should put the article after a comma. So if the zine was called "The Best of Times" you'd call it "Best of Times, The". And I was like, Jenna, I've been doing that wrong for four years. And she was like, oh, ok. And I was like, I guess I'll change it! And then I was like, for the next three weeks?
Megnot: Yeah, I keep thinking: who's gonna scan these zines now?
Jade: And I don't want to be like we've had a lock on this whatever, but it's also like I think we have learned and grown a lot in this position, and it's sad to be leaving it.
Megnot: Yeah! This is the longest job I've had in my life.
Jade: Yeah, me too!
Megnot: And the best paying job.
Jade: And the best job I've had.
on working with Jenna:
Jade: I always appreciated how we would send Jenna the list of zines we had done, and then she would say, thanks! Cause I always felt like she didn't need to respond to those emails, but she would always be like, “Thank you, Jenna”!
Megnot: Like, consistently! It is super nice to be appreciated.
Jade: I've also liked working at the library because it's a place where I've been appreciated as a worker.
Megnot: Yeah, all the time!
Jade: And I've gained a new appreciation for my own value as an employee. Cause I don't think I ever realized in the job I had in high school—
Megnot: Yeah, for sure! I feel comfortable being like, yo, I'm dead tired today, I did not sleep last night. I'm going to take time off. And Jenna will be like, yeah, sure! She's like, go ahead! And like, usually I'll like do the trouble of how to make up hours, but Jenna's just like, whatever works best for you. What did I do to deserve this?
Jade: You were just a great person.
Megnot: I'm just alive, like every person.
Megnot: Yeah. this job rocks.
Jade: In closing, this job rocks.
Megnot: It's sickening. It's great.
[Note from Jenna: I have loved working with Jade and Megnot and will miss them terribly! I also wish them the best and hope they come back often. And let me catalog their zines!]