Self-publishing was first introduced to me through a discarded moving box of vintage Asian American books. Tucked within the box was the inaugural issue of Giant Robot, a Los-Angeles-based Asian American arts and pop culture zine. The zine was an unassuming black-and-white Xerox and stapled pamphlet filled with interviews, reviews and opinions. As I read through the introduction and the vision of what Giant Robot would become, I envisioned other spaces in the independent publishing world that would continue to document artists, writers, and thinkers of the time, and I desperately wished to play a role in creating spaces within printed matter culture.
Three years after founding the arts small press, Eyeball Burp Press, I secured a staff research position with the UCLA Asian American Studies Center Library/Reading Room’s Head Librarian and Special Collections Archivist, Marjorie Lee. Her guidance and mentorship has fostered a lasting impression in my passion in archival studies, as well as a budding interest in the field of library science.
Stepping foot inside the Asian American Studies Center Library/Reading Room at UCLA, I could smell the books. They say scent is closely connected with memory. That day, as I inhaled the cool air, the smell of paper, of cardboard and ink, a memory of myself surrounded and almost buried in mounds of picture books from the bookcase of my childhood home, surfaced.
And while I am still surrounded in books everyday, I have yet to gain the knowledge base to discuss where the book has been; its histories; its intricacies; its technologies. To be afforded the opportunity and the practical tools to better understand books and printed matter through the lens of the historian, I, as an archivist and assistant librarian, would benefit greatly in my career skill set to discover, discuss and dialogue with other book scholars at the California Rare Book School. As a publisher, mapping out various book movements and technological printing transitions of the past allow clearer insight to the present status of the creation and dissemination of books. With new knowledge come new skills. And with new skills come new passions, new opportunities, and new visions of the role of books in today’s culture.
My current independent research looks at self-publishers of color within the domestic small press and zine community, specially focusing on race, class and gender. Many ethnic communities have resorted to self-publishing as a form of alternative media due to their marginalized voice in the mainstream culture. Examining the organic boom of Asian American self-publishers from 1990 to today reveals a growth in the use of printed matter within communities and that ever-present need for book and ephemera studies.
I believe in the history of books; but I believe more in the future of books. With technology threatening the book’s demise, I feel that in order to understand where book culture is headed in the Twenty-first Century, I must first understand and learn where books have situated themselves within the Nineteenth and Twentieth Century.