Interview with IPRC Zine Librarian Lillian Karabaic

Lillian Karabaic’s job as the Zine Librarian of the Independent Publishing Resource Center in Portland, Oregon, seems like an impossible task at times.

Inside the IPRC’s new warehouse location, the Zine Library, founded in 1999 by Librarian Greg Means, is no longer “just a long wall of boxes.”  The new and cozier reading room and archives houses a collection of over 17,000 zines and small press publications.

Issues of cataloguing, circulation and continuing the Zine Library’s legacy are at the forefront of Karabaic’s mind as she organizes and prepares for a 24-hour zine archiving and cataloging event named “The Raiders of the Lost Archives.” And it is up to Karabaic and her trusty team of volunteer librarians and programmers to organize and catalogue the collection into a working circulation.

Karabaic is a long time IPRC open-hours volunteer and workshop coordinator, who is currently studying the intersection of economics and bicycle transportation at Reed College.  She states that zines are difficult to categorize by most cataloguing standards. 

“We are unlike a regular library system,” she responds when asked what is most problematic in zine cataloguing.  “We can’t just pull the record from WorldCat.  The records for everything in our collection do not exist yet.  Therefore, it is all original cataloguing.”  Karabaic states that an estimated 40-60% of donated zines will be unique publications. 

Karabaic continued our discussion of zine archives versus zine libraries.  “The problem is that zines don’t lend themselves to archiving if you want them to be accessible.  The choice between access and archiving can be dangerous.  Most zinesters don’t want their zines to go into a box and not be seen for another sixty years,” Karabaic elaborates. 

With IPRC’s primary function to circulate and archive Portland zines and zines made by the IPRC members, anyone who is a Portland resident can obtain an IPRC Library card, Karabaic says.  Surprised to learn that the IPRC still circulates its collection, I asked Karabaic about the current lending system.  She expresses frustration with the paper-based circulation system, explaining that all of the identifying information of IPRC library zine happens upon the archival bag, but that it is common for patrons to misplace the I.D. bag.  Currently, circulation is a mess, but Karabaic is hopeful. 

A self-proclaimed open source technology evangelist, Karabaic’s vision is that IPRC’s zine library will soon be catalogued on the Online Public Access Catalogue KOHA Integrated Library System.  Simply from our conversation, I realized that this Barefoot Librarian’s knowledge of Library Science was vastly beyond my own.  As I scrambled to write acronyms like OPAC and MARC, I sighed in relief when Karabaic smiled and reassured me with a simple “Don’t worry, you’ll learn these theories and terms when you get to library school.”  I needed to hear those words of encouragement.   I needed to hear that obtaining an education at GSLIS will prepare me in understanding the complex systems, networks, and theories needed in properly organizing library collections, be it large public libraries to smaller operations like at the IPRC. 

“If IPRC ceased to exist, my hope is that the Zine Library would end up in an archival system, like the Oregon Historical Society,” Karabaic states. “These zines are an important part of Oregon’s history, especially Portland’s history.”  Much appreciation is due to people like Lillian Karabaic and Greg Means, for continuing the librarian’s struggle of the maintenance and preservation of community history and expression.

For more about Lillian Karabaic, visit her blog at anomalily.net

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