Code of ethics draft- Privacy

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Zine Statement of Ethics: Organizing: Privacy


This section aims to help librarians and archivists think through some of the privacy implications of making zines accessible via cataloging, organizing or describing.


To echo our preamble, zines are “often weird, ephemeral, magical, dangerous, and emotional.” Dangerous to whom? It probably depends on who you ask, but in the age of the Internet, at least one prospectively endangered population are zinesters themselves. Zines are a vulnerable, emotionally raw medium, rife with personal details of their creators that they may not have intended to share outside of the safety and exclusivity of their small print readership. Zines are not necessarily created with the presumption of widespread discoverability on the Web. Obviously, zines created before the advent of the Web had no such presumption – and yet many of these creators are still living. Librarians and archivists should consider that making zines discoverable on the Web or in local catalogs and databases could have impacts on creators – anything from mild embarrassment to the divulging of dangerous personal information.


That said, the takeaway here shouldn’t be that making detailed information about zines and zinesters more widely available is inherently bad. What zines contain, represent and do are all super important for today’s readers, historians, etc. So, yes, we want zines to be as discoverable as possible, but in a way that also respects the safety and privacy of their creators.

Short version (maybe this is all we need?)

  1. Levels of Description: The more detailed your descriptions of your zines are, the more discoverable they will be. Within the conventions of your institution, describe your zines as fully as possible, but with sensitivity to the amount of private info of living persons that might also be revealed.
  2. Identifying Zinesters: In general, use the form of name that’s on the piece being cataloged. If reconciling forms of names to an authority file, use care to identify sensitive cases where the author may not want their full name associated with the zine. Be prepared to receive and respond to requests to change or remove name information in catalog records for zines. We encourage you to defer to zine creators wishes in this regard.
  3. Authority Data For Zinesters: When creating authority records for zinesters, refrain from recording more personal information than is necessary or required to identify the person under the rules or conventions of the authority file.

Long version (if we want to spell it all out):

Levels of Description

The level or granularity of description of zines can have an impact on the amount of potentially private information exposed in a catalog. Zines described at the item level, with thoroughly transcribed tables of contents, summary notes and access points for each author or contributor make zines much more discoverable for users, but also make it that much easier for information about a zinester to be exposed without anyone even having to examine the physical zine. On the other hand, zines described at the collection level afford much less exposure of information about the zinester, but also much less discoverability for users. Collection level descriptions can be simply a list of titles, or even more generically, a catalog record or database entry for a certain number of zines from a certain time period, with no further description.


Each institution has to decide what level of description is right for them. In traditional contexts, this decision is usually based on the amount of labor involved in describing a collection, but for zines, the level of exposure of private information about the zinester should also be considered.

Identifying Zinesters

In cataloging and describing conventional library materials, like commercially available or academic press books, it’s usually taken for granted that the author should be attributed as the creator of their work. This assumption is embedded in cataloging rules like RDA, which mandates the recording of a work’s creator, if it is determinable, and doing so with a unique identifier at that.


However, zines excel at defying convention, and this is no exception. One should not blindly assume that a zinester always wishes to be connected with their zines or attributed as their creator. In fact, such attribution might be undesirable. Within the community creating this document, requests for deleting creator attributions in catalog records for zines have been received (and honored).


Whether or not one should identify creators in descriptions of zines will depend on a few factors:


  • The nature of the zine and when it was produced: Any zinesters putting out zines before 2001 (and maybe as late as 2003) probably couldn’t have foreseen the implications Google and widespread discoverability of information on the Internet would have on them and their zines. Without having done any analysis, it stands to reason that zines of the 80s and 90s were probably less guarded than those of the post-Google era when (supposedly) anyone can figure out (supposedly) anything – including a description of the tell-all zine you mailed out to friends and strangers in 1994 when you were just 14.
  • Use of pseudonyms, partial names or initials: If a zinester uses identity-obscuring devices such as these, it’s possibly because they don’t want to be identified. This is a clue to the cataloger or arranger not to go above and beyond in sleuthing out a full name for the author to include as an access point. Same goes even if you happen to know the full name of the zinester in question, like if you bought the zine directly from them at a zinefest. However, if you have a direct connection to the zinester or contact info, you could ask if recording their full name in an access point is okay.
  • Unique access points (e.g. using birthdates, etc.) to identify zinesters: This foreshadows the section on authority data below. Cataloging rules are set up to prefer the unique identification of authors in access points by designating a unique text string for each individual. This may include birth or death dates, full names, qualifiers listing an occupation or field of activity, and so on. Though this is done to disambiguate between creators in a database, it has the upshot of revealing more information about an individual more readily than they may desire. Consider the context and potential consequences of doing so. Or, like in #2 above, if you have contact information, consider asking the individual’s permission.


Authority Data For Zinesters

In cataloging, the move from AACR2 to RDA has entailed an increase in the amount and granularity of data that can be recorded about people (among other entities) in MARC authority records. Under AACR2, the most important function of authority data was to establish and document a unique text string (or “heading”) to be used in bibliographic records for a particular author.


For example, works by Henry Rollins, the singer for Black Flag, are entered under the heading:


Rollins, Henry, 1961-


Works by Henry Rollins, the engineer, are entered under the heading:


Rollins, Henry, M.


The authority data would sometimes include human-readable notes with biographical data on the person, in order to help catalogers discern between authority records and determine which real-life person they corresponded to.


RDA has expanded the scope of what is recorded in authority records. Though the required data elements in an authority record are still geared toward creating and documenting a unique text string for each person, catalogers contributing to the Library of Congress National Authority File (LCNAF) are encouraged to supply additional biographical data when it is available on resources being cataloged or in reference sources consulted in the course of cataloging. This additional data is encoded in newly designated MARC fields and subfields, in order to make it more machine actionable, rather than just human readable. These efforts are intended to support the use of authority data as linked data, discoverable and re-usable on the open Web. Newly recordable elements include:

  • Place of birth
  • Place of residence
  • Address (including home or email addresses)
  • Associated group (such as one’s university, affiliated political party, collective, employing institution)
  • Gender


Ethical concerns around authority data for zinesters may seem to be more or less pressing depending on the context being operated in. For example, authority data for a catalog or database local to an institution might only serve local inventory purposes and have limited risk of exposure of private, personal information of the zinester. Authority data recorded in the LCNAF, on the other hand, is intended for broad exposure and reuse in libraries and on the open Web (e.g. via the Virtual International Authority File, or VIAF). Even with different levels of risk, anyone recording authority data for zinesters in any context should be mindful of potential downstream uses. Even local authority files could later be sources of information for LCNAF or other public datasets.


6 thoughts on “Code of ethics draft- Privacy

  1. It’s great how the arguments are presented in the levels of description section. Still, I wonder if it would be beneficial to zine librarians advocating for thorough, item-level cataloging to have some language coming down in favor of greater discoverability and the value of this work for future historians. (Future historians–heh.) Our description should be sensitive and responsive, but I’d still like to see this section bolster arguments for prioritizing cataloging.

  2. Should we get into establishing a best practice of attempting to consult with the zine maker about how they’re identified in particularly sensitive cases (e.g., we know they’ve transitioned to a different gender and don’t want to be associated with their earlier name or their zine is about an experience that might impact their employability), but that in general, we’ll go with what name is in the zine unless we are contacted by the zine maker to change it, in which case we will?

  3. Confession: the authority data section went a little over my head. The salient point seems to be “Even with different levels of risk, anyone recording authority data for zinesters in any context should be mindful of potential downstream uses.” Is there a way to bring that out a little bit more?

  4. This is very meaty and full of good, useful stuff. However, I wonder if the level of detail is a little TOO great. To my mind, the best codes of ethics (or similar types of documents) are ones that are simple and short, with broadly drawn statements of intent and philosophy. I think what’s being written here is something more suitable for a set of applied best practices, a document that gets more into the nitty-gritty of actually working with zines.

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