Special Collections & Zine-making at Bower Ashton Library, UWE Bristol, 3rd March 2020

ARLIS South West event: Special Collections & Zine-making at Bower Ashton Library, UWE Bristol, 3rd March 2020


With several universities in the south-west of England supporting art and design courses, over the years many of us have discussed holding ARLIS events outside London. With encouraging support at the ARLIS conference in Glasgow, we got on with it!

This first event aspired to bring together colleagues from across the south west and beyond, providing a time and a place to meet, tour an art library and its collections, share ideas about how we manage and promote special collections and to have a creative activity too. Strengthening our regional network, in order to share ideas and support each other when we need to advocate for our activities or collections, is central to the group, as it is also for the national ARLIS organisation.



The day

Attendees (who travelled from as far as Wales in the west, London in the east, Leeds in the north and Winchester in the south) were greeted and encouraged to design their own name badge before having small group discussions about their collections, successes and challenges. A tour of the Bower Ashton Library (led by Sarah Clifford, Subject Support Librarian and Ludovik Sebire, Faculty Librarian, UWE Bristol) showcased our exhibitions and displays and then everyone was invited to handle some of special collections, including artists’ books, zines and Visionaire editions. After lunch, Angie Butler and Sarah Bodman (both Senior Research Fellows at the Centre for Fine Print Research, UWE Bristol) led our zine making activity. The day concluded with a group discussion about what attendees had learned, and sharing ideas for future events which could be held in the region.




The morning (Kim Davis):

Even with my arts background prior to librarianship, having been a biology librarian for the past couple of years, I wasn’t sure of what to expect from an ARLIS event or from a campus that focuses purely on arts disciplines. However, the structure of the morning eased me right in. Chatting about how we promote our special collections, it was great to finally meet some colleagues in other institutions and find out more about the weird and wonderful things in their holdings (Women’s Hockey Archive?!). While we all promote our collections differently, it was useful to hear how this was dependent on the collection, the resourcing available, the building and the needs of staff and students.

The tour around the UWE Bower Ashton Campus quickly turned into a case of “how many things could I fit into the boot of my car and take back with me?” We loved the collaborative displays with the Artists Book Club and the Arnolfini, the way that interfiling journals was working for visual browsing of materials and most importantly The Colourful Filing Cabinets, which seemed to me to be a fab solution for storing many zines and artists books. For us, coming from an institution offering degrees from many disciplines, it was exciting to see a library where Art and Design were the focus and this helped my colleague and myself begin to immerse ourselves into this world.

During the delicious vegetarian lunch (generously funded by ARLIS), participants took the opportunity to network and exchange information, review and discuss the enlightening UWE library tour.




The afternoon (Mary Crowder):

Upon arrival we had all submitted an A5 image. All the images had been photocopied and we were all given a copy, along with green and purple ARLIS zine pamphlet covers. Angie Butler provided a variety of library, numbers, people at work and clock stamps and lots of coloured inks and felt pens.

We had free range to fold, order the pages, stamp and generally have fun. The only instructions being, to create and complete two zine pamphlets to compare and contrast at the end of the workshop.

Initially we tentatively watched each other, but very quickly everyone became bold with their stamping, felt pen colouring, rewriting the text by deleting words and/or over-stamping with new words and phrases. Some people folded the pages, some turned them upside down, some obliterated entire sentences, some over-stamped with gay abandon.

The energy in the room was palpable and we all had fun creating each individual zine.   At the end of the workshop as we viewed each other’s pamphlets, the difference and creatively was inspirational, everyone’s finished zine was so individual and different.

We all felt the workshop was fun, bonding and a great sharing exchange and, we all left with our finished zines as a visual memento of the first ARLIS South West event.




The future

It was really great to host the first south west event and so pleasing to read the positive feedback. It feels strange writing this on week 2 of lockdown, looking out of my window at the quiet street… but possibly it’s even more apt to continue thinking about one of the discussion points we had at the event. With the challenges of such a large region (meaning transport can prove to be prohibitively expensive or time-consuming), the working group of interested librarians representing Bath Spa, UWE, Arts University Bournemouth, Plymouth and Falmouth had already identified an opportunity for some virtual events, such as lunchtime library tours or ‘teachmeets’ around topics like object-based learning. Now we are all at home, this doesn’t have to be a south-west-specific idea. Would this be something of interest to ARLIS members more widely?


Thank you to ARLIS for supporting this event – we look forward to many more, in one way or another…



Morwenna Peters, Kim Davis and Mary Crowder, UWE Bristol.

Photos by Angie Butler, Morwenna Peters, Shaun Oaten and Catherine Polley