We were invited to run workshops for young people at the Edinburgh Central Library over the school holidays. We’re always keen to try new things, and the central library has enabled the zine library to exist as it does, so we were very happy to. The library set up two 2hr workshops – 2pm-4pm, with one advertised for 9-12 year olds and the other advertised for 13-18 year olds. They did some in-house promotion including posters and on the library website, and we did a small amount of our own promotion on Instagram (where we had more of a chance of directly attracting young people) and Twitter (where we were more likely to reach their parents). 18 people were signed up on the Eventbrite for the first workshop, but we didn’t imagine all of them would turn up. We weren’t sure how much of the attendance would be self-motivated and how much driven by parents, so we felt we should be ready to work hard to engage anyone who had turned up reluctantly – whether this was by altering the activity, giving them more freedom, or handing them control of their participation.
In the end, because of the nature of family units, we had 18 participants, including 3 much younger children (probably about 5 years old) and two parents who stayed – one with their younger child and one with their daughter who wanted them to stay. What on paper didn’t seem like an intimidating number, turned into a room full of young people.
Luckily, several zine library members were available that day and offered to co-run the workshop. It was myself, Brian, El, Emily (1), Emily (2). Honestly, I don’t know how primary school teachers do it, because 5 of us seemed the perfect number and my colleagues/comrades are facilitating machines. With us as a team, we could all play to our strengths and work together.
I’d sent out an email when we had the dates/times confirmed to see who was free, and everyone who was interested got onto Slack and started sharing ideas. We reflected on previous workshops (where maybe we had tried to fit too much in) and decided to break it into four – an icebreaker/warm up activity, a brief discussion on what zines are, zine making, and then photocopying/warm down/reflections. We decided to focus on fanzines with the younger age group, as we all remember being very intense about our interests at that age (although we’re intense about our interests at every age…) Also, we run a lot of fanzines workshops with adults because it’s a great intro to zine making – and people generally leave feeling really positive bcos they’ve just got to enthuse about something they love for two hours. So, I put together a google doc with a simple table – three columns – time/task/person assigned. I also started putting together a Powerpoint presentation, as I really liked anchoring my discussion to something visual during the LEAP workshop. It would also help us keep track of where we were in the workshop and stick to our rough schedule.
I was thinking about how to do introductions, and also how I was going to remember all these young people’s names. I’d been to a creative writing workshop where we made little place cards with our name and a symbol that represents us. That morning, Facebook told me that it was world emoji day and so I thought it would be good to do a name badge with an emoji that represents ourselves, or how we are feeling, on it. This gives the young people something creative to do whilst others arrive, and means when we go round introducing ourselves we could say what emoji we chose and why. There was a lot of enthusiasm for this task as kids sat down (Brian did an amazing job greeting everyone and setting them up with it) and it meant they had plenty of time to think about what to say, because I hate being put on the spot in introductions.
We set up the tables in like a broken horseshoe – allowing us to sit and chat with them whilst they were making without looming over their shoulders, and also meaning there was plenty of space for the warm up activity without having to rearrange the tables. We organised paper and pens but didn’t put them out to start with. We set up a station at the back with stamps, washi tape, stencils and stickers.
Because we were focusing on fanzines, we wanted our ‘icebreaker’ to focus on thinking about our likes and dislikes. Because this was the younger age group, we wanted something quite dynamic – we were about to ask them to sit and make a zine for about an hour so we didn’t want the opening activity to be more of the same.
I’d seen a slide from the recent zine librarian (un)conference which asked people to go to either side of the room depending on how much they agreed with a statement. Drawing inspiration from that, we decided to put things up on the board and they could stand somewhere the length of the room to indicate their like/dislike of it. If they loved it, they had to come as close to the board as they could get, if they hated it they had to get as far away the other end of the room as possible and if they weren’t sure or didn’t care they could stay in the middle. We demonstrated this with our first slide ‘Marmite’ which had the kids scatter, all keen to offer their opinions. If I was running this again, I’d ask people to put their hands up to tell me why they were standing there and get the opinions of a couple of young people each slide.
After this, we sat them down and El started talking about ‘what’s a zine?’ Whilst they chatted we handed out a bunch of (age-appropriate*) zines from the library for them to handle. These gave them clues as to what a zine was, if they didn’t know, and El got them to identify aspects of what they were holding to illustrate the diversity of zines. If we had more time, it would have been great to get them into groups, hand them each a zine and ask them to use it to figure out a definition of zine. We were conscious, though, that we wanted to leave enough time for making!
We handed out single sheets of A4 paper, and Emily (1) demonstrated how to fold a mini-zine, whilst the rest of us helped anyone who was struggling. Then Brian handed out scissors to cut the mini-zine and finish off.
We had a final slide with some ideas for zines they could make. I told them at the end I could photocopy the zines they had made, so they had an hour, then I’d remind them, and then 10 minutes more, to help with their time management.
We then proceeded to scatter pens, and walk round checking everyone knew what they wanted to make. This was where having 5 of us was really helpful, as it meant we could give every young person that needed it some encouragement, chat through their ideas, or help them out. We had a bag of prompts for people who felt stuck, but pretty much everyone immediately having an idea.
Young people are super industrious, and this group were so creative and energetic. Whilst some wanted to chat more than others, everyone got on with making. A couple of us sat at chairs to make with them, whilst the others walked round, checking in on people, talking about what they were making, answering questions and experimenting with materials. About halfway through we brought over some of the washi tape and stamps from the back. Twenty minutes in, Emily (2) and I had a quick chat about what we’d do when people started finishing, as it looked like they were speeding through their mini-zines. Emily (2) had brought a paper bag of prompt words, and a mini zine with different instructions on each page. We decided we would offer this activity to anyone who was finished.
People’s attention in workshops is like electricity, in that it travels through the most conductive thing in the room. We staggered handing out materials so that everyone had some time to pace their making, and didn’t just gravitate towards the most visually interesting thing on the table. For the same reason, apart from a few pens we had clear tables for the warm up because we wanted their whole attention to be on our speaking, and the game.
About halfway through the making, I walked round with the EZL stamp which Brian had made for us from Lino, and showed any participant who wanted how to stamp the back of their zine. As well as add their name and the date (trying to get them into good habits for later life!)
At half past I warned everyone there was ten minutes left, to the usual groans of ‘I’m not finished!’. Then at twenty to I went round collecting zines to photocopy – this was totally voluntary, but once one person handed over their zine I was met with a deluge. Emily (2) and I went downstairs to photocopy the zines on the library photocopier, whilst Emily (1), Brian and El stayed upstairs and played a warm down game (monster drawing.)
At the start the librarian had asked us to hand out some feedback forms for the event. We realised that if we were realistically going to get any of these young people to fill in the forms, then it would need to be a structured activity and incorporated into the workshop time. Brian, El and Emily plied them with biscuits, and I came back upstairs hands full of zines to a room of young people diligently filling in feedback forms. Maybe it was because we had just spent two hours being vocal about our likes and dislikes?
The feedback we received was overwhelming positive (including the classic #librariesforever) and the only criticism was that there was not enough time, as several of the participants didn’t manage to finish their zines. We tried to reassure them it was a starting off block, and that we would love to see the finished zines in the future. If I was running the workshop again (and feeling particularly brave) I’d extend the workshop by half an hour and take small groups of young people down to the photocopier to operate it themselves and show them how to do it in the future too. But there’s never enough time!
Stay tuned for my next blog post about the second workshop with 13-18 year olds, and some general reflections on zines, workshops and young people!
*The library is not particularly well structured for this, as we don’t put an any age restrictions on the zines. We are thinking of adding a symbol in our new cataloguing process that marks those zines that are suitable (or uncontroversial) for all-ages just for ease for future workshops. I’ve been reluctant to do this before because it involves making a judgement call (at the moment we just say that we can’t guarantee any of the content in the library is child-appropriate), and also because I think a lot of content that is considered not ‘age-appropriate’ is entirely suitable, and actually sometimes quite important, for young people to interact with so long as it is done in a safe and supported environment.