Many librarians play a vital role in maintaining the Little Magazine Collection, from first purchasing new titles all the way to providing reference once the magazines are shelved, and everything in between.
Here’s an interview with one such person, Leia Verfuerth, who— as a Serials Librarian in the Acquisitions Department— handles the business side of orders and subscriptions for the collection. Or, as she tells me, “I pay the bills.” Leia talked with me about the challenges and joys of working with the collection, how print is like vinyl, advice for future librarians, and naming little magazines. Click “Read More” below the picture for the full interview.
Leia Verfuerth in her office with new arrival harlequin creature. Leia is a Serials Librarian in the Acquisitions Department of the General Library System at UW-Madison, which is also where she received her MLIS; her undergraduate degree is from UW-Eau Claire.
Oliver Bendorf: How did you get started working with the Little Magazine Collection? What is your role?
Leia Verfuerth: “I’ve been working with the little magazines since June 2011, when the previous person retired. What we do is mostly the business side of things: we contact the publishers, pay the bills… a lot of investigating. Mostly of what I do with the little magazines is before they even arrive.
I’m usually one of the first people to see the little magazines once they arrive. Then they go to the check-in unit, which is where they are added to the catalog.”
So why do some literary journals circulate and others don’t?
"Often it’s whichever the original selector decided, which is usually ancient history at this point. Or it’s where the funds came from, whether it was a Special Collections purchase or not. Certainly the rare, delicate, hard-to-replace materials we want up in Special Collections."
What is it like corresponding with the editors and publishers of little magazines?
"It’s such a wide variety… some are totally DIY… some are really wonderful, a joy to work with, and some you have to badger to get a response. I try to be responsive to how they want to communicate—some want only email, some want a letter. I had to learn how to send a letter through our office! Others go through a subscription agency like EBSCO, which doesn’t work very well, in general, with little magazines. You want to deal with the publisher directly. Most of these people are a wonder to work with."
What sorts of challenges do you face working with the collection?
"Being sensitive to the publishers, and how they want to be treated. They’re not corporate publishers, they’re real people. Some of these have only five, ten, fifteen copies and if you miss it, you might not ever get one. You have to act quickly— If miss something, sometimes it’s gone forever. It’s a lot like a treasure hunt. It’s one of the best parts of my job. And then there’s trying to track down a little magazine without a web presence, and staying current with the ones that publish irregularly. We have a very complicated calendar system. It was kind of overwhelming at first.”
What are the best parts of working with the collection?
“Being one of the first people to see such amazing and beautiful publications. I’m a big fan of the DIY art stuff—I love it. These are not just magazines, they’re art. Some of the back issues we get—to open them up and see that rare amazing history… there’s something indescribable, you can’t really put into words the emotions these materials bring up. Have you seen Bruno’s Weekly? We recently bought some issues from 1916. My background is in art, in illustration, so seeing where these artists were first published is just amazing.”
From your view of things, how does the future of print look? I keep hearing it’s dead, but we see these new arrivals come in all the time.
"I hear that a lot. I think for some things print is dying off, and that’s probably okay. There are always going to be art publications— things published as pieces of art themselves— hand-created objects- like literary arts books, which is where the little magazines come in, and art-art books. You’re never going to be able to appreciate an art reproduction in the same way online. I think print is never going to go away completely. Kind of like vinyl, which went away and is now having a hey-day, I see it [print] becoming more of a niche market, and that means the good stuff will stick around."
Did you read any little magazines before you began working with them? Do you now?
"I didn’t even know they existed. I knew about zines, which are kind of a cousin. It was an eye-opener to realize they had such a rich history. I briefly look through them when they come in, and keep up with a lot of them through their online presence. And it’s wonderful when they have an online presence because then I know when to buy things!"
Is there a typical day at work for you?
“Only about 20% of my time is devoted to little magazines. The rest is for regular subscriptions. We were trying to figure out the number, it’s somewhere around 27,000 total titles. Usually I come in and check my email, see if any emergencies have come up. Some meetings. Then we have lots of projects… clean-up, ordering… it’s a lot of interacting with my colleagues on fixing problems. It’s general problem-fixing!”
So you studied art, and then went to library school? Did you know in library school what you wanted to do afterward?
“I studied art for a year and a half, and then switched to business. And then library school. I started out thinking I’d be in archives, then I switched to public libraries. Then I did a practicum at a public library and realized I wouldn’t be happy there. Be open. I know a lot of people who didn’t end up where they thought they would be. Let your past experience and background guide you. My business background, and even art, make sense for what I’m doing now.”
This might be an unfair question, because I’m not even sure how I would answer it myself, but if you had a little magazine, what would you name it?
"It would have to be a terrible pun, because I love terrible puns. I’m stumped. I’ll come up with a list of twenty as soon as we’re done talking."
UPDATE: Leia emailed me with thoughts on that final question:
"I’d call my Little Mag either ‘The Lonesome Place’ — an homage to one of my favorite writers, August Derleth—or ‘Modpocalyptic,’ which just has a nice ring to it."