I’ve got several in-progress makerspace experiments exploring inclusion of non-book “reads”/scholarship into the same visibility, amplification, browsability, and community building efforts as print book collections/displays.

Photo of an open plastic card deck case, next to a hand of playing-card size cards spread out to show the cards each display the title and authors of a zine plus a QR code that links to a digital copy of the zine for reading.

This is part of my Scholars’ Lab reference collection rebuilding work and zine research for my zine catalogue, for future happy overlaps with Jeremy Boggs’ DH Working Library project.

Do you want a fun way to create and distribute themed reading lists/syllabi? Or do you have a larger library of bookmarks, print book catalogue, Zotero collection, or other reading list you’d like to pull themed subsections from to share with others? Want to share a mix of print and digital reading recommendations at the same time?

Or, want to play a really confusing hand of poker?

Animated GIF of animated X-Men series character Gambit throwing a hand of magic glowing cards

Below I’m sharing my “themed reading list card deck” prototype (“card deck”), with some info on how to do something similar yourself!

A themed reading list you can keep in a shirt pocket

tl;dr I created a deck of playing cards that collects recommended zine readings about DH making and other topics of interest to me. Each card displays a work’s title, creators/authors, and a QR code; scanning the QR code with a smartphone brings you to the page where you can the zine for free online[^1]. A public card deck Gsheet lists the titles and metadata the cards cover.

I was inspired by SLab colleagues’ past projects:

This zine selection pulled from my collection’s thematic tags, including the following: creativity, art, crafting, making/makerspace • social justice • GLAM • academia • about zines • LGBTQIA+ • anti-racism • labor • tech • tutorial • maintenance/care/attention • feminist • collective & alternative power & group structures • activism, resistance, abolition • generative art • coding • design • creativity, art, crafting, making/makerspace

Read on for design thinking behind the project, or jump down to the following section, “Steps to make your own themed reading card deck”, to do just that.

Photo of a plastic card deck case with a cover that reads '#DHmakes at #ACH2023. A #DHmakes-themed zine card deck! Assembled by Amanda Visconti (hcommons.social/@literature_geek) from their zine collection (https://tinyurl.comSLabReadsZines)'. The case is next to a dog's head; the dog is upside down and grinning.

Designing the deck

My zine catalogue is intended not just to track what I’ve collected, but to also function as a dataset with enough descriptive metadata so I and others can try various interesting things with sorting, filtering, displaying etc. the zines (e.g. filter to just zines on x topic).

"Metadata" is data about data. If you think of your podcast library as a dataset, its metadata could include the podcasts' hosts, topics, air dates, whether they're part of a large project/company/series, when you last listened to an episode...

I’m using an eventually-a-folksonomy? approach to tag just the topics, authors, methods, and other descriptive attributes community members wish as those ideas arise, with the goal of the catalogue also being a dataset amenable to digital, makerspace, and other creative remixing and building.

"Folksonomy" is a term used to differentiate from an approach where an info expert crafts a taxonomy (classification system) that fits existing systems they use, or predicted (or later observed) organizer or user wants/needs. A folksonomy allows users of the data to add tags/classification terms themselves as they interact with the data.

I wanted any of my time spent on tagging and otherwise cleaning metadata to be focused on goals that excite me—meaning I’ll more likely get the tagging work done sooner (complete tagging of a few tags is more useful than more tags that aren’t yet applied to everything they should be, for this purpose). I started with tags based on things I’m already collecting zines about, and used that to reflect on gaps where I wanted to more explicitly collect works—e.g. zines on experiences or thinking, or authored by, identities and authors who are systemically harmed and under-resourced.

Photo of a hand holding a deck of cards slightly fanned out; the top of the top card says '#DHmakes #ACH2023' over a gradient design; there is a white dog slightly out of fous in the background behind the cards, but it is clear that the dog is a good dog

Steps to make your own themed reading card deck


  • A dataset of things (books? something else?) with related URLs to a thing you want each card to link to
  • Blank standard-size (poker size?) playing cards (e.g. $9.99 for 180 2.5x3.5”cards on Amazon).
    • I used 21 cards for my ACH 2023 conference session DH Makes deck, which you can see in the photos fills the card case a satisfying amount, but not anywhere near full—you could fit way more in, including a standard 52? card deck I’m guessing)
  • Plastic card deck cases (e.g. $15.99 for 15 clear plastic cases on Amazon)
  • Avery name badge labels (#25395) (e.g. 80 tags are currently $9.92 on Amazon, though you can skip these depending on your printer (see next item)
  • Black and white printer
    • I used my personal printer. I was too worried about how my home printer would handle the playing card size, and also that the ink would smear afterward, so I just got playing-card-sized labels and printed on those, then put the label on the cards
    • Having access to color, and/or printer I’m confident could print well directly onto glossy playing cards, would be great! (and you wouldn’t need to buy the name badge labels then)

Data prep

  • My zine catalogue lives in AirTable, but AirTable’s printing extension is not great. I exported info from to a CSV, then uploaded it to a Gsheet as that’s my most comfortable spreadsheet manipulation place.
    • You will need at least one column containing the URLs you want QR codes to bring you to.
  • To generate the QR codes from your column of URLs:
    • Refer to each cell in the URL column like “F3” in this example, to call the Google API and create the QR code: =IMAGE("https://chart.googleapis.com/chart?chs=200x200&cht=qr&chl="&ENCODEURL(E2))
    • If you’ve got the sheet set to display formulae, toggle that off to see the QR codes
    • Copy-“paste as value” the generated QR codes to stop them from being tied to underlying formula/references.
    • Download as CSV
    • I wasn’t able to get the QR codes into the Avery program (didn’t see a way to download/import a Gsheet/CSV that preserves the QR images), so I just took a screenshot of each QR code and dropped it onto the labels, when at the editing individual labels stage

Design layout

I used Avery’s online tool for layouts on their label products, as I don’t have good alternative software installed right now.

  • Being certain about the tool printing correctly re:label edges/margins for error was helpful; you input the Item # of the Avery product and choose or create templates to lay out using those dimensions.
  • I had trouble getting the text size settings I wanted—some of my zine titles are short, some are very long; ditto creators names list.So for this first time, I limited the text to title and creators. I’ll see if I can fix that next time I make the cards, and may move to a different tool (e.g. document program with mail merge, if not design program).
  • I picked a template that would work with a non-color printer, merged in my CSV, placed the title and creators data, and finished making edits to the default template.
  • Switching to editing the label individually, I pasted in the QR code screenshot for each.
  • I printed 4 different layouts, to cover: ** Card Zine info labels (the titles, creators, QR codes) ** A label for the outside of the deck case ** A label for one “info” card to include in the deck, with some text about what the deck is ** Labeling the backs of all the cards (same design for each, in case you want to play a card game… somehow…)


This may be specific to my printer (a Brother HL-L2350DW) and its defaults, but here’s what I did:

  • Put Avery sheets in so that the “front” (the part you’ll look at when peeling the stickers off) faces DOWN (not upward toward you)
  • Make sure double-sided printing is off
  • Make sure scale is set to 100%, not auto-rotating/best fit
  • Use the setting for media/quality heavyweight paper + best quality
  • Test print on non-label paper first! Really! (This is my note to myself, because my brain will insist half a minute’s time is not worth avoiding ruining entire sheets of labels.)

#DHMakes for #ACH2023

I started planning this experiment a while back, but the ACH 2023 conference (this June 29-July 1st!) gave me extra motivation to finish a prototype. I’m part of the #DHMakes session led by Quinn Dombrowski and with collaborators Jojo Karlin, Alix Keener, Claudia Berger, Anne Ladyem McDivitt, and Jacqueline Wernimont.

Cards + DH = something like below, right? Animated GIF of the X-Men animated series character Gambit holding up a glowing Ace card

I’ll add more info about that session once the group is all publicly sharing, but it’s going to be something very cool, especially if you’re into making, crafting, and/or dataviz 👀 For now, I’ll just say that it’s about those topics, and the card deck was my contribution. If you saw the call to share logos from dead DH projects, that is also involved. As was this:

Screenshot of a Mastodon post where Quinn Dombrowski writes, 'Send good delivery truck vibes, please: I've got until ~4 PM to sew a dress and photograph it on a lifesize plastic skeleton and the box with the fabric is in the metro area but not yet out for delivery. 😬 #DHMakes #ACH2023'

Update: Our post describing the cross-country scholarly collaboration this #ACH2023 project contributed to is up! The overarching project includes:

  • a miniature quilt patch that visualized the top terms in ACH 2023 session titles, with metadata for each section on the backside (attached photo) loop fastenings for the vest made out of finger-woven craft loops that will visualize the #DHMakes contributions from across social media during the conference
  • fabric printed with the crowdsourced logos of departed DH projects
  • drawings by one DHer, turned into a knitting machine creation by another DHer
  • a felted ACH logo, which I think was made from one DHer’s sheep’s wool, dyed by another DHer, and felted by a third?

Cross-posted on the Scholars’ Lab research blog.

[^1] Technically, I included 1 zine you can’t currently read for free (although I think I heard there will be a free digital copy eventually?). But it’s really awesome, so I included it hoping to spread the word :)