To celebrate the official opening of Edinburgh Zine Library this week, we have a blog post from Lilith, one of the founders of Edinburgh Zine Library.
The Edinburgh Zine Library is a reference library of contemporary zines housed in the Art and Design Library at the Edinburgh Central Library. It was established in August 2017 and will hold its opening event on November 1st. Myself and my partner Abi were responsible for founding the library, and currently oversee all its organisation and activities.
Abi and I are partners both in the sense of being a couple and in that we work collaboratively together making zines and running the Edinburgh Zine Library. Although it’s sometimes a difficult dynamic to explain, it’s pretty useful in other ways – late night planning sessions are made easier when you share a flat, and since founding the library was great act of daring for both of us, it’s been important that we are able to easily provide each other with emotional, as well as practical, support.
Abi and I have made zines together since 2016, when we collaborated on a series of zines about menstrual hygiene. We moved to Edinburgh six months ago (Abi had lived here for four years when she was at university). Whilst doing some zine making at a local café, we overheard a conversation between a pair next to us and I recognised one of them from instagram as being the person who runs a local distro (@crispsshop). I waited for their friend to leave, turned and asked ‘Are you the person from Crisps Shop?’ and that was how we met Emily. Emily runs or participates in a significant amount of the zine-related activity in Edinburgh, and through them we got more involved in the community here – attending zine fairs and meeting other zine makers. We became aware that there was a growing desire for ways to bring this community together outside of commercial zine fairs, as well as a number of people who wanted to get more involved in zine making but didn’t know how. We were very aware that if we hadn’t so boldly accosted Emily with our own zines, it could have been months before we felt brave enough to email them about the distro.
There were other more involved reasons for wanting to set up a zine library. Amongst them is my own academic interest in social and narrative histories (particularly related to mental health and the survivor and service user movement) and my professional interest in zines as part of meaningful recovery work. The idea of a zine library came out of a desire to collect zines, and both archive them to preserve them for the future as well as make them accessible to people now – to diversify the stories we read, and so tell, about ourselves and others. On top of that, I wanted to increase the visibility of zines, as well as get people reading zines, and really celebrate them.
Once we decided to act on the idea, everything moved surprisingly fast. I emailed the Art and Design Library at the Central Library, because I liked the idea of the Zine Library being in a public building (although there are some great zine libraries in cafes/galleries/commercial buildings.) I received a quick reply from Bronwen Brown, the Library Development Leader for the Music and Art & Design Collections, who expressed an interest and arranged a meeting. We brought a project proposal and a folder of zines and Bronwen was super receptive, and through her questions helped us iron out the practicality of housing the Zine Library at the Central Library. After going away to discuss it with other staff, Bronwen gave us the green light and arranged for a filing cabinet to be brought up to the Art and Design Library. We had a zine library. We realised very quickly we were in well over our heads.
Neither Abi nor I had any experience with Libraries or Library Sciences. We are relying on the wealth of information online, and on the UK Zine Librarian Network, as well as the input of the Central Library and our growing membership to shape the Zine Library and the processes and policy that underpin cataloguing and our collection development policy. One of the things that had come out of our discussion with Bronwen was our intention to make use of Creative Commons Licenses, so it was clear to the Zine Library users what they could photograph/photocopy and use. We felt that these made the most of the cut and paste culture of zine making, whilst also respecting the diverse intentions of zine makers re. their original work. It also reassured the Central Library – it was a way of having more permissive copyrights which were clearly indicated and structured. To ascertain the copyright makers wanted for their work, we created a submissions process whereby zine makers donating their zines would need to fill in a google form (we also have paper copies). We are looking at reviewing this process which, like everything related to the EZL, is a work in progress.
Setting up and running a zine library is, in fact, quite a lot of work. Luckily, lots of people were keen to get stuck in. We started the library, it feels, at the crest of a wave of people and interest. We ran an open meeting at the Library and arranged individual meetings with people who wanted to get involved. As we grow we intend to become completely collectively run, so Abi and I can step back a bit. At the moment, we have a core membership of eight people and are increasingly sharing responsibilities, although we continue to generally oversee things whilst we establish how roles are shared and how we all communicate with each other and with external organisations. This aspect has actually been the most challenging part of the library, as we have struggled to find information about establishing and running collectives (maybe eventually we should make a zine about our own experiences!). At the moment, we are trying to shape this future collective with written members agreements, safe space agreements, and more planning and social events. I am currently acting as a ‘Member Co-ordinator’ to be a single contact point for members, to offer support and help deal with any questions, issues or challenges, and help them get and stay involved. This role will probably continue as long E. Z. L does. We want, as much as possible, to be a place where people can do the things they want to do without necessarily having to have the formal knowledge or experience.
Whilst we have some ideas of how we would like EZL to grow in the future – including being involved in facilitating workshops with community groups in Edinburgh to write their own ‘histories’, acquiring funding to put money back into the zine-making community here and in the rest of Scotland by actively buying zines, running events in other libraries in the city, and holding zine fairs in the library – we are pretty open and flexible. We have lots of ideas, but no five-year plan (yet) and we want to be able to respond to opportunities as they arise and be involved actively and dynamically with the community around us. We have an opening event for the Zine Library, 4-7.30pm, on Wednesday 1st November at the Art and Design Library where we will be facilitating some workshops as well as making a 24hr collaborative zine, running a zine swap and holding some talks and readings. We hope it will be a great opportunity to get the word out about the library, get more people involved, increase submissions and celebrate zines and zine making in the city.
One of the major challenges for us is the accessibility of the library building – unfortunately, like much of Edinburgh, the Art and Design Library is not wheelchair accessible and even if you take the lift to the top floor, there is still a staircase of twenty steps down to the library. At the moment, we are piloting having a request box where library users who need level access can ask in advance for any or all zines to be brought down to a reading point on the ground floor. It’s not ideal, but it’s a temporary solution. We will continue to work to improve the accessibility of the library, including considering relocation if necessary (hopefully within the Central Library).
One of the reasons I love zines is how easy they are to make. You don’t need to know anything, you don’t need to have gone to art school, it doesn’t have to cost a lot. For a long time, a lot of my creative interests and pursuits were paralysed by perfectionism, and by feeling not good enough, not valid or legitimate. Zines were great because they could be unpolished, unfinished, made over the course of a year or an afternoon. They could be driven by their content, or by the form they took. And there was never any point comparing them to other people’s.
We have taken the same approach to the zine library as we do with zine making. Rather than worrying about not being legitimate librarians, or doing it right or perfectly, we are learning as we go. I’m a big fan of Brene Brown’s TED talks about shame and vulnerability. With the zine library, we hold to the principle of ‘daring greatly’. It puts us in unfamiliar, often scary, positions where we feel out of our depth. Some people might accuse us of running (a zine library) before we could walk. But we persevere because we believe in what we’re doing, that anyone can do it and that great things can happen when you put yourself out there. Today we picked up 11 beautiful zines from the submissions box, donated by a Glasgow artist, and felt overwhelmed by the kindness, generosity and feeling of being part of a community. And, at the end of the day, right now there are 60 zines in the central library in Edinburgh that weren’t there before, that anyone can go in and read; this wouldn’t have happened without us asking, and without the response, and the amazing support, interest and enthusiasm, of Bronwen Brown and staff at the Central Library.
We’re trying to build a collective, an organisation and a library, that’s flexible, open, and accessible – that reflects zines and the people who make them. Rather than trying to legitimise zines by showing how like books they are, we are proclaiming them as legitimate as they are, on their own terms. Rather than trying to impersonate a traditional, ‘actual’, library, we are trying to forge our own space. That’s certainly what I see zines as doing, now and historically: forging and holding space for knowledges, voices and experiences that don’t fit in dominant narratives or dominant knowledges. In many ways its lucky that we are starting from square one as, ultimately, it means we are trying to build our library around zines, rather than fit zines into a library.
To find out more about Edinburgh zine collection, including how to submit a zine or get involved here.