Glasgow’s first Zine Library opened its doors to the public earlier this year. Writer Aike Jansen checked it out…
While there are extensive zine collections in Glasgow (for example, at the Glasgow Women’s Library, the Glasgow School of Art and Glasgow Autonomous Space), these are not really publicly accessible. The Glasgow Zine Library, however, which opened earlier this year and located at 16 Nicholson Street, is different. Open and accessible to all, the Zine Library is a place to browse a fantastic collection of zines. It is also a place to attend events and workshops focused on making zines or learning how to repair things to reduce one’s carbon footprint. As well as being the founder of the Glasgow Zine Library is also the founder of Glasgow Zine fest. It is clear that their passion is focused towards zine publication. But it is their vision of an accessible, non-commercial space that is perhaps most inspiring.
“Libraries are warm, quiet spaces where people can come in from the cold and the rain. They are one of the last places where you don’t have to buy something to be there. Libraries aren’t supposed to be a place where visitors are called ‘customers’. Even here, we are having to pay to be here to have a conversation.”
“Here” is the vibrant Southside café Gusto & Relish, where I am meeting LD while the library is “a biohazard where one would pass out from paint fumes”. LD’s own experience of working in public libraries in Glasgow resulted in a feeling of disenchantment: many fellow staff members lacked an awareness or willingness to learn about issues regarding gender, race or class.
“I started to slowly realisethat these things don’t get better unless we change them. And surely we can take this into our own hands and create a space that actually welcomes people in and encourages people to sit and read all day, and to get making stuff and engage with each other. Or don’t engage with each other of course, if they don’t want to!”
LD has been programming Glasgow Zine Festival since 2013 and collected a fair few zines over the years. They always thought it would be really nice to have a zine library, some day.
“The whole thing went through a lot of iterations and ideas. I put it off to the side and thought ‘when the right situation comes along, and the right premises come along, and the right people come along, I’ll know it and I’ll be able to jump on it’.”
And this was the case when Francis McKee (director of the CCA and one of LD’s tutors at on their Master of Fine Art course at GSA) recommended LD’s vision of the Zine Library to Isabelle Shields. Shields is director and curator at 16 Nicholson Street, a visual art project space that promotes the work of Scotland-based artists through a curated programme of exhibitions, events and residencies. Shields was looking for something to fill the ground floor of the building in which they are based. Thus the Zine Library found a home!
The collection at the Zine Library includes everything from light-hearted zines about food to raw, personal work about people’s experiences with abortion, eating disorders or chronic illnesses. There is a large queer collection, as well as a working class lived experience and POC-experience section. A small ‘community languages’ section is present too, which LD hopes to expand. All zines currently in the library are either from LD’s own collection, or donated by participants of the Zine Festival. While the Zine Library is open for people to donate zines ‘until eternity’, in LD’s words, the goal is to get funding to ensure the Zine Library is able to spend between 500 and a thousand pounds a year on acquiring zines.
“Some zines cost £15 because of the craftsmanship that went into them,” LD explains. “I’d like to respect those makers and their budget and pay for them, and I can’t afford to do that with my own money.”
Similarly, it is very important for LD to offer financial flexibility for those wanting to take part in workshops and events, which is why there is always sliding scale payment, running from zero to £8.
“We are located in the Gorbals, which is a historically under-served area, and we are trying to create a space that is community-based and benefits the community. Sadly, you can’t do that without money. We were recently knocked back by Creative Scotland, but we are hoping to re-apply and get a positive result. The truth is that currently we are all doing a significant amount of work for no pay.”
Accessibility, both physically and financially, is what is so meaningful about zine culture in general. According to LD, what is great about zine culture as opposed to the arts scene, is that anybody can do it.
“There’s room for everybody. In the arts scene, it always feels like people have to compete because there’s only going to be one person picked for this residency or that job. We all want our friends or fellow artists to do well, but there is still always a pang of jealousy when people are getting picked for stuff and you are not. But with zines, it’s a totally even playing field. Everybody gets to make zines, anyone can buy them or sell them.”
LD goes onto explain why zines are much more accessible than other forms of art-making.
“You can circumvent traditional publishing standards, you can circumvent capitalism completely. You can exchange them, which most zinesters are happy to do. Most people just want them out there for people to see. They don’t care about making a profit. There’s this labour of love that goes into it, and this genuine interest between people when talking about zines, trading zines or reading zines. It’s this egalitarian thing with a completely non-skilled point of entry: you can have zero art skills, zero book-binding experience, you don’t have to be writer or have a certain degree. You can make collages if you don’t want to write or draw. You don’t have to write the Great American novel – it’s just about getting something out there in the world, and see what comes back to you.”
Unfortunately, it is this ease of access that is also the reason that some people are disenchanted with zines or see it as a lesser medium. But this is not the case. In reality, ease of access simply means that zines are a place for anyone to express themselves or to read about the experiences of others. This ethos of accessibility and a celebration of the non-commercial comes completely alive in the Glasgow Zine Library.
Glasgow Zine Library is now open to the public. It is located on the ground flood of 16 Nicholson Street, Glasgow, G5 9ER.