The Glasgow Guardian visits and speaks with their staff about the creative value of zinemaking, and why exponential growth isn’t always a good thing
It’s Friday afternoon, and I’m reading a zine called Old Ladies Swearing. Doreen, hunching slightly, says “Shithouse”. Gladys has a perm, and she says “Cunt”. While I flip its plain white, A5 pages, a woman wearing a Scottish autism jumper gets up and leaves the building. She’s been quietly working on a zine for the last few hours. “The last time I saw you I was behind a mask”, an older, English gentleman then tells Chris, who I suppose you could call the librarian. He gives this visitor a tour of the open-plan space, just like he did with me, half an hour earlier. It’s all ground-level – and therefore wheelchair-friendly – with three separate rooms protruding out, one for reading, another for zinemaking, and an office for working. Chris, however, is most excited about the fully accessible disabled loo, which was crowdfunded (this included a £1,675 pledge from Glasgow City Council). He emphasises that “there are people who lived down the road and still couldn’t come to our events. We want them involved too”.
A man who looks like an office worker, on his way home early perhaps, peers through the window, alarmed, or hopefully just curious. I’d imagine this happens frequently, but hopefully less and less once passers-by get used to Glasgow Zine Library’s new building, on Victoria Road in Govanhill. Their previous site was in Cathcart, which Chris initially describes as “unsuitable”, before clarifying – “no, not unsuitable, inaccessible”. Regardless, over there we would not have been able to chat, over tea, in a quiet space. “It sounds so basic, but it’s more than I could dream of. The more flexible it is, the more people can use it, and find a space for themselves.”
Chris discovered the zine library when it didn’t yet exist physically. Before opening the space in Cathcart, it was simply a collection of zines from the Glasgow Zine Fest, which reached its ten year anniversary in July. They had a pop-up stall in The house that heals the soul, an exhibition about libraries, which ran at the CCA (where else?) in summer 2017. Chris, at a loose end creatively, ended up there after feeling frustrated as an amateur musician: “I got caught up in the mindset of needing to make thousands of CDs, or have millions of facebook fans. I never stopped to ask myself why I was making things.”
Until the exhibition, Chris had “never seen a zine before, or at least knew what one looked like”. (For those unsure, zines are small, self-published works of print, usually without commercial backing.) He ended up going back to the CCA every day, and just reading “loads and loads of stuff”. “I started to make my own, including music zines, so I brought it back to my interest. It really helped me to come to terms with my creativity.” Chris started volunteering at the zine library as soon as the space opened in 2018, and since then, inevitably, has made very few zines, because he is “so invested in teaching people how to do it now”. Indeed, it is now his job, the website describing him as their outreach coordinator and finance guy.
How can they afford to stay afloat? The library needs to remunerate artists to run events (which are all free, or pay what you can), cover everyone’s wages, purchase materials for zinemaking, and pay the rent. “Creative Scotland were the first to fund us, and their contribution to what we do has grown every year. They started off by covering table hire and venue costs for the zine festival, before giving us enough funding to run a programme of events throughout the year, outside festival time.” Since then, they’ve had core funders like the National Lottery, and the Paul Hamlyn Foundation. “We’ve been super lucky”, Chris adds.
With the advantages of a bigger space, Chris tells me that the Zine Library is trying to increase its home revenue, with people wanting to rent it out, or run zinemaking groups. A quick scan of recent events include a Sex Positive Reading Group, Cataloguing Comics, and Candle Poems. Chris, because he likes to self-deprecate, says he has been too “lazy” to work at any of them, but his colleagues tell him they have gone well. The library also stores an archive of thousands of zines, donated by their creators and ever-increasing in size (Chris tells me that most of these had to be “on the floor” in their previous space, but they now have the luxury of shelves.) The new space is certainly an improvement, but I ask Chris whether it will be enough. “I think so. We’ve got this place for five years, which is how long we had at the other place. By then, who knows? Exponential growth isn’t always super healthy, is it.”
Are visitors predominantly local, or do they come from far and wide? Every few weeks, Chris says, there is someone who’s “made the journey from Aberdeen to give you their zine, or come up from Bristol because you’re on their list of things to do in Glasgow”. Largely, though, it is just curious members of the public, walking past. Chris wants “everyone in the local community to come in”, but recognises that “it’s brave to walk through the door of something”. “You really want someone to come in who is a zine maker, but they don’t know it yet. We have to have an open vibe, and create a space which people don’t have to feel invested in. You can come once, you can come to ten events, or you can come every day and make zines and never speak to us.
“Zines are not the end point of what we do. We have loads, and they’re really important to us, but they ultimately create an atmosphere. People may have come here just to share a story about their dog, but it’s still significant if they felt like they were part of something.” I suppose it can’t be a coincidence that Glasgow has a zine library, because not every British or Scottish city does. Surely it says something about this place, and its radical history, that people are making zines here, or at least wanting to be around them. Around the corner from the Zine Library is Category is Books, one of only eight LGBTQ+ bookshops in the UK, and just up the road is Kenmure Street, where residents successfully staged an ad hoc protest against the detention of two Sikh men. Chris thinks anti-commercialism is pretty “inherent” in zinemaking, and he agrees with me that zines are a relatively accessible, meritocratic form of creativity. Zines, more than anything, ask people to “think about the validity of what they’re doing”. Therefore, from his perspective, “every example of a zine is equally valid”.
Scouring through the display collections, I found it hard not to agree, whether it’s Sew Keighley Pride, Comic book essays on film theory, A Zine About Being A Working Class PhD Student, or even Old Ladies Swearing. Does Chris have a favourite? Yes, he does, it’s about “food and music, they interview bands about their favourite recipes, and what they eat on tour”. What’s it called? “Chewn, as in C-h-e-w-n. It’s very clever”.
Glasgow Zine Library is open Fridays and Saturdays, 12-6pm.