We’re Abi and Lili, a queer couple who live in Fife. In 2017, whilst living in Edinburgh, we came up with the idea of the Edinburgh Zine Library. It emerged from our desire for enduring zine spaces in the city beyond zine fairs. We wanted to create a welcoming introduction to zine communities, and frankly we were running out of shelf space at home. We were aware of other zine libraries and collections, like the one at the Wellcome Library in London, and we wanted to see if this was something we could make happen in Edinburgh. We turned up at the Central Library for a meeting with Bronwen Brown, who is currently the Library Development Leader for the Music and Art & Design Collections, clutching a folder full of zines and a proposal written the night before. We got lucky, because Bronwen was really supportive, and that afternoon there was a filing cabinet waiting for us in the Art and Design Library!
The Edinburgh Zine Library is one of the very few independent DIY zine libraries in the world that is hosted by a public library. It’s been really great for us, and it feels very special to have a space at the Central Library for zines, which so often share voices and experiences that wouldn’t be heard otherwise. We’re proud to bring something different to the library, to be a resource for our community and to help people feel an ownership of their library. We think we have a really good reciprocal relationship with the Art and Design Library that’s really consistent with zine culture generally. We are also very much DIY. We didn’t come to the zine library with any experience of libraries, and we’ve been super grateful to the generosity of other zine librarians, and the work of our members, in figuring out how to build and organise the collection. We’ve done loads of cool stuff as EZL: running workshops at the first Trans Pride Scotland and at the V&A in Dundee, installing a wee temporary zine library at The Welcoming Edinburgh, celebrating our birthdays in the Art and Design Library, and tabling at different events across Edinburgh and beyond. We’ve built a group of members who work together at all the different elements of the library. Most of us are part of the LGBTQ+ community, and it’s always been a core part of who we are and what we do. Several of us are also disabled and/or neurodiverse, so one of the things we work really hard at is finding a way to collectively organise that is flexible and doesn’t put too much pressure on any one person. We’re not perfect, and are still very much a work in progress!
With the temporary closure of the Central Library due to the COVID-19 lockdown, the zine library has been doing very different stuff. We’ve been chatting and planning for the future, have run some digital zine clubs and workshops, ran a zine-in-a-day event, participated in the first International Zine Librarian unConference, and made some collaborative zines. But mostly we’ve focused on staying connected and looking after each other in these difficult times. We’ve held powerpoint nights, sent letters, done watch parties, played games, hung out on zoom and exchanged memes on whatsapp. We’re super grateful for the little family we have, and the bigger community we are a part of. This is one of the things that’s so amazing and important about zines, the way they build connections and community. There is a feeling of closeness and intimacy you can get reading a zine: a feeling of being seen or of not being alone in an emotion or an experience. Most of our favourite people are zinesters or people we’ve met through zines.
On a personal level, we’ve also been pretty busy during lockdown because our first book, Gears for Queers, was published in June 2020. The book actually came about through zines in a strange way. When we came back from our first long cycle tour in 2016 we started making zines with vegan campstove recipes and stories from our trip. These made their way into the hands of our soon-to-be editor Kay via the Radical Bookfair in Edinburgh and two years later we had a fully formed book. It was a totally different experience from zine making, and a really steep learning curve, but overall it’s been great to get to talk about cycling and cycle touring from a different perspective. We don’t think of writing a book as a graduation from zines though, and in lots of ways we were really grateful to return to zine making. Some of the biggest supporters of the book have been the zine community though, and we are so grateful for them! We also feel really proud that the ebook version is now available to borrow from the library’s Overdrive platform (or via the Libby app).
One of the ongoing projects at the Edinburgh Zine Library is building our online catalogue. This, we hope, will make it easier for folks to explore the over 300 zines we now have in our collection. You can check it out here at www.librarycat.org/lib/EdinburghZineLibrary and use the search bar to look for zines using tags. We have already added some of our many LGBTQ+ zines. We have zines made by individual zine makers like Me and Bruce, Queers on the Edge of Town by Holly Casio which is a queer look at Holly’s obsession with Bruce Springsteen, The Man Called Uncle Tim zine series, which is a really nice example of how zines can be used to record oral, personal and social histories – something which is especially important when our lives and relationships often aren’t recorded, or All in my head? Mental Health, a zine by Jacq Applebee about how their mental health intersects with being Black and bisexual through a mixture of personal stories and poetry. We also have zines which are made collaboratively or collectively, like Radical Transfeminism, a zine featuring writing about transmisogyny, justice and desire or The Outsider’s Handbook, a zine for queer, trans or questioning teenagers to help them survive a heteronormative world. One of the things we’re most excited about when we can get back to the physical library is growing the collection with all the amazing zines we’ve come across during the past year.
One of the things we value most about queerness is the ways that it allows for and celebrates difference. We’re a community with an infinite diversity of experiences and identities. Zines are a space where you don’t just have to write about one part of yourself or present yourself as a finished product. They are also spaces which allow you to work through, or just sit with, the messy fact of being.
To finish off this blog for LGBTQ+ History Month, we’re going to share some zine recommendations from us and other EZL members:
One of my favourite LGBTQIA+ zines in the library is High Precision Ghosts by Ren Wednesday. In Ren’s words, “High Precision Ghosts (a zine about Graham Chapman that’s actually about me) is a ‘gentle and angry’ reflection on growing up queer and searching for role models. In text, illustration and collage, I talk about Graham Chapman’s obstinate queerness in the 1970s, and how I drew strength from that as a teenager growing up under the notorious Section 28 law.” Graham Chapman was one of the members of Monty Python. Born in 1941, he was open about his homosexuality and supported gay rights for much of his life.
There are a few reasons this zine resonates with me. Though I didn’t grow up under Section 28, queerness and LGBTQIA+ lives weren’t something that was ever spoken about at home or at school. Because of this I didn’t know I was queer for a long time, or have a way to speak about it. My experience of growing up was coloured by an unconscious search for queer role models. This is something I’ve heard called “nascent queerness,” the idea of being drawn to someone because they speak to something in you that you don’t have the language to articulate yet. I was always obsessed with cross-dressing narratives – Some Like It Hot, Tootsie, Nuns on the Run, and Twelfth Night. I realise now this was because these were some of the few examples of gender variance available to me. Ren beautifully frames this search, and the tenderness you feel towards the people and narratives you find that fulfil it.
I also chose this zine because it reminds me of the queer community I’ve been so lucky to find myself in at the zine library. I first read it because it was recommended to me by Lili, and it always makes me think of the connections I’ve built through Edinburgh Zine Library – to people from history who I will never meet but who have in some way impacted my identity and my activism, and to the incredible support network of my EZL friends and colleagues in the present. So much of queer zine culture is contained in these little recommendations and passing-ons, and it is through these networks that we discover new ways of articulating and becoming ourselves.
Find High Precision Ghosts in the EZL catalogue
FML was one of the first zines that got added to the library – Natasha actually showed up at our flat not realising it was just our postal address, and I think we were all temporarily very confused! Natasha’s comics are tender and very very funny and they really speak to what I wrote about earlier about zines not needing to present a finished person or idea. Her comics make space for thoughts and processing and change, and I love hearing her inner monologue.
Find out more about Natasha’s work.
One of my favourite LGBTQ zines was created by our very own co-founders, Abi and Lili. When I first met them in January 2020, we were on our way to Leeds to attend Weirdo Zine Fest in what turned out to be a bright brief moment of real joy in what would become a very difficult and isolating year. While sitting on the floor underneath our table in a room in Leeds Central Library, I leafed through Why Marry At All? A Queer Feminist Wedding Zine. The zine is a sort of a meditation on the experience of getting married (or in this case, joining in a civil partnership) when you are a queer couple.
I cried under the table in Leeds at wedding pictures of these people I had just met. I was at that time facing up to the fact that despite years of adolescent protestation that marriage was unnecessary that I did, in fact, want to marry my girlfriend, and she wanted to marry me too. I hadn’t ever really before heard other LGBT couples discuss their experience of marriage, of what it mean to them as an ostensibly heteropatriarchal institution, of how it feels to parade your love in front of family members who probably don’t entirely understand it. I had felt very alone and afraid in all of those very large feelings that it felt no one else in the world had ever had. This little zine reminded me of the power and strength of the LGBT community to assure you that you are not alone, and you don’t have to be afraid, that you are in the company of all the others who have gone before you, and will go after.
I gave the zine to my girlfriend as a Valentines gift that February. She cried too. We are engaged now and I’ve returned to the zine more than once for guidance.
Find Why Marry At All? in the EZL catalogue.
One of my favourite zines of all time is Dick Tucker: Drag Detective by Scottish artist Ryan Hamill. It’s a beautifully drawn and risoprinted comic about Dick Tucker, a film noir style drag detective. It’s very funny and offers the sort of silliness and joy that you don’t often see in media about LGBTQ experience but is plentiful. I don’t want to spoil the twist at the end, but if you’re a fan of daytime tv murder mysteries, you’ll enjoy it a lot. As a wee aesthetic bonus, each issue is printed in a different colour, so if displayed in order you end up with a mini rainbow flag.
Find Dick Tucker: Drag Detective in the EZL catalogue.
If you’re curious about finding out more about the Edinburgh Zine Library, or want to get involved, find us at www.edinburghzinelibrary.com, or @edinburghzinelibrary on instagram, or @edzinelibrary on twitter!