[Written by Gabriela Saldanha Blackwood]
[Images by Gabriela Saldanha Blackwood]
I sat down with Lauren Davis, director of the newly opened Glasgow Zine Library and long-established Glasgow Zine Fest on a particularly dreich Glaswegian day. The space is a haven, tucked into an unassuming street near The Laurieston Pub. Zines of all descriptions that are inspired by an endless range of diverse life experiences clad the walls. A multiplicity of thoughts and voices are housed here, completely open to whomever steps in; that is the essential beauty of this community space. Lauren’s passion was truly infectious, and this interview was a testament to the importance of both the library and the festival within—and beyond—Glasgow’s art scene.
Could you tell us briefly tell us who you are, what this space is, and your position within it?
I’m Lauren Davis, I’m the director of Glasgow Zine Library and I’m the coordinator for Glasgow Zine Fest, which is in its sixth year. Glasgow Zine Fest is a self-publishing festival started in 2013 and Glasgow Zine Library is a community-based library focused on self-publishing, increasing literacy, and making through hands on activity.
What are your opinions of your field, and the art scene more generally within Glasgow?
I think in Glasgow-because so many people come here for art school and then enter the art scene—there’s a lot of competition and a lot of hierarchy. Having come from art school myself, I started to look for more democratic spaces. I think Glasgow in general has a really great tradition of artist run and DIY spaces, and we wanted to add to that to sort of counteract that fine art, contemporary art scene where there’s always someone at the head and always someone fighting to get to the top. Zines are a really great egalitarian medium where there is no competition—there’s not even really critique. We just make things and we celebrate that we make things, and we learn through making things and we teach through making things. I think there’s a lot of self-discovery there, and I think there’s a lot of discovering others. I think we are situated in this really nice spot where people are learning new skills that they can take home with them, and they are coming in and meeting people who are working on the same thing. We’ve got an unfinished zine club and writers forum, so people can come in and share and there’s feedback. It’s a really safe, warm space that just nurtures trust and creativity.
Do you feel like you’ve forged a space in Glasgow that wasn’t already there?
I think the space was already there. You’ve got a lot of spaces where there were zine collections, where there were workshops happening. Glasgow has so much community space and so much community interest that I think we are just adding a voice to that. I think our festival has plugged a hole in the sense that there wasn’t a place where zine makers were coming under one roof all at one time. I think Glasgow Zine Library builds off of that. But I think Glasgow already has such a rich history and tradition of these sorts of spaces that I would feel like a fraud saying that we created something that wasn’t already there, because there are so many different spaces all over the city that are doing so many important things through either finding different ways of reaching out into the community or opening up free space. I think there are so many places doing that kind of work and we are just really putting our mark on it in our own way, with zines.
What’s been the overarching goal of your work here?
The overarching goal is just to have a fully functioning and flourishing space. Achieving charitable status and getting funding are big steps towards that. What we would really like to do is to be open every day and have events on every week. As it is right now we usually have one to two events a week which has been really great. We just really want to be able to offer wider and more accessible programming.
How do you go about implementing that?
For us full accessibility is really our main goal and that includes having BSL interpretation at our workshops and talks—that includes having captions on every film that we screen. There’s so much that encompasses access. It includes having enough space in here so people can take a rest, it includes sensory objects for people who are overwhelmed, it includes having ear defenders and just making sure we’ve got everyone considered. Having a space that truly anyone can come into off the street and take part in is our biggest goal.
Would you say there is anything specifically within this community that you would like to see change?
The main thing I’d like to see change is from the outside, because within the zine community there is so much support. People buy each other’s zines even though they don’t have money. They put other people above themselves, they promote each other and support each other. The thing that I would like to see change is that outside idea that print is dead, zines are irrelevant, or that they’re just flimsy objects that no one needs. There’s a lot of people that don’t know really that zines didn’t begin with Riot grrrl. Riot grrrl was stolen from black women in the first place by Kathleen Hanna. In terms of self-publishing in general, while [zines] did start off as very niche writing about science fiction—as in, a lot of men writing back and forth together—it really wasn’t until second wave feminism that black and Latina women really took that and elevated it to something that was much more precious.
Basically, it’s important to me that people from the outside see the rich history of zines, and see that self-publishing isn’t just someone writing about their favourite TV show—but also if it is that’s okay. I think what’s really important to me is that zines are for everybody. I think some people get confused or frustrated with that because people need a hierarchy, or need something not everyone can take part in so that they can feel more exclusive and like it’s not just anything anyone can go do. But for me that’s the beauty of self-publishing and DIY in general.
Who are your influences personally when you make your own zines, and who were your influences for establishing the Glasgow Zine Library/Glasgow Zine Fest?
I didn’t even think that I could have a zine library until I saw Salford Zine Library—they also run North West Zine Fest. When I started the Zine Festival it was really modelled on Chicago Zine Fest, which is where I’m from. The first year I moved over to Scotland was the first year I’d heard about (Chicago) Zine Fest, and I was like damn I missed it. So I had one of my friends sit at a table with a couple of our own zines. After being here a few years, I was like “Hey Josh wanna start our own?”, so we really modelled it after that.
As far as the library goes, I was actually working in public libraries for a couple of years, so I tried to take note of how the staff was treated, the way that the public was treated, the way that access was treated—even the ways things are archived and catalogued. Things in archives aren’t neutral and we need to stop treating them like they are. Even just in terms of queer labelling and POC labelling—these things aren’t neutral, and we need to be ok with cataloguing something, and being like “this is a zine about the black experience” and not just “this is about girlhood”. I think archives and libraries try to create this neutral playing field that becomes an all-white experience or white as the default—and that’s really not what we want to do here. We really try to take a nod from other zine libraries that talk about how they catalogue things and how they archive things. Our archivist Mel Reeve who’s incredible—she just published something for Autostraddle which I’m really excited about—runs a bi-history Instagram (@bihistory) so we are starting a bi-history archive here.
We’re also trying to archive zine fests and zine libraries, so we’re asking other festivals and libraries from around the world to send us their ephemera, their merch, their programmes—really any documentation of what they’re doing so we are able to kind of keep all this stuff in one place, to show that this is a movement that has legs.
In terms of zine making, Holly Casio—who’s down in London—makes some of the best zines I’ve ever seen. There are some really amazing zines by Black Lodge Press who have one about Bruce Springsteen’s butt, but they also have one about being a transgender step-parent. There are so many people making so many different things—how do you pick and say “this person’s inspired me”? Because I go to zine fests and I walk around the tables—we had something like 75 makers over two days—and there’s something in every single one that appeals to a different facet of my interests and who I am.
Has there been any negative feedback or pressure that you’ve had to work against?
I think in the beginning—when we started the festival—we got a bit of negative feedback which was 100% justified. Basically, we were in an inaccessible venue because we couldn’t afford anything else. Tables for zinesters who were exhibitors in the fair were on a first-come first-serve basis, so it wasn’t all that diverse. But now because we are better known and have a bigger audience, we’ve really been able to prioritise access, and we’ve been able to prioritise queer and POC makers. We get three times as many applications as we take for people who have tables at the fair, so we really go through and we look every single person up. We see what they’re making and what they’re doing, we really try and curate something that has something for everyone, as best we can. We certainly encourage a really wide breadth of human beings to apply. So that was really reasonable criticism that was difficult to avoid in the first couple of years, and we’ve tried to rectify [our mistakes].
The library so far has just been this really well received place—it’s really humbling. It’s been a huge team effort. People are bringing in plants, they bring in stools, they bring in cakes for us to serve. Someone donated a box of tea last week. These big and small things. They donate their zines, obviously. The benches you’re sitting on were donated by the CCA, then a friend of mine— who has a masters in textiles—re-covered them. People have just been pitching in, in so many different ways. Either with time, or money, or objects they don’t need anymore. It’s been really heartening. We’re much more widely received than we thought. We had like 300 people in this space for the opening night. It’s been a huge surprise. We’ve had five times as many people as we thought we’d have in the first month, which is just really cool. It’s amazing!
Where do you see the future of the Zine Library—and the zine community in general— going in the context of Glasgow?
I see us getting bigger. This is an amazing space, we’ve been really lucky to be hooked up with 16 Nicholson Street and housed on the ground floor. I love it in here, and they really let us go to town and install the shelving that we needed and refurbish the floors, and do what we needed to do. My hope is that in a couple years time we’ll outgrow it and maybe have a space that’s got printing facilities. We do have someone who’s moving in in January with a riso press, so we will be able to offer risograph printing—hopefully in the new year—and get a couple of different printers going so people can come in here and make their zines. Because even though there’s bookmaking, public libraries, and there are riso presses,—I think that there’s very few things that are subsidised for students that don’t have a lot of money, myself included. So I want to make sure we are always maintaining financial flexibility for people. Having people who can pay, pay when they can, and having people who can’t pay then benefit from that financial offset.
We’re registering as a charity for the new year, so I’d really like to see us offer full printing and making facilities. We have a few things scheduled where there’s going to be one on one writing help and things like that. We really want to increase literacy as much as we can and put on a Summer programme for kids who are local in the Gorbals because it has a long history of being ignored or just completely under-served.
I see the future for us is just expanding and getting bigger. Zines aren’t going anywhere certainly. I mean cassettes are everywhere, vinyl is everywhere, analogue photography still exists. People think about these things as anachronistic technologies, and I think of EF Schumacker, the economist, who had the economic theory of “appropriate technology”: the idea that the technology you use for a given thing doesn’t necessarily have to be the biggest and the best. It was a theory developed for developing nations, but I take that and look at it in terms of zines and self-publishing, and making our own records and self-recording, and artist-led spaces. It all relates back to this idea of appropriate technology, and this idea of using what you can when you can, to make what you want. I’m really hoping we’re able to slot in there and continue to uphold all these technologies.
Is there a way students can get involved and stay up to date with this space and practise?
Hell yeah! We always take volunteers. We will do regular training sessions, so if people want to get involved and volunteer with us, they can write to us at [email protected]. There’s no marketing budget, which means we can’t distribute a programme yet, so the best way to keep in touch is social media. We’re really receptive so we answer emails as they come in. We’re really keen for students to host things here. We are free to use, we’re very happy for people to use this space as a reading group space, to do screenings, to do talks, even if it’s just five people wanting to come in and work on their zines. We have lots of materials to provide. We really just want it to be a community driven space and have people decide what happens here.
Facebook, Instagram & Twitter: @glasgowzinelib
[Image Description: A photograph of the Glasgow zine library. Short wooden shelves are placed on white walls, on top of which many different zines are displayed. The shelves in the foreground are indicated as ‘Local interest’, the shelves in the background as ‘Photography’. ]