More than a decade ago, when a then-twenty-something Kelly Shortandqueer and a friend first opened the doors of the Denver Zine Library in a backyard Baker neighborhood shed, he never imagined it would still be going — and thriving — in 2016. Always a volunteer-run project of the heart, the DZL went through several moves, including a yearlong hiatus, before finally settling into a space at the Temple in Curtis Park in 2014. We caught up with Shortandqueer in the midst of preparations for the December 5 Denver Zine Library Lucky 13 Celebration at Infinite Monkey Theorem in RiNo to find out what’s kept the DZL ticking all these years, and where he hopes it’s headed.
Westword: What keeps the Denver Zine Library going after all these years?
Kelly Shortandqueer: The main thing has been community — volunteers and folks who see the DZL as a valuable resource, over years of up and downs, even when we went into temporary storage for a year. In the past few years, there’s been a heightened interest in the DZL and self-publishing in general. People are finding ways to access new avenues to tell their own stories and have creative control.
Why are zines and the DZL important community resources?
For me, personally, when I see myself reflected in the mainstream media, which is so privatized or corporate, I get to access my own voice and find validity. There are so many boundaries to cross about which stories are being told. Zines and self-publishing are ways to re-center the ways we think about the world and provide access to different political views, how-to info, to publishing and comics, and personal stories that connect with other people.
We’re now at one of the strongest points in history. Our volunteers are stepping into more specific roles. We’ve learned how to plug people in, and our commitment has grown to not just provide access to an archive; we’re also doing more workshops and zine-related collaborations with organizations like DINK (Denver Independent Comic & Art Expo) and making zines more accessible outside the walls of the library.
The Temple looks like a good fit for the DZL.
We’ve been in a number of different locations, and it seems like we’ve always done best in shared creative spaces. There’s an energy around it: People travel through and stumble across us. It’s a good way of letting people know we’re around.
These days, people come in and say, “I’ve been meaning to come here for years.” And now they are coming. It’s validating to know that our reputation is there. It feels like we’re hitting the point where people seek us out more. And we also have our folks spill over into the consciousnesses of other folks there.
How does the DZL compare to zine archives in other cities?
It’s hard to compare. A lot of the libraries that have been around for a long time have additional institutional support from college or public libraries, or public organizations like the Independent Publishing Resource Center in Portland. We have a great relationship with zine librarians in other major cities, and we keep up with news through a zine wiki. I haven’t gone before, but there’s a national Zine Library (un)Conference every year. I’m planning to go to the next one, and I think I’ll probably want to keep going after that. It’s a great way to think about how to preserve and promote zines.
One of my favorite archives, Queer Zine Archive Project in Milwaukee, is mostly online. It’s nice to have a buddy in this journey. They work with interns from schools, so they’re able to get nerdy that way. And I love that they call us “barefoot librarians.”
Future improvements — what’s your wish list?
As we continue to expand programming, we’re looking for more people to volunteer time, donate zines to the collection or donate financially to help keep our doors open. We’re looking for people who love zines who can help us figure out how to promote it. Internally, we’re figuring out organizationally how to be the best we can be.
What else are you looking forward to in the coming year?
Starting this month, Watercourse is adding a shelf of zines curated by the DZL, connecting primarily with local zinesters and also featuring occasional out-of-towners. It’s just another way we’re moving forward to get zines out into world more and also get people into the space to check out our collection.
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How are you celebrating your Lucky Thirteenth birthday?
We decided we’d just come hang out at Infinite Monkey Theorem and connect with other folks. We’ll have our 2017 calendar release and a silent auction, and it’ll be a great way to reconnect with people. I’m excited to see people from the Zine Library’s past!
This project has been around so long: Volunteers over the years have come and gone, but they all come back and continue to support us. They are still people who care about and who are excited about library.
Join the Denver Zine Library Lucky 13 Celebration on Monday, December 5, at Infinite Monkey Theorem for drinks, a silent auction and zine networking from 6 to 9 p.m. Limited-edition 2017 Denver Zine Library calendars with artwork created by local zinesters will be available for purchase for $12 at the event. Find more information on the Facebook event page. Visit the Denver Zine Library from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays at its home in the Temple complex.