Book Keepers

From the outside, the small building in the back yard of 111 West Archer Place appears to be a simple sheet-metal shed. But inside is a DIYer's paradise: the Denver Zine Library.

The newest experiment in Denver's tradition of upstart libraries -- the city's first was begun in a newsstand in 1860 -- the DZL was created last December by 21-year-old Jamez Terry and his partner, 22-year-old Kelly Costello, to honor the zine, a homemade publication that chronicles the intimate details of alternative culture, politics and lifestyles.

"I've had this dream forever of someday having a library," says Terry, whose day job is canvassing for the Rape Assistance and Awareness Program. "Me and my cousins used to publish little newspapers and magazines. I started when I was five, as soon as I could write stuff down. So zines made a lot of sense to me."

When Terry was a ninth-grader in the small town of Accokeek, Maryland, a classmate began publishing a Xeroxed periodical and circulating it around school. Even though Terry admits "it was totally cheesy, a classic, thirteen-year-old, angst-filled zine," it was enough to spur him to sling some ink of his own. He created Sex, Death and Ronald McDonald, which included fiction, poetry, politics and "these teen magazine-type quizzes about really inane, ridiculous things, like 'How to Tell If Your Mother's a Whore.'"

That started a love affair with self-published magazines, which, he has discovered, can be as ephemeral as they are esoteric. With small print runs and erratic distribution, amassing an entire library of them has been a painstaking endeavor. "You have to do all this networking and build up connections with other zinesters," Terry says. "I get stuff in the mail constantly now, but it took years to get to that point."

Because of his efforts, the DZL has more than 4,000 issues on its shelves, which makes it one of the largest zine libraries in the world. There at least forty other such repositories spread across the U.S. and as far away as Greece and New Zealand, but most of them are tiny parts of university libraries or alternative bookshops. In addition to established, renowned publications such as Maximum Rock 'n' Roll and Cometbus, the DZL holds much smaller and more idiosyncratic titles with names like I Used to Be a Punk Rocker But I'm Okay Now and Phenomenology of My Inactivity, all of which are catalogued on the library's website,

"Some people use handmade paper and collages and handwriting in their zines, or stick photographs in every copy," Terry says. "You know that someone sat down and spent a lot of time and stapled every copy themselves. People put a lot of work into their zines, and you appreciate that when you're reading them.

"I think the Internet has changed some things, though," he continues. "A lot of zinesters have switched to on-line to save costs or whatever. I don't like computers; I'm a technophobe. I don't want to sit and stare at a screen. If I'm reading something, I want to be holding it in my hand. I want to be able to feel it."

That human connection is exactly what engaged Costello. "I actually got into zines because I was jealous of all of Jamez's mail," she recalls. "I'd go with him to the post office, and checking his box was incredible. He'd get stuff from all over the place. I just thought it was so cool to be able to write and have that relationship with people. And finally, about a year and a half ago, I made my first zine."

The couple, who describe themselves as "activist dorks," met a little more than two years ago, when Terry spoke about HIV prevention at a Worlds AIDS Day panel that Costello organized in Washington D.C. They moved to Colorado from the nation's capital last summer out of restlessness and a love for mountains, and they decided Denver was the place to put down roots and hatch the library. So they visited Breakdown Book Collective, a radical media space at 1409 Ogden Street, bearing flyers seeking volunteers to help organize the project. They connected with Molly Zachary, a local activist and fellow zinester, and found out that plans for such a library had already been in the works for years.

"When I first opened in '96, there was a core of kids that started having meetings about a zine library," says Paul Kane, owner of the Double Entendre record store at 120 South Broadway, just two blocks from the DZL. "We solicited and got a lot of contributions, but then we didn't know what to do with them. Things just sat idle for a long time. Once I heard about Kelly and Jamez wanting to start the library, I was happy. There are lots of people not really aware of alternative ideas; the media stronghold in this country is pretty insane. For instance, a young woman being able to go somewhere to read feminist literature, or anything out of the mainstream, is very important."

Costello and Terry originally planned on keeping the library in Double Entendre, but when they leased a modest house on Archer Place in the Baker neighborhood, they decided to move it there. "When they told me they wanted to put it in their shed, I thought that was a good idea," Kane says. "Then it becomes sort of autonomous. It becomes its own entity, as opposed to being housed in something else."

As homey and accessible as the library's archives are, though, Terry has bigger designs for the future. "Our two-year plan is to move this to a storefront," he says. "We're working on nonprofit status and grant-writing. We want to get in copy machines and computers, and have it be a resource center where anyone can make a zine from start to finish and then have it in the library."

"We have a couple students, Birdy Kutz and Amanda Mills, who volunteer here, and one of them is creating a zine-making elective at her high school," adds Costello, who is a teaching assistant at McMeen Elementary School in Glendale. "Hopefully, that'll work out, and there will be kids taking field trips here."

Besides all the hard work the couple pours into their library, which they open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Saturday and 1 to 5 p.m. on Sunday, they still find energy for making zines of their own. "It's been a good way to share my life," Costello says. "I really like telling stories, but I've always had a lot of anxiety about writing. It was amazing to finally break through that and be able to put something down and put it together and put it out there."

"It's a network of people who are so good to each other," Terry adds. "It's not just about the zines; it's about the community. It can be hard at first, though. When people start getting into zines, they're like, 'I want to read some, but how do I get them?' Here, they're all in one place. Everybody can come by and see them."

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Jason Heller
Contact: Jason Heller