The Las Vegas Zine Library, located behind The Beat coffeehouse in the Emergency Arts gallery complex, is a punk rock essay collection, a poetry portfolio and an art depository, filled with more than 1,500 zines … which, as Zine Library co-founder Jeffrey Bennington Grindley will tell you, are not magazines. (A zine is a self-published creation with a circulation under 10,000 copies.)
Now in its fifth year, the space that began as a micro-archive of 1990s culture in Southern Nevada crammed onto a few bookshelves now fills nearly half a room. Anyone can submit a zine to the Zine Library’s post office box, and browsing is always welcomed (just don’t take any zines with you). The Library even receives tourist visitors, some of whom hail from as far away as Canada.
In a recent interview, Grindley shared a few fascinating facts about the unusual library he founded with Stephanie Seiler in 2010.
“Zines are at the root of a lot of things that become much bigger things. Seeing someone’s handwriting is something that doesn’t translate online.”
What first drew you to the zine culture?
When I would travel to other cities, I would always go into little independent bookstores and cafes and see do-it-yourself magazines. I went to a Zine Con here in 2000, where they had all these booths set up with people selling zines. It was amazing for me to see that people could publish their stuff free from an editor.
How did the zine library get started?
I had all these grandiose visions about putting [the Zine Library] in multiple parts of the city. I wanted to have a place to expose people to the idea of zines and self-publishing. The second half of the zine library is my lady, Stevie [Seiler]. She was the one who finally told me to do something after almost two years of talking about it. I approached The Beat in 2010 when they first opened, and they told me to go for it. I got about 100 zines together and put them on three shelves in the coffee shop. Pretty soon the shelves were completely full of zines from people who had given us their collections. So Emergency Arts let us take off the cabinets and repaint in the back of the store. It’s so generous to us. We’re so grateful that we can have a space rent-free, and be around creative people.
We’ve heard about “24-hour zine challenges.” What are those?
July is International Zine Month, and during this time, zine conventions around the country have a call for anyone to create a zine from start to finish in 24 hours. I participated one year. It was a lot of fun because of the swift movement through that time period. You can’t be worried about perfection. That’s what zines are about: The blemishes make them beautiful.
You’ve taught a teen workshop at Writer’s Block where everyone created a full zine in two sessions. How was that experience for you?
We’ve done a couple of zine workshops with adults and old-school zinesters, but the zines that came out of [this workshop] were beyond anything we’ve ever done before. I went in so nervous. Those 13-14 year olds were intimidating, but so inspiring.
We want to design the workshop to say that it doesn’t matter if you’re the most amazing drawer or writer. We just want you to express yourself. It can be really empowering to realize that the act of creating is what is valuable, not that you can sell it. It’s a really great and liberating form of communication and art.
Do you think the zine has a staying power?
We’re growing as a culture and discovering the ability to connect with more people. I don’t know how true it is that the personal connection is less, or it’s difficult to see it because the human connection is being reframed. Zines have so much value. Zines are at the root of a lot of things that become much bigger things [like the punk rock movement]. In that respect, they will be around for a long time. Seeing someone’s handwriting is something that doesn’t translate online.
What are some of the challenges facing the Zine Library?
We’re very lucky to have the space donated to us. We buy the sleeves to keep the zines in (editor’s note: the yellow tabs are labelled for local-made zines), but the next struggle is that we might not have enough space. It’s a great problem to have. We want to catalog the zines and create a spreadsheet so we know how many zines we have.
In the Zine Library, we have a basket that is next to the mailbox so when people are done they can return them for shelving. It’s hard to know who uses the library because there is no checkout system. When we come in to reorganize, having the basket full and the shelves messed up is one of the best feelings. I’m so grateful that people are finding the Zine Library.
What’s next for the Zine Library?
We would like to do more workshops with Writer’s Block. The crossover between them and us is really good to expose people to zines, reading, and self-publishing. One of the ways that Las Vegas is always talked about is that there is no culture, but people don’t really understand that it’s a young culture. The people who live here are very much a part of making the culture happen.