Under the Radar: The Denver Zine Library is back, at 27 Social Centre

Categories: Books

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Kelly Shortandqueer is small in stature but big on words, especially when it comes to the Denver Zine Library, which he co-founded with Jamez Terry in 2003. Over the past seven years, the library, a herculean underground effort to cataloue a variety of zines, from independent music chatter and literary chapbooks to limited-run comix, has had its share of drama interwoven with better times, including its naming as one of Westword's inaugural Mastermind award recipients in 2005.

The wandering, volunteer-run 501(c)(3) nonprofit shut its doors just over a year ago after a long sojourn at The Other Side Arts on Platte Street, but in July, Shortandqueer and his fellow zinesters began unpacking their boxes at a new location, 27 Social Centre, a nondescript warehouse-like building in the Jefferson Park neighborhood that also houses a variety of progressive collectives.

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Shortandqueer estimates that the catalogued collection includes about 9,000 small self-published publications of every stripe, with around 1,000 more donated booklets waiting to be listed. That makes the Denver Zine Library one of the largest of its rarefied kind in the nation and definitely one of the best-known (NPR even aired an interview in 2004). Shortandqueer says he's in contact with many of the others, which include a variety of formal library collections, academic collections and other independents. "We made up our own cataloguing system," he notes. "Lately there's been some discussion on whether or not there should be a uniform system." There's a certain amount of give and take between organizations, and when zinesters go on tour, the DZL is happy to host their readings.
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But more than anything, the library's primary interest is in getting people not only curious about zines and their intimate, person-to-person nature, but also active in making booklets themselves. "Though it's not explicitly our goal, I'd love to provide space where people could create their own zines from start to finish," Shortandqueer explains. At 27 Social Centre, with its cavernous space, that could ostensibly happen eventually.

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A shared venue housing, along with the Zine Library, a worker-owned print shop, the union-supporting Bread and Roses workers cultural center, the Build Up Books Infoshop, Denver Anarchist Black Cross and artist Dylan Scholinski's Sent(a)Mental Studios, it's a plastic location with many possibilities and malleable spaces. "I kind of like being here when the presses are running," Shortandqueer says of the neighboring P&L Printing Co-op. It seems appropriate to him to work amid the hum of words being printed.

In the meantime, Shortandqueer and the other zine librarians hope to host more readings and zine-related workshopping events in the coming months. He says they'd like to revive the annual Zine Fest, which grew to attract zine dealers from across the state and even the nation. While the new library doesn't have the foot traffic and accessibility of its old space at TOSA -- the entrance to 27 Social Centre is enigmatically located in the side alley -- it still has much to offer, all on the smaller, more personal scale toward which the modern hip community now gravitates. "We love having people come in," Shortandqueer says. "Sometimes people show up, and we don't even know how they found out about us." Come on over, he adds. The doors are open and the zines ready and waiting.

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The Denver Zine Library is at 2727 W. 27th Avenue and is open from 1 to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays or by appointment. Visit three times and you'll be eligible to check out up to five zines for three weeks on the honor system. The library is free, but donations are always appreciated; access the DZL website for the complete catalogue.

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