EZL FOMO

(disclaimer: this is just a personal reflection, obviously I don’t speak for the whole zine library!)

In April my wife Abi and I left our home in Kirkcaldy for a 6 month bike ride across Europe. We were both excited to go but sad to leave lots of things, including the Edinburgh Zine Library behind. I’ve been getting serious EZL FOMO whenever I look at social media or check in with emails/slack and I thought a good way to channel this would be to write a follow up to my blog for UIZL when EZL was just starting out. I hope some very incomplete reflections a few years down the line will be interesting/helpful for anyone thinking about setting up their own zine library.

EZL has been an incredibly steep learning curve, and continues to be so. When we started, neither of us really knew anything about libraries, and as we started reading, it started to feel like we knew less and less. It felt like an overwhelming amount of information, and we worried about what we’d got ourselves into. It was around the time there was a whole lot of twitter chat about how important professional librarians are (they are) and how a library isn’t a library without a (professional) librarian (not so sure about this). I’m aware this was a response to the devaluing of librarians and the threat posed by turning libraries into multi-functional community spaces (I was at a library in the UK last year, and the ‘librarian’ was actually the coroner which led to some really intense inadvertent eavesdropping), but it did make me reluctant to use the term ‘zine librarian’. I took it off my social media bios, and I wished for another word for what we were doing. Now, I think, I’ve shaken off the imposter syndrome and have realised that ‘zine librarian’ is not the same as ‘librarian’, because zines are not books and you do very different things when you put them in a library.

TLDR: Cataloguing zines was more complicated than we thought, we welcomed having a library experienced and details orientated member, we’re getting our catalogue online, you can have a read about our current(-ish) cataloguing process here: Cataloguing guide 2018

Our first priority was to get zines physically into the library. We therefore came up with a cataloguing system within our capabilities and using the resources we had available to us. As zine makers ourselves, we felt the most important thing was that folks were giving permission to include their zines in the library. We were taking zines out of the context that they were made for, and putting them into a wholly different place, and we fully expected there were people who wouldn’t be happy with that. Libraries are not neutral spaces, buildings are not just the bricks that make them. Therefore the first step in our cataloguing process was creating a submission form. Beyond being a simple ‘I am happy for my zine to go in the library, and I know I can remove it at anytime’ we decided that it would be useful for us if zine makers had the opportunity to provide information relevant to cataloguing including options about the copyright or creative commons license the zine was held under. Although we are located in Edinburgh Central Library, we aren’t a formal part of their collection so we didn’t have to apply standard ‘fair use’ copyright to everything – which suits the cut and paste, and often anti-copyright, culture in zine making. The submissions form has gone through several iterations since then: we have reduced the amount of personal information we ask to be GDPR compliant (understanding the application of GDPR to the library has been a challenge!), we have given the person submitting more of a sense of what categories currently exist in the library, to try and make our use of infinite made-up categories (or subject headings) as efficient as possible.

Before we started the zine library, we didn’t realise there were big standardised lists of subject headings that libraries used in cataloguing. We wanted the flexibility and fluidity of creating our own, but I have grown to appreciate the need for standardisation, at least across the zine library itself. In the early days of getting the catalogue online, I would occasionally see slightly confused slack messages from one of our members who has experience in libraries about why there were two categories for essentially the same subject heading, or why we had used 5 variations of the same content warning. In the online catalogue search function, even things like capital letters become important, and I cannot overstate how much I appreciate the work done to turn our initial guess at how the zine library should be organised into a functioning system. It has maintained a respect for the nature of zines themselves, and respect for the importance of words and which words we use, whilst becoming more coherent and user-friendly.

The development of the online catalogue was a big focus of the second year of the zine library for me, because it is a fundamental step in increasing the physical accessibility of the library. With an online catalogue, we have the potential to split the library between two sites and move zines between them, or use the central library’s current system to send zines over to other libraries in the city which are more accessible. With the library experience of one of our members, we set up a LibraryThing and TinyCat – paid for by money from our workshops.

Before we started using an online cataloguing system, the main location of information about our collection was social media. This was observed by a masters student who wrote a report on the zine library and kindly sent us a copy. It led to a change of direction with our Instagram account – where we started trying to post zines in the collection and their location more frequently, as well as an idea from one of our members to feature individual zines in more detail every Friday. Although our social media use waxes and wanes with the various other competing demands of life, Instagram proved a useful free tool that opened our collection to a wider audience.

The other direction I was interested in developing the cataloguing process was to implicate zinesters further in cataloguing their own zines. As well as better developing the submission form, I started taking my laptop to events we were tabling at to talk folk through the process of submitting, and cataloguing, a zine.

TLDR: Zine workshops are more fun than I thought!

When I first ran a zine workshop, it seemed absurd that I was standing in front of a bunch of people telling them ‘this is how you make a zine.’ What did I know? Who gave me the authority? Why can I only hear the sound of my voice? How has that kid managed to pick up a zine with a passage about spermicide?

One of the great things about zines is that, really, everyone already knows how to make them. I started to realise that the purpose of zine workshops wasn’t about getting people making zines. Really, I was spending at least 50% of the allotted time working through people’s preconceptions about what they can and can’t create, about what’s worth saying or sharing, about the way’s art or writing should be done. I was dealing with people’s anxieties, and histories with education. I loved the workshops where, after all the stupid fun and games, you felt the room relax and everyone settle into cutting, pasting, scribbling, stamping, and these are some of my fondest memories of the zine library. I also loved the workshops where zines were the medium for the interesting and open ended discussions we’d been having, because zines are a medium that allow you to resist making a definitive statement. They are a space for questions, contradictions, day-dreams, reflections, statements that may be true only on the day you wrote them. I get crazy anxious facilitating workshops, but I also love the process and I’ve found trying to be reflective on my own practice as well as drawing on other people’s really gratifying and has opened up something I never thought I’d be interested in.

TLDR: are consensus-based decision making structures often exclusive? How do we avoid replicating the power imbalances of the world around us?

Another steep learning curve has been about the shape of the organisation. From the outset, I wanted the zine library to be collectively run, without a hierarchy and the library shaped by its members. Equally, as our membership grew, I began to consider the challenge of balancing an organisational structure where everyone has equal say with shaping ways of participating in decision-making in the zine library that allowed for fluctuating levels of time/commitment (disability, illness, jobs, housing, money, stress, none of these are static). As two disabled people, Abi and I never wanted the zine library to grow too quickly, and we also wanted it to be able to shrink rapidly if needed. We patchworked a bunch of ideas and experiences about consensus-based decision making and collectively organising to create the zine library’s current structure: anyone currently involved with the zine library is an active member, anyone who has previously been involved, not formally left, but hasn’t been in touch for 3+ months is an inactive member. Inactive members become active members again if or when they resume contact. All active members can join the steering group, in doing so they make a commitment to attend meetings every 2 – 3 months where decisions about the direction and focus of the library are made. This is so meetings can be organised where we are likely to achieve quorum (the minimum number of people needed to make decisions). Even without being a member of the steering group, all active members can attend these meetings and when they do so, their contribution is of equal weight to that of steering group members. We don’t vote on things. To meet the demands of the constitution of an ‘Unincorporated organisation’ we have the roles of treasurer, chair and secretary and we are still figuring out what that means in practice. We have tried to very actively figure out the shape and structure of the library as a group, be intentional, take things slow, and articulate and reflect on things as they progress.

This can sound contrary to DIY organising, which from the outside can look spontaneous and organic. I’ve found the haphazard nature of DIY organising can hide the ways it replicates power dynamics from the rest of the world, puts the burden of work on the same people over and over and assumes as given, straightforward or easy things that some folks aren’t able to do. I think we have a better chance of creating a community that doesn’t inadvertantly mirror, replicate or is underpinned by the same power dynamics as the society it is (unfortunately) located in by looking critically at how we organise. I understand the notion of ‘praxis’ as like, values in action – how we can make not just the outcome, but the processes part of our activism. This is a bit of a segway, but what I’m saying is – I announced confidently at the first open meeting that the zine library would be collectively run, but I didn’t really know what I meant or how that would work, and I still don’t know how the organisational structure we have will change in time or as we grow or shrink.

I’m also, in a way, glad to have stepped away so definitely for a while as it has allowed responsibilities to be redistributed.  Now, decisions are made without us and that feels good, somehow, like we’ve let go both of control and relinquished our ‘seniority’ within the group. When we come back in November, folks are going to have to show us around.

TLDR: Should we apply for funding? What would we do with it if we did?

This is another reason I’m glad we have stepped away for a while, because I think our (my) uncertainty, lack of experience, and anxiety about arts funding shaped the zine library approach, and I am curious as to how the current members will decide to proceed. In the last two years, we haven’t applied for any significant funding. Instead we have applied for small amounts of funding or grants for specific workshops or projects (LEAP sports festival fortnight, Radical Herbalism Network, Forest Quarterly Arts Grant), we have sustained our materials suitcase and attempted to pay for our member’s expenses through workshops with materials budgets (such as with The Welcoming), and we have recently started fully subsiding our free public workshops and other assorted costs (cataloguing materials, LibraryThing etc.) with paid workshops (such as with University of Edinburgh and The V&A Dundee). At the moment we don’t pay any members for their time, and potentially I would like to do that in some way or another, as many folks might want to participate but can’t afford to work for free.

We’ve talked at various points about whether we should seek funding to try and expand the collection and buy zines. It would be great to be able to pay for zines and put some money back into the zine community. The biggest barrier so far has been our lack of experience – we’re still in the very early stages of understanding and writing a collections development policy: something which, as I understand it, would describe why we purchased some zines and not others. Whilst we are still cataloguing the zines we have got, it hasn’t been a priority. The zine library has purchased zines from makers on one occasion – when we were running a workshop and setting up a mini-zine library with The Welcoming, an organisation that provides a safe, supportive and welcoming space to new arrivals in Edinburgh, we felt the best use of the materials budget was to purchase zines that were in other languages, or that spoke about experiences of im/migration or diaspora and we put a call out on social media to acquire these.

TLDR: What are the implications of a safer spaces policy? How much work can we do to make a space safe when it isn’t? How do we pick our battles? This is a blog post all on its own.

We had a collaboration for an event all set up, and then the venue hosted a transphobic event (this was during the initial GRA consultation backlash) and the management of the venue cried free speech. We pulled out of the collaboration, on the reasoning that if we didn’t feel like there would be a clear response from the venue management to any transphobic behaviour or language during the event we were participating in, then plenty of people wouldn’t feel safe, or be safe, attending. This began a long-ish chain of events, lots of emails, a very helpful discussion with trans alliance scotland, and a continuing weighing up, where we tried to figure out how to enact our safer spaces policy, how to decide what spaces felt ‘safe enough’ and for whom, what calling in rather than calling out meant or looked like, whether we wanted to make a public statement, and, for me, whether as a trans person it was worth the amount it was costing me, in an already hostile and exhausting environment, to engage with the organisation in attempt to resolve it. There wasn’t a clean solution or resolution, I guess in a sense it’s still ongoing? I think maybe this is too big a thing to take apart in a broader review.

TLDR: Was it ethical to start a zine library at all? How has it impacted my zine making practices?

Talking of big questions!

In the first year of the zine library, I didn’t make any zines. I didn’t have time to – any outside of work zine related time went to the library. Coming back to zine making, it does feel different. I think, reflecting on it, that zine librarian-ship has changed how I make zines – some awareness that past a point, my zine’s become ‘public’. It’s made me much less likely to share or distribute my more scrappy and unfinished zines, those zines that are only the first iteration of an idea I will come back to again and again. It’s also taken away some of the anonymity – like now, people can put a name to a face.

I was having a chat with another zinester and archivist recently about zines and zine libraries. I expressed my general discomfort at having my zine in a library, and I realised how hypocritical this sounded as someone who started a zine library. But the question remains, should we be putting zines in public collections, even with the permission of the zine maker? I don’t necessarily have an answer. I used to repeat to myself ‘we are a library, not an archive’ when I worried about not having acid free dockets for zines, or taking zines out to events or workshops, or when I’d nearly spill a cup of coffee on a pile of zines in my living room as I tripped over my flatmates cat. I don’t know if this was a statement or simply wishful thinking. It was meant to express our priorities – people accessing, picking up, reading zines, over preserving the zines for some future we don’t even know is coming. At the same time, we can’t avoid the ways we are an archive, nor look away from what it means to collect and look after things that are ephemeral, located in times, places, persons, communities.

TLDR: Who knows what the future of the zine library looks like? It is terrifying to me that it has a future at all.

I had a sudden panic last night: what if fifteen years from now the zine library is still running? Up until now, I’ve only thought of the library on a year-by-year basis. I, and most of it’s members, live in shitty or not so shitty rented accommodation, we move jobs, move cities, move countries, and so the idea we were establishing something more permanent than we were didn’t occur to me. Should we start long term planning for the zine library?  I don’t know if I’m ready to, but maybe that doesn’t matter anymore – it’s not up to me!

Here are a bunch of things that I think would be cool in the future of EZL: becoming a SCIO (a scottish charitable organisation) so we can do a bunch of things (including PVG checking our own members for kids workshops), becoming more accessible (at the moment, level access to the library is a two-step process, and this needs to go down to one) paying folks, buying zines, having satellite collections in libraries across Edinburgh, cycling a portable zine library around the lothians, or the highlands and islands, buying an old library van, kitting it out as a zine library and parking it somewhere remote with a live-in librarian, offering free access to photocopying facilities, expanding to a second-filing cabinet, having an office space so our stuff isn’t stored across member’s flats, sending a member or two to a zine librarian conference, visiting all the other zine libraries around the world, developing our shared understanding of consensus-based decision making, building our membership, building our organisational structure, filling a second filing cabinet.

Ghosts, a story about learning to live with voices.

(Disclaimer: this 100% would be a zine if I wasn’t currently cycling through France, so bear with.)

SPOILER ALERT – lots of chat of the plot of Ghosts

CW: experiences of voice hearing, unusual experiences, liberal interpretation of a comic sitcom

‘Watch this with me, it’s funny and I want to watch it with you.’ My wife Abi said, unfolding  the laptop screen and opening BBC iPlayer.

‘Oh yeah, this looked good.’

We sat and watched the first episode of Ghosts, a sitcom written and performed by many of the cast of the CBBC series Horrible Histories. A young couple, Alison and Mike, inherit a house populated by ghosts from various eras. They intend to turn the house into a hotel, and the ghosts, feeling their home is under threat, proceed to attempt to haunt them. At the end of the first episode, the ghost of a disgraced Tory politician succeeds in pushing Alison out of a window.

Sufficiently entertained, we put on the next episode. Following her near-death experience, Alison can now see, hear and speak to these ghosts, but no one else can. As the episode progressed something felt uncomfortably familiar about the scenes playing out.

ghosts

The ghosts attempt to make Alison’s life unbearable to get her and Mike to leave. Mike believes that these visions are the result of the head injury she sustained in the fall. They go to a doctor, and Alison realises ghosts are everywhere. She returns to the house; maybe in some ways, it’s better the ghosts you know. Simultaneously, a large loan Mike has taken out ties them into the house. Alison proceeds to establish what the ghosts want and offer a series of concessions so they can live amicably side by side.

We watched each episode as it came out, and I was struck that Abi and I were watching very different stories. I realised how much of the series spoke to my experiences of voice hearing/unusual beliefs&experiences: the discomfort of the second episode, where Alison is harassed relentlessly; recognising the challenge of maintaining conversations with people when they are being talked over by voices that only you can hear; understanding the feeling of going crazy; learning the importance of bridging those worlds and how ghosts can show you important things, if you acknowledge, recognise and respect them.

I wanted to write something exploring watching and understanding Ghosts as a story about learning to live with voices – even if it didn’t occur to the writers of the series itself – because those sorts of stories are rare, and I’ll take them wherever I can get them.

At the end of the first episode, a series of events lead to Mike believing that Alison can actually see ghosts. His unflinching belief in this totally supernatural thing happening anchors Alison and Mike in the story together. Even though he can not see them, he takes their presence very seriously. This is the central thing which allows the show to be comedic as opposed to tragic and stops the experience being totally isolating for Alison. Mike’s belief in her bridges the world they share together and the strange new world she is now inhabiting.

ghosts5

It’s not that he doesn’t find this difficult – he struggles to shower and use the toilet in the knowledge that he’s not being observed – but in episode 3 we see the consequences when he absents himself. Alison struggles to even communicate basic things with people who don’t understand her strange behaviour, or can’t see or hear what she is responding to. Social interaction becomes almost impossible.

I felt a particular sadness watching the earlier scenes where Mike still thinks Alison’s experience are the result of head trauma. Although he attempts to be supportive, he is restricted simply by his belief that what’s going on ‘isn’t real’. The tension between what Alison is experiencing, and Mike’s attitude to it, puts a strain on their relationship.

What saves it is Mike’s eventual belief in the ‘realness’ of Alison’s experiences. I think there’s an important statement here about how to be with people hearing voices, or otherwise having unusual experiences that you do not share. At the foundation of your relationship with them needs to be a belief in the ‘realness’ of what they are experiencing – irrespective of whether you are experiencing it or not. I am not debating the challenges of loving or caring for someone who is hearing voices or having unusual experiences, and how hard it is to have things you can not see or hear dominate their, and sometimes your, life. I am saying that thinking of these things as located in the person, as a figment of their imagination, as not real, can be hugely isolating and create an unbridgeable distance.

happy death day

Despite her challenges with communication, Episode 3 also marks a turning point in Alison’s own relationship with the ghosts. Pat is the ghost of a Scout leader killed by a stray arrow in the grounds of the house, and his death day is approaching. On this day, his wife, her new husband (and his old best friend) and his children come and visit the memorial to him. He’s struck that Alison might be able to communicate with them, first to tell them all is well, and then to punish them for his wife’s obvious extra-marital affair. She refuses.

At the end of the episode, as they gather to watch Pat’s family arrive, she offers to take over a message. He doesn’t have anything to say, but she goes over anyway and chats to the family. When she comes back over, she brings Pat news of his baby grandson, also called Pat.

At this point, a bright light shines from the front door of the house – Pat believes he has finally achieved closure on whatever unfinished business trapped him as a ghost, but it was just one of the builder’s lights. This rejection of a tidy narrative speaks strongly to experiences of voice hearing; you may sort all the loose ends in your life, process your trauma, achieve catharsis, and still hear voices

What this moment does represent, however, is Alison learning how to bridge the two worlds she now inhabits and communicate important things between the two.

ghosts4

My favourite episode of the series is episode 5 Moonah Stone. Robin, the ghost of a caveman who used to live on the land the house now occupies, wishes to perform an ancient ritual in honour of the lunar eclipse. At the same time, Alison and Mike’s neighbours, a wealthy couple, come round to dinner to discuss an issue of access (and swindle them out of money.) Alison finds it impossible to play the role of host with the constant distractions of the ghosts; they end up loudly processioning into the dining room chanting, and crowd the middle of the table. She distracts their attention with the first series of Friends, apart from Robin who stares wistfully at the moon out the window – it is the only thing that has been there as long as him.

Once the neighbours leave (calamity avoided by an off hand comment by one of the ghosts) Pat and Alison decide to make things right with Robin, dragging the sofa outside and Mike, Alison and ghosts sitting together to watch the eclipse. Ghosts doesn’t shy away from the terrible experience of hostile voices, but it also shows that, sometimes, if we listen to our voices, and understand what is important to them, we reconnect with something important and fundamental. Sometimes this gives us experiences we would otherwise have missed out on, and makes our lives richer.

In the final episode, Alison and Mike are offered a buy out by a large hotel chain. They view endless houses until they find one that has no ghosts. Although escaping the ghosts has been her goal throughout the series, Alison feels sad and states that the new flat is quiet not with relief but with a sense of loss. The buy out falls through (through the interventions of the ghosts) with the discovery of a plague pit of historical note in the basement. Alison ends the series with some buried skeletons still to unearth.

ghosts3

S.A.D Party Fife #1

When I went to the local mental health support service, they told me that there was a men’s group and a women’s group, and I could join the women’s group after some 1-on-1 sessions. Not exactly the informal, queer-friendly, peer support group I’d hoped for.

I got in touch with a customer at the cafe where I’d worked who’d talked about the S.A.D parties they’d been a part of in Bristol. I was keen for us to have something similar in Kirkcaldy. I think it’s important to integrate mental health support into our communities, and I think peer-support can be so much more than the formalised, institutional version often encountered and written about in mh services.

We put together a planning group on facebook. After running an art club at the Christmas Bazaar at the Auld Kirk, it seemed a great venue (although pretty large). We booked it, and agreed that although the event would be free we’d take donations on the door towards the cost of the hall and run a bake sale. I created several promotional posters, and we set about spreading the word and asking for folks to get involved.

Loads of members of the community came forward with offers of activities – reiki, massage, yoga, song and dance workshops, retro gaming consoles, nails, face painting. Some Edinburgh Zine Library members agreed to come across the water with some zines and run a chilled out reading space.

The day itself was frantic – with easily 100 people through the door it was a great turn out, with a really positive atmosphere. It almost felt like a skill share, and it would be nice to build on that feeling for future events. We had a wide range of people come through the door, and it was great to have such a community atmosphere throughout the event.

 

Peer Work 5 Day Course with Peer Collaborative

In September, after a year and 3 months, I got my PVG through for working with vulnerable adults (why this took so long is a whole other blog post…) I’d done Peer Employment Training with a Recovery college attached to my local NHS in 2016, and had moved to Scotland excited to continue and develop in this line of work. The delay to my PVG saw me return to working in coffee shops, and knocked my confidence hugely. After it came through, I still didn’t feel ready to process how it had made me feel or what the implications were. Still, I started following peer support and mental health stuff again on Twitter, slowing dipping my toe back into that world. Shortly after I spotted a free 5-day course in Peer Work being offered by something called the Peer Collaborative. It started at the end of October. I signed up to the Eventbrite, and figured I’d square it with work somehow.

My previous experience of Peer Work training had been mixed. Much as with my experience of the psychiatric system, I saw the folk at the Recovery College doing amazing things in spite of the systems, and institutions, and the course notes bought in from an organisation in America. I felt silenced by ‘Recovery Language’ and felt like the power of peer led support, and service user/survivor activism was being recruited and neutered by the structures that oppress and enact violence against us. More than anything, I left not knowing what to do with the anger I felt. It seemed that to be a peer support worker in the NHS I would have to bury it deep.  I couldn’t see how that was going to work.

I didn’t know what to expect then, turning up on the first day of the course. It was held in a bright room at the top of the Edinburgh Methodist Church (which is off Nicholson Street where mosque kitchen is.) There were 8 other people attending and Hayley, from Health in Mind, was facilitating. We started off by sharing a bit about ourselves, and then broke off to chat in smaller groups about our hopes, expectations and worries about the course. I hoped to increase my confidence, and start engaging with the challenges and complications of peer support. I had two concerns: that I would be too nervous to fully participate, and that I would be too angry.

We then broke off into pairs to discuss what ‘Recovery’ meant to us. My neighbour and I looked each other up and down.

‘I’m not super keen on the term ‘Recovery’…’ they started.

‘Oh thank god!’

We talked about how recovery is a challenging term, how it has this powerful meaning (and for me, learning about ‘Recovery’ as a concept when all I’d come across was medical models was a total paradigm shift and a really important personal moment) but is often co-opted, or used with other agendas. How what it means is complicated by its colloquial use ‘to get something back’ – but what are we getting back? What was lost?

We all came back to the group and Hayley invited everyone to feed back. I gritted my teeth.

‘We talked about how recovery can sometimes be a problematic word’

‘Yes, absolutely’ Hayley nodded her head and turned to write this on the flipchart.

I swear my mouth dropped. All my previous experience of peer and recovery work had been so heavily scripted, and tied to a particular model, that allowing this complication floored me. And really that set the tone for the rest of the course. I think Hayley was an exceptional facilitator – able to hold space open for multiple, diverse experiences, asking questions that developed and challenged our thinking, valuing everyone’s contributions and authentically sharing her own thoughts and experiences.

The group met once a week, on a Tuesday from 1-5pm. The five days of the course were structured around these topics:

  1. Recovery
  2. Boundaries and Types of Support
  3. Trauma
  4. Power and Telling My Story
  5. Attachment, Endings and New Beginnings

I’m really grateful to have attended the course, and I would recommend it to anyone looking to really explore, develop and expand their understanding of peer support in a variety of contexts. I feel like I learnt so much from my peers on the course and I left at the end of each day feeling enthused about going away and continuing to explore and navigate the ‘peer’ relationship. The experience as a whole has really shored up my belief in the power of peer support at a much needed time.