Interview with a Zinester: Papercut Zine Library!

Learn about the rad zine librarians behind Papercut Zine Library in Cambridge, MA (and why they would be a pressure canner) here:




1. Kindly give us a short description of yourself and the work you do.
Papercut Zine Library is a collectively run, fully-functioning lending library, serving the Boston area since 2005! We have over 15,000 zines in circulation on a huge range of topics, including politics, music, travel, DIY, foreign language, and more. We are committed to maintaining an archive of the past just as much as we strive to foster creativity and community around zines today through workshops, readings, producing our own zines, and outreach events.


2. How did you come to collect zines? Why are they important to your collection?
Each of our collective members was drawn to the library for their own reasons, but we all share a common love for zines and believe in supporting each other’s creative endeavors. Some of us started making zines years before we had ever heard of Papercut, whereas some of us wanted to be a part of a collective or a zine-related project and were later inspired to produce our own work.  Our library was born from a big stack of zines one of the founders was trying to find a new home for. Since then, we have grown tremendously, all through donations and submissions. We are still one of the largest libraries of this kind in the country, and our collection is always evolving. Over the last 8 1/2 years, we have constantly revisited questions like, what IS a zine? What categories should we use for organizing our collection? Should we keep controversial materials with offensive or hateful material? Although the discussion continues, there is a core understanding that our library is a place for the voices not so easily heard in the mainstream, and it is a unique historical record. We exist to preserve the histories of underground culture(s) as well as to document the many faces of our beloved do-it-yourself medium.


3. What does it mean to do “feminist zine-making”? Does feminism appear in your work (explicitly or implicitly)?
You could say Papercut is a strongly feminist organization based on its content, mission, and membership. So much of the material we carry has come out of feminism and anti-oppression movements across decades, and these values are shared by the collective itself. We strive to maintain a safer space for folks of marginalized identities, and it is important to us that we do not automatically follow the models of capitalist organization. We do this through consensus decision making, conducting meetings and events in such a way that everyone is encouraged to participate, operating on a donation basis rather than charging for any of our services, and so on.
For several years, Papercut has partnered with the Girls Rock Camp in Boston, teaching a zine-making workshop to participants, and we even carry compilation zines made by these young ladies in our library! This is one example of the work we like to do – using zines as a way to encourage self-expression and highlight stories that are often under-represented in the mainstream.


4. What is your favorite zine or piece of mail art? Do you like any specific style/part of a zine?
This is a tough question to answer as a group – each collective member has their own taste and expertise! One thing we all have a soft spot for, though, is when we lead zine workshops for kids and they get to make their own zines, usually for the first time. The stuff that comes out of this is amazing! We had a kid make a mini zine all about slime recently.


5. If you could sum up your zinester life in a kitchen appliance, what appliance would it be?
A canner! We preserve the precious fruits of people’s labor. But sometimes what you get in the end, looks or smells or tastes a bit different than the original product. Just like strawberries take on a new flavor when made into jam, sometimes a zine found a decade after it was published has a different meaning or impact when re-visited. This could be because of cultural shifts, changes in language, or the same reader has grown and changed. Or maybe the pages have just gotten more beaten up. So yeah, a pressure cooker canner.

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