Toronto Zine Library: A Daydreamer's Shangri-La

It's a bedraggled room, awash in various shades of brown, grey and old. Light seems reluctant to enter through the dingy, yellowing curtains, for fear of catching The Musties. The wallpaper is time-worn and peeling. Metal chairs, not unlike the kind found in elementary school cafeterias, are scattered haphazardly about. The lone, pitiful couch looks like it's gotten the daylights, and stuffing, beaten out of it.

But, in the corner, the one furthest from the entrance, lays treasure in all its shimmering, paperback glory. In a dozen-odd dollar store bins and baskets, hundreds of strokes-o'-geniuses, fanciful flights of inspiration and dreams of yesteryear find their home.

Independent media junkies, take note. Head-in-the-cloud dreamers, beware. Get ready to kiss your Sunday afternoons goodbye. This is the Toronto Zine Library.

Founded to provide Torontonians with an accessible and relevant source of independently published materials, the TZL boasts nearly 300 zines in its collection.

"The idea was conceived essentially through jealousy, as odd as that sounds," says Suzanne Sutherland, one of the TZL's founding members. "This time, one year ago, it struck me that many other major cities seemed to have some kind of zine library, and even Welland, Ontario, has a great collection. It didn't seem fair that Toronto was missing out."

Although Sutherland acknowledges the existence of a zine section at the Toronto Reference Library, she notes that it is poorly promoted and difficult to access.

"Our mission then became to create a more accessible, catalogued, and well-promoted collection of independently published materials," she explains.

Indeed, it is a decadent feast for the imagination. On the afternoon I visited, Canzine was taking place at the Gladstone (a bad idea to hit right after pay day, but that's another sorry story...). Thus, while the city's zinesters rubbed shoulders on Queen West, I got to peruse the collection in total, blissful solitude.

From the popular, including Fish Piss and Fist City, to the obscure--Moist Pony, anyone?--to perzines (that's personal zines, yo) that probably didn't make it past the first issue, the range of titles is broad and the topics never dull. Zines on the arts, music, politics, queer culture (and more!) all co-exist happily at the TZL. Of course, there is some pure and utter crap--one inspired chap decided to dedicate an entire page to writing out all the denominations of Canadian currency--there is something inherently intriguing about all the works.

What was the spark for a particular piece? What triggered the one-page zine, cut and folded into a paper puzzle of words? Who was she, this girl that published a 10-page declaration of love to the unsuspecting object of her affection? Did she ever work up the courage to approach him on their daily GO Train commute? Did romance ever blossom, or did she just let unrequited lust stew? What made a teenager think to document her namby-pamby summer in a smalltime Anytown? Did she think anyone would care? Did she ever think that someone, eight years later, would be sitting in cold, rundown room in Toronto, poring over her palm-sized adventures in black-and-white, wondering about her life today?

Many of the publishers and writers used only first names or pseudonyms, further fueling my curiosity surrounding the zine's creators. Who was the mysterious Stew Innit? What's Becky doing today? Where did Patrick end up?

The Library is run by a volunteer collective of 2.5 people--one member is often too busy to help--and can be found in the Tiki Room of the Tranzac Club on Sundays from 1:00 to 3:00pm. During these hours, there are volunteer staffers on hand to chat and answer any questions. The collection can also be viewed during non-library hours, provided that the space is not being otherwise occupied. Brief and uncertain windows of opportunities? Perhaps, but this is something the collective hopes to change in the future. For now, they just want to get the word out about the Library.

"Promotion is something we're still kind of floundering with," admits Sutherland. "I feel like I'm making up how to do a lot of this as I go along, so our methods haven't been the most effective so far."

Word-of-mouth is spreading, however, largely via the Internet. A booth at Canzine also served to further the cause of our zine-heroes, who are crossing their fingers for more visitors and, of course, more zines. Over the past year, the TZL has amassed 282 titles in its collection, but donations are, as always, highly encouraged and appreciated.

A self-described traveling library, the TZL is happy to bring its goods to schools, youth groups, fairs and the like in hopes of educating the community on the possibilities of independent publishing. All you need to do is ask (and maybe leave the nice folks a zine or two for their noble cause).

While it may not be everyone's cup of tea, for daydream lovers and woolgathering enthusiasts alike, this is a little slice of heaven.

What: Toronto Zine Library.
Where: Tiki Room, Tranzac Club (292 Brunswick, just south of Bloor, 416.923.8137)
When: Open on Sundays from 1:00 to 3:00pm
For more info, email torontozinelibrary@hotmail.com
Psst: The TZL will be at the Tranzac indefinitely. For the latest updates on their goings-on, visit their MySpace page.

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