Hugo House and Seattle Public Library speak up about the state of ZAPP's zine library

Tree Swenson, the executive director at Hugo House, wants to make it clear that the Zine Archive and Publishing Project library was not sold to the Seattle Public Library. She notes that ZAPP managing director Graham Isaac amended ZAPP’s original statement to reflect that fact. Not only that, Swenson adds, but “we haven’t signed anything with the library. There’s nothing that has been signed.”

Stepping back a bit: ZAPP was founded 21 years ago in the Hugo House’s basement. The zine library and community meeting house for independent media-makers moved upstairs into a drier space — the Hugo House basement was prone to flooding — but for years it was a central focus of the House’s mission. In 2013, Swenson decided to reclaim the ZAPP space for classrooms. At the time, I wrote that “Swenson didn't set a deadline for ZAPP's departure, just urged the committee to start the conversation about what ZAPP's future would look like.”

But the deadline came and went, and Seattle Public Library took the ZAPP collection — something between 20,000 and 30,000 zines, minicomics, and assorted publications — into climate-controlled storage. Swenson says the library “not only provided free storage, but when they had to close the storage facility where they’ve been keeping it, they paid to move it to another facility.”

That’s where things have stood. ZAPP’s collection, which is still technically a Hugo House asset, has been under SPL’s care, and ZAPP (the organization) has done outreach and fundraising, in the hopes of getting a home together. Swenson says ZAPP, Hugo House, and SPL met in January of this year, “and at the time we were all kind of on the same page,” she tells me. Swenson says everyone agreed that “if the library can house [the collection] so it’s not only warm and dry but climate-controlled, if there can be some ongoing program that ZAPP volunteers would provide, that would be the best outcome. It’s too valuable to take risks with.”

As she answers questions on the phone, Swenson digs through the contracts signed by ZAPP and Hugo House in March of 2014 when the collection moved out of the House. “At the time, we said we intend to give this collection to ZAPP when they can demonstrate they have somewhere that the collection can be housed,” Swenson explains.

When she first tells me about the arrangement, Swenson says she thinks it was set to last for two years. When she actually finds the dates on the paperwork, she sees that the agreement for the collection was only supposed to be for one year. She reads from the document: “If the effective date does not occur on or before one year after the date at the top of the agreement…each one will have a right to rescind the agreement.”

So three years later, and two years after the scheduled end of the contract between Hugo House and ZAPP, everyone is trying to figure things out. “I have been hoping that ZAPP would be able to become a robust organization,” Swenson tells me. “I know how hard that is. How many years did it take to get Copper Canyon [the nonprofit poetry press Swenson co-founded] to the point where I was able to afford running water?”

So what inspired ZAPP’s statement about the state of the collection? Early in March, SPL expressed an interest in accessing the archives, in order to assess exactly what they’ve been housing for the past three years. Isaac reached out to Swenson several times about SPL’s wishes, but Swenson admits that she didn’t get back to Isaac, noting that Hugo House is in the process of a complex multi-year move into a new home in its old location. “I’m in the middle of trying to keep Hugo House safe and sound so I haven’t been able to get back to Graham,” she tells me, but “I just want to stress that I have nothing but the most appreciation for Graham, and for all the volunteers who’ve done great work over years.”

For her part Andra Addison, the director and public disclosure officer at Seattle Public Library, has less to say. In a brief email, Addison says SPL and Hugo House “are in the final stages of an agreement to transfer the Zine Archive Publishing Project (ZAPP) to the Library. Part of the work to finalize this transfer involves an assessment of the collection itself that will help inform the future of the collection and how it will be available to the public, researchers, and new zine authors.”