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As cultural artifacts, ‘zines suffer from their greatest assets—the sense of immediacy and impermanence that makes them intriguing can also make them disposable. But to Jacob Long and Caroline Hostetler, ‘zines are invaluable documents that trace the personal, political, and emotional impulses of a wide variety of subcultures. And they’ve each amassed hundreds of them.

“We both had these huge ‘zine collections that were going to waste, and we wanted to share them,” says Hostetler, a recent transplant to the area from the flourishing San Francisco ‘zine community.

Before moving to D.C., she met up with Long, a local ‘zinemeister who runs a mail-order catalog called Shadowplay ‘Zine Distro. The duo agreed to merge their collections, and last week they opened the doors to their new venture, the D.C. ‘Zine Library & Reading Room.

“‘Zines give perspectives, ideas, and stories that you can’t get anywhere else,” says Long. “The whole idea behind doing ‘zines is to make a personal document of the time in which they are produced, so it seems like a waste to just throw them out.”

The library’s current collection consists of a few semi-organized crates of ‘zines dating back about five years. About half are music fanzines like Maximum Rock ‘n’ Roll, HeartattaCk, Punk Planet, and local scene reports such as Held Like Sound and The Torpedo Dialogues. The rest are emotive missives from faraway strangers. They consist of incredibly personal essays and artwork, travel stories, political tirades, and occasional rambling. These are the ones Long and Hostetler are most fond of.

“It’s kind of like the whole idea behind punk rock: Anybody can have an idea and have a voice to communicate it,” says Long. His own ‘zines read like introspective entries in a personal journal—a broadcast of private thoughts and dreams that he sends out in return for all the stories he’s collected from others. Long pauses for a minute, sipping the library’s complimentary Kool-Aid, to consider the ‘zines’ larger value: “Being in control of communication is a very important idea.”—Colin Bane

The D.C. ‘Zine Library & Reading Room is open evenings and weekends at 4621 43rd Place NW. (202) 237-5538.