It has been a week for Papercut Zine Library.
The lending library’s staffers got one of those kick-in-the-gut kinds of messages from their landlord last week: There was water streaming out from under their door. When the volunteer librarians got to their building at 10 Ward St., they found a leak from a burst pipe in the bathroom had drenched the space. “It just covered the entire floor,” says Papercut librarian Sarah Ruggiero. “You know, it’s not a very large room.”
Their landlord initially thought that nothing had gotten wet, but a good portion of the inventory—much of it irreplaceable, dating back decades—was drenched. Ruggiero estimates that close to 1,000 of the library’s 16,000 handmade zines were soaked in the flood.
“We had a lot of stuff stacked up in boxes on the floor,” she explains. “Some really old stuff, and also some of the stuff that we like to bring around a lot because it’s, like, our favorite.”
Luckily, Ruggiero lives with former zine librarian Adrienne Naylor, who studied archiving in college and thought to call the New England Document Conservation Center hotline for advice. The NEDCC advised the group to move the zines into a freezer until they could be transported to a treatment facility in Pennsylvania. There, they could be professionally vacuum freeze dried. So Ruggiero and fellow librarians Gen Cayford and Kevin Lieber spent days sorting through boxes of soggy zines. Their landlord also owns an Italian restaurant, La Hacienda, across the street, so the Papercut staff asked if they could borrow the freezer for a bit.
“We had the stuff in there for several days, and in the meantime we were transporting them in haphazard piles to the correct boxes that they ended up getting shipped off in,” Ruggiero laughs. “We were in and out of the freezer, like, all week. I was half expecting to walk in there and there would just be marinara all over the zines.”
Papercut managed to avoid any pizza problems, but there was one last hurdle: The price tag to have the zines restored was close to $2,000. The team set up a YouCaring fundraiser earlier this week with a $10,000 goal, thinking that they’d use any leftover funds to help pay their rent in the coming months. So far, they’ve raised $7,559.
Ruggiero says she’s still trying to process the outpouring of support they’ve received in the wake of the disaster. She explains that there are other zine libraries with more ambitious projects—renovations, moves into new buildings—and she wasn’t sure how people would respond to their request. “Especially because it’s been… not the most encouraging winter,” she says. Papercut Zine Library just moved to Ward Street back in June and opened the doors at the new location in September, and it’s been slow going for this scrappy group of radical archivists. “The collective is small,” she adds, “and we’ve been behind on rent.” But donations started pouring in right away—some from friends and longtime Papercut supporters, many from names Ruggiero didn’t recognize. The library had the $2,000 it needed to rescue the zines in less than a day. They ended up throwing out almost nothing, and the collection has already been shipped off to PA.
It’ll be a few months until the damaged zines come back from their recovery operation, and the space is still a little bit upside-down due to both the flooding and the fact that they moved to Ward Street less than a year ago. But thanks to the generous donations Papercut has received over the last week, the library will remain open for its usual hours—2 to 7 p.m. on Sundays—in the interim. The additional money will help the team pay rent on their space over the coming months, and Ruggiero says she’s hoping for a really active spring and summer. Because they won’t have to focus on fundraising or worry where the next month’s rent is coming from, they’ll be able to focus on programming and using the space to the best of their abilities.
“Just knowing that we have the stability of a few more months in our space… my heart is so warm,” she says.