Collections

Tagged: Theme

With sf/fantasy long a subject for academic study, especially in the USA, many major institutional collections have been built up, a process which has supplemented but in no sense supplanted the large number of private collections amassed by fans and scholars. From the first, Genre SF has tended to be published in formats significantly (and foolishly) slighted in the accession policies of every category of institutional library – from university libraries to libraries of record like the Library of Congress and the British Library; and without private collections much of the research undertaken in recent years would have been impossible to conduct successfully. Some private collections – notably those of Forrest J Ackerman in Los Angeles and Sam Moskowitz in Newark – were extremely well known, extremely large, and accessible to visitors, but they tended not to be thoroughly catalogued, and in any case were broken up after the deaths of both collectors. Individual researchers in sf and fantasy almost invariably maintain their own store of material, on a scale rather larger than probably necessary in cognate fields. Entirely typical of such research collections are those held, for instance, by the editors of this volume: John Clute with 15,000 items [see below], David Langford with perhaps 12,000 items, and Peter Nicholls with 9000 items, a collection only partially transferred to the Public Libraries of Melbourne after his death. Mike Ashley holds a very large collection of early magazines, with many unique items.

The strongest library collection in the USA is the J Lloyd Eaton Collection. For important library holdings in other countries, see the entries for Maison d'Ailleurs (Switzerland, extremely strong on French sf), Merril Collection of Science Fiction, Speculation and Fantasy, formerly the Spaced Out Library (Canada), Science Fiction Foundation (UK) and University of Sydney Library (Australia). A number of other institutional collections exist, though relatively few exceed 10,000 volumes, and as with the specialized libraries listed above tend to limit direct access to staff. In America these include: the University of Arizona Library; California State University Library at Fullerton (which holds important research material on Philip K Dick); the Clute Science Fiction Library at Telluride, which is non-circulating but open-shelf; Dallas Public Library; the Duke University Library, which holds the collection Charles N Brown developed in conjunction with Locus magazine; the special collections library at the University of South Florida, with a strong focus on Dime-Novel SF; Louisiana State University Library; University of Louisville Library (very large Edgar Rice Burroughs collection); MIT Science Fiction Society Library at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; San Francisco Academy of Comic Art Library; Texas A & M University Library.

Also important to sf researchers are the great libraries of record, such as the US Library of Congress (which, shortsightedly, does not normally catalogue its separately warehoused, inaccessible mass-market paperback fiction) and, in the UK, the British Library and the Bodleian Library. These libraries, however, tend to be weak on ephemera (fanzines, comics, pulp magazines); in some cases their book and magazine collections have suffered depredation through theft; and it is their general practice to strip dust jackets, perhaps in obedience to a nineteenth-century epistemological priggishness about the point at which a book must be distinguished from its wrapping, a punctilio that was of some use when many dust jackets were in fact wrappings (up to about 1850 at the most recent), but which soon became a lame excuse to justify the destruction of genuine dust jackets (a "reasoning" that has been applied with inconsistent but ultimately devastating persistence by the British Library since about 1850). The end result has been the often irretrievable loss of many thousand works of popular art, and of huge swathes of otherwise unobtainable information.

In the twenty-first century, most institutional collections maintain an online presence [see links above]. Historical data on large sf collections can be found in Science/Fiction Collections: Fantasy, Supernatural and Weird Tales (1983) edited by Hal W Hall, and Anatomy of Wonder: A Critical Guide to Science Fiction 4 (1995) edited by Neil Barron. Since 1998, First Fandom (which see) has presented the Sam Moskowitz Archive Award for excellence in sf collecting. [PN/JC]

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