Concerned about the Eaton SF/F archive at UCR

In 2011, I was hired as a professor of Creative Writing at the University of California, Riverside, to be part of a faculty research cluster in science fiction and fantasy with Drs. Sherryl Vint and Rob Latham. The SF/F research cluster was created to promote UCR's Eaton Science Fiction Collection, the world's largest publicly accessible archive of SF/F and utopian literature, with holdings dating back to the 16th Century. The presence of the Eaton means that I can introduce my creative writing students to a legacy of 500 years of fiction celebrating, articulating and critiquing social and technological change. When my students visit the Eaton, it's the first time they've seen anything like it. They come back excited, informed, energized. The existence of the Eaton means that researchers from all over the university and anywhere in the world have access to original copies of books, magazines, visual media and fanzines to help them track developments in the genre. Editors can find classic works that have fallen into obscurity. The complete papers and works of some key writers in the genre are housed there, as are thousands of photographs taken at science fiction conventions by the late Jay Kay Klein, a well-known figure in SF fandom, renowned for his work as a photographer.

Up until recently, the collection was being developed and managed by an extraordinarily capable and visionary staff who made the collection the wonderful resource it is. They are known and trusted in the greater SF/F community, which is a large part of the reason the Eaton has been able to attract such priceless donations of materials. It's been nothing short of a pleasure to work with the staff, and to be at an academic institution which values science fiction and fantasy and the invaluable contributions made to the genre by writers, artists, researchers, and devoted fans. In 2013, UCR approved a cross-disciplinary programme in Science Fiction and Technoculture Studies, supported by the Eaton Collection. The graduate and undergraduate courses I teach in writing science fiction and fantasy are part of the SFTS programme. We in the community know how precious and rare such institutional support is.

So I'm sad to have to report that new library administration doesn't seem to appreciate the value of the Eaton Collection or the expertise that goes into it. Since spring of this year, their accomplishments have included driving out staff members and pushing changes to collection policies that would reduce the Eaton's holdings, its value to researchers and as a repository of our community's history, and its standing as a world-class archive. Meetings with the staff of the Eaton have been productive, collegial gatherings. Meetings to negotiate with the new library administration, not so much. It's putting the faculty of the research cluster in the alarming position of having to protect the very collection we're charged with fostering. We're dealing with the new library admins' efforts to split up the collection and change priorities for what to collect (eg, e-text over print) without consulting scholars in the field, and with what we'd characterize as harassment of staff, who've demonstrated extreme competence over the years. My research cluster colleague Rob Latham has also posted about this on Facebook. (If you're on FB, you should be able to find it here.) It's time to alert the community to what's been going on, because we may need your help very soon. We're not recommending any action on your part at this point, other than spreading the word. For those who aren't on Facebook, I've replicated Rob's post below:

From Dr. Rob Latham: I came to the University of California, Riverside in 2008--in large part because of the Eaton Science Fiction Collection, the world's greatest public archive of SF, fantasy, horror, and utopian literature--and I have been very happy here for the past six years. But since May it has become clear to me that our new library administration not only doesn't appreciate the tremendous resource that we have but are actively and systematically working to undermine it. They have driven out long-serving and cherished members of its staff, have proposed policies that would result in the gutting of the Collection as a world-class archive, and have generally caused me and my colleagues in the SF and Technoculture Studies program nothing but grief.

I would say that I take solace from the fact that the Eaton is a solidly established, 45-year-old year institution in the field and that it will survive them, but to be honest I'm no longer sure that's true. Those of you who consider yourselves stakeholders in the Collection, stay tuned--we may need your help and support very soon.