Inside the Eaton Collection, Circa 1990|
For a number of good reasons, researchers are usually not allowed to browse through the Eaton Collection of Science Fiction and Fantasy. Aside from the danger of theft, there is the possibility that careless scholars might leave the materials even more disorganized than they are today. Nevertheless, I have on occasion been permitted to venture into the forbidden aisles of the Collection and, having lived to tell the tale, I will report on my findings.
In the areas visible to the public, there are a number of decorations: displays of rare books and manuscripts, posters from old science fiction conferences, examples of science fiction art, and a bizarre abstract sculpture. However, within the Collection itself the most common decorations are stacks of old science fiction books and magazines. Virtually every single horizontal surface in the Eaton Collection is covered by such stacks, and a few have also sprouted on the floor, usually right where you are walking so that you can trip on them. (Imagine trying to collect an insurance claim on an injury caused by a science fiction magazine!)
Staff workers assure me that all of these stacks are temporary, that their materials are quickly organized and put in their proper places; and it's true that every time I see the stacks, they look a bit different. I suspect, though, that workers go through the Collection every day and rearrange items in the stacks so that a different one always appears on top.
If you're looking for a book in the Eaton Collection, you are in luck, because almost all of the novels and anthologies are neatly arranged in shelves according to their Library of Congress number. There are a few books listed in the card catalog, however, that are nowhere to be found. Fortunately, these tend to be items of worthless junk, of interest only to the slightly addled researcher—novels like Kemlo and the Crazy Planet and Monsters in Orbit. So, if there are indeed thieves haunting the Eaton Collection, at least they have bad taste.
Speaking of bad taste, one of the least publicized features of the Collection is its burgeoning library of science fiction pornography. Playful scholars may wish to wait for a time when there are only female staffers on duty and walk up to request, say, a copy of Starship Intercourse. Having noticed this remarkable volume, I hope someday to concoct a research project which will require me to read it.
Looking for a magazine in the Eaton Collection presents a greater challenge. Most of the magazines are shelved in approximately alphabetical order along the wall; but the magazines that a researcher is most likely to consult—including Amazing Stories and Astounding/Analog—are inexplicably stacked up to the ceiling on top of these shelves, which means that obtaining a particular issue truly becomes an acrobatic feat. Perhaps this is how librarians keep in shape! There are also some magazines shelved in the twilight zone between the Eaton Collection and the normal section of Special Collections. Finally, just to keep science fiction scholars on their toes, a few magazines, like Galileo, are tucked away with the books.
Finding manuscripts is even more fun. Most of the bound manuscripts are shelved—logically enough—along with the magazines. Some are kept in boxes on the shelves over the Xerox machine. At least one box of interesting manuscripts is currently hidden under a chair. This is, after all, the purpose of research libraries: to rescue valuable materials hidden away in boxes gathering dust in dark attics, and to hide them away in boxes gathering dust in dark corners of libraries.
Many other noteworthy items can be found in the Eaton Collection. They are gathering a large number of comic books, all currently employed as colorful ornaments to put on top of stacks. A copy of the first issue of Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen (1954), for example, now adorns a stack of materials opposite the Galaxy magazines. A marvelous collection of Terry Carr's fanzines is neatly shelved in a number of grey boxes, all identically labeled "Terry Carr's Fanzines." (Following up on this innovation in library science, there are now plans to put all of the Eaton Collection's magazines in identical grey boxes labeled "Magazines.") Autographed books are another treasure: all science fiction authors who venture within a thousand feet of the Eaton Collection are tied down, dragged into the stacks, and forced to sign all of their books. Unfortunately, members of the library staff do not always notice which items are signed and which items are not signed; so it has come to pass that an autographed copy of E. E. Smith's Triplanetary, which struck someone as only a slightly battered duplicate, was released to the general shelves of the Rivera Library, available to be checked out by any interested party, and a student worker was given what looked like a somewhat battered copy of an issue of Analog that just happened to include Larry Niven's "The Borderland of Sol," autographed by Niven himself.
All of these materials can be located —eventually—by the dedicated men and women who work at the Eaton Collection. But science fiction scholars still must sometimes confront The Ultimate Challenge—when workers looking unsuccessfully for some item shrug their shoulders and announce, "George must have it." At this point, librarians will be to no avail; you will need a team of professional archaeologists to sift through and extract objects from the accumulated materials on and around the desk of Eaton Curator George Slusser.
Science fiction, says Alexei Panshin, represents The World beyond the Hill; so it is perhaps appropriate that researchers using the Eaton Collection must sometimes climb a number of hills—figuratively and literally—to find what they want. But for those who wish to follow Damon Knight and go In Search of Wonder—the magazine Wonder Stories, that is—I'll give them a helpful hint: all issues of this magazine are, logically, shelved alphabetically in the magazine section under "T" (for Thrilling Wonder Stories). Happy hunting!
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