Author Archives: Zachary Lloyd

A Visit to the Sci Fi Collection

On Friday we had the chance to visit the wonderful science fiction collection at City Tech.  The collection is housed on the 2nd floor of the Ursula C. Schwerin Library, as part of their Archives and Special Collections. For the tour, we met with Jason Ellis, who is Assistant Professor of English at City Tech (and who has been responsible for much of the legwork regarding the organization and maintenance of the collection), and Wanett Clyde, the Collections Management Librarian.  To schedule a visit to the archive (visits are by appointment only), one should contact Wanett to set up a time.

The collection itself comes from an anonymous donor, who resided in San Francisco at the time (the materials were boxed and transported by movers to NY).  The materials are enormous in scope and wide ranging in topic, from nearly full runs of popular sci fi magazines such as Analog Science Fiction and Fact, Asimov’s Science Fiction, and The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, to an enormous collection of sci fi/fantasy/horror novels, zines, anthologies, and even scholarly works spanning nearly a century.  Having a full collection of the magazines is particularly useful to researchers, as one can then observe large-scale trends that otherwise might be missed if each issue was viewed in isolation.  As this was originally a personal collection, the particular research interests of the donor throughout the years are generally easy to infer, and many of the books contain the donor’s notes, marginalia, and insets from review copies (all of which might pose an interesting dilemma in digitizing the materials).  The curators are, however, interested in expanding the collection beyond the original acquisition and are open to further contributions of relevant materials.  The collection as a whole is still being processed and inventoried, but there are useful finding aids (such as a pdf with call numbers, photographs of the shelves, and a regularly updated Google inventory sheet) available to researchers that detail where exactly items can be found on the shelves.


A Visit to the Schomburg Center

Knowing very little about the Schomburg Center before our visit, I found our trip to be highly insightful.  From our very friendly and informative tour guide Brian Jones we learned a bit about the history of the Center:  how the NYPL Division of Negro Literature, History, and Prints–the forerunner to the Schomburg Center proper–acquired Arturo Schomburg’s massive personal collection of books, paintings, and pamphlets in 1926 (and subsequently renamed the division in honor of his legacy), as well as how integral the Center was to become in shaping the life and community of Harlem residents.

It is perhaps in considering this aspect of “community” that I found the most value in our visit.  It is easy to imagine archives as being stuffy, self-contained, and hermetically sealed spaces which rarely see visitors or the light of day.  In other words, they can tend to foreclose the idea of community rather than invite it.  In one sense, the archives at the Schomburg Center are indeed “closed off” like other archives in that there are first steps and procedures one must take in order to access the materials.  This is often the case simply for very practical reasons:  although they seem to welcome walk-in researchers, one should often contact curators beforehand about specific items one would like to view, simply in order to make sure it is actually on-site and not stored in a warehouse.  For certain extremely rare, valuable, or fragile items, there does also seem to be (from what I could gather from the curator of the Manuscripts, Archives, and Rare Books division) an internal vetting process in order to properly protect the materials.

Despite this, it seems clear that the Schomburg is unlike many other archives in that it is actively devoted to building community and civic engagement.  Using the archive as its foundation and its basis, the Center branches out into many ancillary areas of public life.  That the Center holds public exhibitions of its archival material (with the current exhibition representing the life and travels of MLK) is a testament to their desire to foster and sustain community engagement. The gallery space acts as an invitation to people of all walks of life, rather than just scholars and academics. Walking into the Schomburg, one notices how bright, airy, and vibrant the space is; people are everywhere chatting, reading, or taking part in community events. Although we didn’t get to tour through it, the Center also contains the Langston Hughes Auditorium in which concerts, forums, lectures, and performances take place.  Other tours and events were even being conducted as we were ourselves touring, but we did get the chance to glimpse the American Negro Theater and examine the Cosmogram floor mosaic on our way out.

Overall, our visit to the Schomburg inspired me to continue to think about the ways in which archives can foster, promote, and sustain communities.  Although one cannot borrow from the Schomburg’s holdings (being a research library), there is certainly a great deal else from the Center that we can take away with us.

Electronic Literature Organization

The Electronic Literature Organization‘s mission is threefold:  to promote, preserve, and study works of electronic literature. Founded in 1999, they seek to “foster and promote the reading, writing, teaching, and understanding of literature as it develops and persists in a changing digital environment.”  Although currently “housed” by Washington State University Vancouver, the organization’s Board of Directors consists not only of scholars and teachers, but also artists, developers, and writers.  Along with maintaining digital collections and archives, the organization also hosts conferences around the world and offers prizes/awards for submissions of scholarly criticism and creative works.  It also hosts a directory which acts as both a way to discover individual works as well as an encyclopedia/glossary-style critical companion.  Although the ELO’s digital collections are freely available to view by the public, “membership” in the organization requires payment, whether individually or through one’s institution.

The ELO’s “collections” are distinct from their archives in the sense that they are curated, journal-like online publications of works of electronic literature.  The term “literature” in this context is taken loosely to include many forms of interactive and audio-visual focused media:  from interactive fiction and hypertext, to flash poetry, visual novels, and computer games.  At the moment, there are three volumes of the publication, with work currently under way on the fourth.  The format of these publications is quite interesting–an example of the third volume can be found here:  Electronic Literature Collection #3.  The home page consists of thumbnails of the works included; if an entry catches your eye, you can click through to check the entry out.  You can also sort the collection by the keyword, title, author, country, and language tabs on the page’s header.  Although some of the works can be accessed directly within one’s browser, many of them require additional software to run:  for example, the entries of interactive fiction often require the user to download a Z-machine interpreter such as Frotz.

It is clear that the editors of the collections seek to push the boundaries of traditional literary history–and indeed, one’s experience of many of the literary works included could be described as “playing” rather than “reading” in the traditional sense.  In addition, many of the works in the collections are already “endangered” in the sense that the platforms they utilize, such as Adobe Flash or the Unity web player, are quickly becoming obsolete or outmoded. By including textual descriptions and video documentation along with the source materials, the ELO hopes to preserve the insights and history of these works and to overcome their erasure in an environment of relentless technological change.