When the family of the late Oakland physician Dr. J. Lloyd Eaton (1902-1968) sought a home for his 7,500-volume collection of science fiction, they were not met with much enthusiasm among academic librarians. At that time, science fiction was considered an inferior literary product—pleasant enough as a diversion, but unworthy of serious academic study. As even public libraries did not regularly acquire science fiction, there was no public collection anywhere with a comprehensive collection.
Donald G. Wilson, then University Librarian at UC Riverside, was alone in recognizing that the vast popularity and influence of science fiction rendered it worthy of academic analysis and study. Although many ridiculed his decision, Wilson acquired the collection of Dr. Eaton, saving it from the hands of a book dealer who had intended to sell it piecemeal.
When the collection was examined in detail by the scholar Michael Burgess (a.k.a. Robert Reginald), its full value was recognized. At his urging, a curator was hired for the collection. The choice was Dr. George Slusser, who held a doctorate in comparative literature from Harvard University. Dr. Slusser launched the Eaton Conference in 1979, bringing noted writers and scholars annually to the Riverside campus, and producing more than 20 volumes of conference proceedings.
During George Slusser's 25-year curatorship, the Eaton collection grew to more than 100,000 volumes, ranging from the 1517 edition of Thomas More's Utopia to the most recently published titles in all languages. The collection also includes journals, comic books, and 300,000 fanzines, enriched by donations from collectors Terry Carr, Bruce Pelz, Fred Patten, and Rick Sneary. In recent years, films, videos, DVDs, film scripts, and illustrated narratives have been added, most of which have come as donations. The archival holdings comprise the papers of leading science fiction and fantasy authors, including Richard Adams, Gregory Benford, David Brin, F. Busby, Michael Cassutt, Robert L. Forward, Anne McCaffery, Lewis Shiner, Colin Wilson, and James White.
From its humble and controversial origins, the Eaton Collection has established itself as the largest publicly accessible collection in its field, visited by students, scholars, filmmakers, and enthusiasts from around the world. Dozens of dissertations, hundreds of monographs, and thousands of scholarly articles have been produced from its holdings. Curator George Slusser, now retired but still active in the collection's development, is considered the leading scholar in science fiction studies.
While it is unfortunate that Donald Wilson, who died in 1976 at the untimely age of 45, did not live to see the development of the collection, his vision has been vindicated by the fact that more than 30 other major university libraries worldwide are now building similar collections. Indeed, it is the rare academic curriculum that does not include courses in science fiction studies. Today the entire staff of Special Collections participates in ongoing outreach efforts, which include answering thousands of electronic reference queries annually, creating Web and in situ exhibitions, speaking at conferences, and providing tours to enthusiasts of all ages.
Collection Profile and Overview: Melissa Conway
Illustrations: Vlasta Radan