It all starts with a question: what makes a special collection so special in the first place? My name is Peter, and this is Stacks and Facts. [musical introduction] So this introduction looks a little different because I’m recording on my phone — I’m moving, and I already packed my camera because… That’s how I do… But I wanted to make sure that I got this recorded so I could get this video out as soon as possible. So last weekend, I was in Toronto for a conference called OpenCon (and we’ll talk about that in a future video) but since I was in Toronto, I wanted to swing by the local library! It just so happens that Toronto Public Library has a bunch of special collections, and one of them is, oh, The greatest. It is the Merril Collection of Science Fiction, Speculation and Fantasy, and I was so fortunate that when I emailed them to ask if I could come and check it out and make a video about it, The Department Head, Sephora Hosein, was very excited to have me. So I sat down with Sephora, as well as Kim Hull, who’s one of the librarians there, and we talked about the collection and its history. And that’s all I’m gonna say. I just want to cut straight to it, but yeah, it was a blast! So Toronto Public Library is… Guh. It was so great to be down there. I’m so excited that I get to share this with you because They gave up a lot of time to let me just show up and ask them whenever I wanted, and then they showed me some great materials, so I’m super excited to share those materials with you! So excited, in fact that I’m making two videos! This first video is going to be the interview between myself and Sephora and Kim, and then the second video Is going to be basically a walkthrough of a bunch of the things that Kim showed me. I got it for stock footage, and she is such a wealth of information, but I think it deserves a video of its own, so Without further ado. Let’s get into it! S: My name is Sephora Hosein and I’m the senior department head of the Merrill Collection of Science Fiction, Speculation, and fantasy; and also the senior department head of the Osborne Collection of Early Children’s Books. K: I’m Kim Hull and I’m a general librarian at the Merrill collection, I do reference questions and I am also a cataloguer. S: You know, I think when people think especially of public libraries, they think of circulation, these days they probably think about programs, but in general the materials that they’re probably envisioning are more ephemeral in nature so items that are probably going to be weeded out after a time. Things that get heavily used by many people, And special collections allows a way to keep these items in perpetuity to reduce the handling on them, but to also make them available to the public. Science fiction, on the other hand, being I guess a “newer” genre — if you want to compare it to things like the Baldwin Collection over at Toronto Reference, or the Arthur Conan Doyle collection, that sort of thing — the materials might be a little more contemporary, but one day they will also be part of these ancient tomes, you know? And it’s also one of those those genres that gets probably not as much love as as it should, or as much respect as it should. I think a lot of people don’t see the literature the same way that they see other types of literature, don’t have the same kind of respect for the writing. But I mean that the quality and breadth of topics is every bit as important and wonderful, and so it’s important for a library like Toronto Public Library — which is the largest circulating library in the entire world! — to have such a collection, because we are also in the best place to advocate for it and we’re always looking for more opportunities to do that for the genre. But also for, you know, rare books and special materials in general. Kim: It is different than the the circulating collections, they tend to be more popular-culture, and what’s the the flavor of the month. We have things going back to… I think the oldest thing we have is about 1750, and a variety of media. We have pulp magazines from the early part of the 20th century, we have different versions of things that are available to the general public and researchers as well that you’re not going to find anyplace else. We are always having people coming in and saying, “I read such-and-such a book and I’m trying to identify it,” I’ve done it myself, and we can maybe reconnect them with this treasure that they had from their childhood that they’re not going to be able to find anyplace else. As I say, just the breadth and the depth of the that the circulating collections can not offer. Sephora: Many many many years after you know, maybe the circulating copy has ceased to exist, we will still have hopefully a good, you know, copy in good condition that people can look at thereafter and it’s a sort of a way to keep our history, obviously. Peter: For sure, for sure. I don’t think a lot of people know like what the lifespan of a book that circulates is; I was wondering for example, like a mass market — do you have any idea of like how long you can keep a copy before it has to get replaced? Sephora: It’s it’s hard to pinpoint it. But of course, it depends on the quality of the item itself: you know, if it’s a really poorly made mass-market paperback then it’s probably going to fall apart before long.[chuckles] It also depends how many people use it how, many times have to ship it across the city, but in general I would say, you know the lifespan of just your average mass-market paperback is probably about five years, if I had to guess. Just because of use and handling. Peter: And a lot of the items that the Merril Collection has is longer than five years, right? Sephora: Oh, definitely! We have — we have items that are much older [laughs] and I’d like to say: even if something is completely falling apart, if it’s important to the genre, We’re keeping it. We actually actively try to conserve these materials as well. We do have a preservation and digitization department and a conservation lab that help us to take these kinds of actions. Peter: Can you tell me how and why did it start? So essentially, Judith Merril was a prominent science fiction author and editor, and she donated her personal collection to Toronto Public Library. About 5,000 items to begin, and it was initially housed at the Palmerston branch for the first few years. Then it moved to 40 Saint George, and the collection grew to such a size that it was no longer a suitable home for it. And so the initial donation happened in 1970, And then by — so, fast-forward to 1995, they renamed — what was first known as the Spaced Out Library became the Merril Collection of Science Fiction, Speculation, and Fantasy. And it’s now currently housed at 239 College Street in the Lillian H Smith branch, and has been here ever since. And the collection has grown substantially to well over 80,000 items, and growing! All the time. Kim: The building was built to house the two special collections; we’re light/humidity/temperature controlled, once again to conserve the items, looking at them as as artifact. Do you want to hear about the ashes that are in the Foundations? [mischevious laughter, Sephora says “absolutely!” and Peter says “I mean, yesterday was halloween!”] Kim: True!Iit’s true! I won’t name names, just that someone who was a prominent author in Toronto, their spouse died, and the spouse had requested their ashes to be scattered either in the foundations of the Opera House or the new Toronto Public Library — which was this building. So the night before they poured the foundations, they apparently broke in through the hoardings, and poured his ashes. And then the next day the foundations were poured for this building! So he did get his wish. And we don’t know if it’s haunted or not, but if it is, it’s a benevolent spirit! [chuckles] Peter: This seems like the appropriate branch. Kim: Yes. Yes. Yes!
Peter: Cool! Sephora: I think the large collection of role-playing game manuals is always a surprise to people. We’re purported to have the world’s largest collection available in a public library setting, so That’s pretty great! But we really do have… You would probably know the numbers better, Kim? Kim: Yeah, we’ve got about 2,000 role-playing games and about 5,000 graphic novels, So that’s a very large collection as well. I don’t know how it stacks up against some of the other the other libraries. What else do we…? The large collection of pulp magazines, we do have a small collection of science fiction art — we’ve brought out a couple of things for you to have a look at — which is not actually part of our mandate. We just, things started sticking to us at a certain point. I think people were donating things, and we do occasionally acquire something, but there’s no real formal acquisition policy, but there’s some interesting gems in there. Sephora: Part of our mandate is to try and collect one of everything in the English language written in this genre, or these genres rather, so being situated in North America might be somewhat to our advantage. You know, with the English publishing world I guess, and with maybe a lot of the content at least in popular culture sort of skewing towards the United States. We certainly don’t discriminate when we select materials, but just in terms of the amount of material available, you’ll probably find more is available from the United States then perhaps anywhere else in in these genres… at the moment anyway. Peter: You said…
one of everything? [peter gasps] Sephora: Yes.
Kim: We’re running out of room! Sephora: we’re working on it.
[both laugh] Space is always an issue, but you know, that… that is part of our mandate, there’s a lot of great publishing happening in in this area thankfully, so you know, we’re just gonna just gonna keep buying whatever our yearly stipend allows us to. and we’ll see how it goes!
[more laughter] All right y’all, also was that not the coolest thing? I was so excited to scope it out, the collection, and I was so… I felt so privileged that they actually brought me into the archives itself, and Showed me a bunch of really cool things. So if you actually want to see the stories behind all of those objects that I showed is stock footage, go ahead and check out that video. There should be a little thing that popped out (otherwise there’s a link in the description) where it’s just Kim walking me through all of those really cool books and other items that we were just looking at. So if you like this video, maybe consider subscribing! There’s a button down there. I make videos about twice a month talking about libraries and information science, in a way that I hope is accessible to everyone. Yeah, that’s about it. Maybe share this video with someone in your life that you think like science fiction! So that’s it! Until next time, thank you for watching and don’t forget to ask questions. Alright, bye! [outro music]