Space Avengers

by Thomas Vinciguerra ’85CC, ’86JRN, ’90GSAS
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At the heart of CUSFS is its lending library, which once comprised some thirteen thousand books and magazines and still includes such noncirculating treasures as a signed copy of Asimov’s Second Foundation and an 1887 edition of Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. Acquisitions have always been eagerly sought; in January 1979, CUSFS took a road trip to the Alexandria, Virginia, home of George Leonard ’39CC, ’41LAW to pick up 1,500 books and magazines for deposit in their headquarters in Ferris Booth Hall.

But the library became a casualty when Lerner Hall replaced Booth in 1999. In the new student center, CUSFS was shoehorned into a shared room with the Philolexian Society and could not house all its volumes, approximately 75 percent of which were consigned to storage. Attempts to donate some of the excess volumes to Butler failed. “There was no interest,” says former CUSFS president Noah Fulmor ’99CC, “because they said they had rarer volumes that they had no room for.” After being stashed in various places on and near campus for years, the overage was sold and donated, with the last three thousand volumes going to the Housing Works Bookstore Cafe this summer. “

Any student library is going to have a problem because it will have turnover and will be run on the honor system — which often doesn’t work well,” says Lerner, who is an information scientist at the Vermont headquarters of the National Center for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. “My take is that a student science-fiction library shouldn’t seek to be a definitive collection but rather a recreational resource.”

Meanwhile, volumes on robots, aliens, and intergalactic space travel that might once have ended up with CUSFS continue to flow into Butler. Lerner has sent eighteen boxes so far, he says, with “much more to go.”

It was Karen Green, Columbia’s librarian for ancient and medieval history and religion, who laid the groundwork for Lerner’s haul. In 2005, Green parlayed her interest in comics into an additional role as Butler’s first graphic-novel librarian. The new collection signaled that the University was receptive to nonconventional literary genres and formats.

Green sees Butler’s role for science fiction primarily as one of preservation. Calling science fiction an ideal medium “in which to process society’s fears and anxieties,” she harks back to Ray Bradbury’s dystopian masterpiece Fahrenheit 451, in which books have been outlawed and citizens endlessly watch interactive floor-to-ceiling TVs.

“Many things Bradbury described are now part of the landscape,” she says. “As a librarian, I’m seeing less print and more electronic journals. But we’re doing what we can.”

Karen Green ’97GSAS has worked at Butler Library since 2002 as the ancient and medieval history and religion librarian. She created the Columbia graphic-novel collection in 2005 and since then has championed the use of comics in academic research and teaching.

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