How Healthy Is the Eaton Collection?

The estate of Jay Kay Klein has donated $3.5 million to the Eaton Collection of Science Fiction and Fantasy announced UC Riverside officials on August 28. It is the largest gift ever received by the UCR library and ranks among the top 25 donations campuswide.

Klein contributed his photo collection of 66,000 images of sf fandom and authors to the Eaton Collection prior to his death in 2012. The photo collection was valued at $1.4 million.

Two Eaton archivists studying a Klein shipment.

Two Eaton archivists studying photos in a shipment from Jay Kay Klein. Photo by John Hertz.

These gifts are credited to the relationship he established with Melissa Conway, the library’s special collections director.

A cash donation of such magnitude might have appeared one more step in the triumphal march of the Eaton Collection’s development were it not just three weeks ago that Nalo Hopkinson, sf writer and teacher of creative writing at UC Riverside, fired off this SOS:

I’m sad to have to report that new library administration doesn’t seem to appreciate the value of the Eaton Collection or the expertise that goes into it. Since spring of this year, their accomplishments have included driving out staff members and pushing changes to collection policies that would reduce the Eaton’s holdings, its value to researchers and as a repository of our community’s history, and its standing as a world-class archive. Meetings with the staff of the Eaton have been productive, collegial gatherings. Meetings to negotiate with the new library administration, not so much. It’s putting the faculty of the research cluster in the alarming position of having to protect the very collection we’re charged with fostering. We’re dealing with the new library admins’ efforts to split up the collection and change priorities for what to collect (eg, e-text over print) without consulting scholars in the field, and with what we’d characterize as harassment of staff, who’ve demonstrated extreme competence over the years.

But Hopkinson followed that warning with this provisional good news just one week later:

We three profs in the science fiction research cluster at UCR met with Dr. Stephen Cullenberg, the Dean of Humanities. He’s the person who had the vision a few years ago to create a faculty research cluster to promote the Eaton. (I should be clear that the profs in the research cluster are not employees of the Eaton. Drs. Vint and Latham are in the English Department and I — not a Dr — am in Creative Writing.) Dr. Cullenberg told us that he’s had a message from the new UCR library administrators. They’re beginning to work on a few proposals aimed at addressing our concerns about the way they’re managing the collection. There will be negotiations and resolutions mediated through a committee that will provide a trackable log of the decisions and actions upon which we’ve all agreed. Of course, this is all a couple of theoretical birds in the bush. The time for rejoicing is when you have actual birds in hand. For, me, this isn’t so much cautious optimism as it is “wait and see.”

She also reports that Eaton’s Dr. Rob Latham wrote on Facebook:

“At this meeting we were apprised of recent, potentially positive news emanating from the library dean involving plans to establish a “focused Eaton unit” with two full-time staff positions. There has also been movement toward creating an advisory body composed of faculty and administrators from both our college and the library whose charge would be to oversee the Eaton. We are cautiously optimistic about these initiatives and hope that they will lead to an enhancement, rather than a diminishment, of the value of the Collection.

Hopkinson and Latham wrote their comments before Klein’s bequest was announced. One can only speculate whether it helped thaw the attitudes they’ve been contending against.

[Thanks to Michael Walsh for the story.]

4 thoughts on “How Healthy Is the Eaton Collection?

  1. I am curious if that is a valuation of his negatives and other materials, or a cash contribution.

  2. JOSHUA: Yes, you’re right.
    Of course we all knew of JK’s donation a year ago; just didn’t mention it in public.
    But I do wonder if the new University Librarian, whom I met with Dave Hartwell, is really being honest in this. I suspect he has an agenda hostile to sf, but am willing to learn otherwise.
    He seems to be targeting some members of the Eaton staff, which does not bode well.
    Of course the Eaton is unique. But the new regulations the new University Librarian has imposed on research methods, donations, etc do not promise.

  3. Joshua: As it says in the post, this was a “cash donation.”

    Gregory: Since everyone knew about it a year ago there is no basis for me to speculate that attitude changes hinted in Hopkinson’s follow-up post are related to the announcement about the money.

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