Storied sci-fi library lost without a space at UMass

  • Eli Nauda, the head librarian of the UMass Science Fiction Society, stands in a room in Bartlett Hall where all the club’s books are now being temporarily stored. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • The shelving in the old UMass Science Fiction Society space that held all the books in their library. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Eli Nauda stands with the shelving in the old UMass Science Fiction Society space that held all the books in their library. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Students play games in the former space that held the collection of the UMass Science Fiction Society library. SUBMITTED PHOTO

  • The former space that held the collection of the UMass Science Fiction Society library. SUBMITTED PHOTO

  • The former space that held the collection of the UMass Science Fiction Society library. SUBMITTED PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 6/25/2021 7:43:14 PM

AMHERST — A vast library of science fiction books and other materials available to students, alumni, and the public has been part of the University of Massachusetts campus since 1964, but was recently given the heave-ho from its longtime space.

Whether the UMass Science Fiction Society will be able to continue to run its library, offering what is believed to be the second-largest such collection of science-fiction books at a New England college campus, and remain intact as an organization, is in question after the club was forced out of the university’s Campus Center basement.

“If this goes on we may cease to exist as a club,” says Eli Nauda, a UMass senior and the club’s head librarian, adding that morale has already suffered among club members during the extended pandemic lockdown. “Without the library, we can’t do things. The club needs real building space.”

For the past decade or so, the club has operated from a windowless room tucked away behind the former studio for WMUA and the previous offices of the Daily Collegian. Both the radio station and newspaper have since moved to the renovated Student Union. Signs in a staircase at the Campus Center continue to direct visitors to the Science Fiction Society’s space which, besides the now empty bookshelves, has a couch for reading, tables and chairs for playing games, filing cabinets and an old arcade game.

Nauda and Elodie Carel, treasurer for the society, argue that they were caught off guard by what they claim is the university’s new policy, affecting the 350 or so student clubs, that no longer allows them to have permanent on-campus space.

“This new policy effectively denies the public access to the second-largest science fiction library in New England,” Carel said. With 9,200 items, including novels, short stories, comic books, videos and board games, the UMass collection is only exceeded by the more than 67,000 volumes held by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s club.

UMass spokesman Edward Blaguszewski said this policy is not one created by the university, but rather was developed by the Student Government Association in advance of the $62 million renovation of the Student Union building, and affects all registered student organizations, or RSOs.

Unlike SGA agencies, which are defined as serving all students, RSOs do not get dedicated space. SGA agencies include the Student Legal Services Office and the Student Union Art Gallery, as well as the radio station and the newspaper.

But Blaguszewski said RSOs are not left out in the cold.

“There are 33 different meeting rooms in the building that are open to all RSOs, along with 500 storage lockers that RSOs may use to store any items or equipment specific to their organization,” Blaguszewski said of the renovated Student Union.

He added that UMass officials want to help the science fiction club with its transition and making sure materials are stored and archived successfully. “We want to be supportive of every student organization as much as we can be,” Blaguszewski said.

Blaguszewski added that two years ago the science fiction club was informed that space needed to be reclaimed for administrative offices for Auxiliary Services, which was losing its own space at the Worcester Dining Commons.

Other clubs have had different arrangements. The Outing Club, for instance, uses the old photography lab to store its equipment, while alumni and private donors are believed to provide space for other clubs off campus, Blaguszewski said.

Over four days earlier this month, dozens of boxes were packed with the science fiction club’s books and UMass facilities moved them to a lower-level room at Bartlett Hall. The club won’t be able to run a lending library from that spot, though, and not being climate controlled it is not suitable for long-term storage, meaning books could be damaged, Nauda said.

The collection was built up over time by donations from students, alumni and community members, with student volunteers caring for the numerous valuable and rare materials, including first editions, such as “Survivor” by Octavia Butler, and signed posters from writers such as Ray Bradbury.

“There are some comic books that are delicate and out of print,” Nauda said.

The Game Hobbyists’ League and the Anime and Manga Club are also affected by the move. Both clubs share the library, with the Game Hobbyists’ League having 242 items in its collection and the Anime and Manga Club having 1,026 items, including Manga volumes and Anime DVDs.

Jackson Callaghan, former president of the Anime and Manga Club, said that the pandemic has forced the libraries to close, but in normal times the clubs work together.

“Our clubs typically cooperate to provide as much access as possible between our two libraries to anyone interested,” Callaghan said.

The Student Union’s storage lockers could be used on occasion for the library, but Nauda said he has trouble envisioning how this will work. “It would be more accessible than this is, and on a smaller scale,” Nauda said, pointing to the stacked boxes in Bartlett. “They’d still be in boxes, not shelves.”

Callaghan said the clubs can’t build a community from a locker, as they had in the Campus Center space.

“Those moments of a wayward student checking out this library they’ve never seen and joining a club where they make lifelong friends couldn’t happen,” Callaghan said. “That’s not even to mention that you really can’t browse a library that exists in a locker.”

To counter the change, the club has launched a petition at http://tinyurl.com/SaveSciFiLibrary to preserve the library, and has dedicated its Facebook page to the cause, encouraging letters to be sent to Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy.

“The library has been an important part of the university community and has served as an inclusive space for students from marginalized groups who have been talked over or dismissed by other student organizations,” a Facebook post reads, citing its openly promoting LGBTQ+ acceptance much earlier than the university did, and allowing freshmen women in the 1960s to circumvent an 8 p.m. campus curfew.

The library has famous supporters who have used its books in the past, including Hugo Award-Winning authors Jane Yolen and Suzanne Palmer.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.
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