Thursday, December 20, 2007

Judith Merril and The Spaced Out Library

The Merril Collection of Science Fiction, Speculation and Fantasy at the Toronto Public Library is named for author Judith Merril. Donated in 1970, the collection was originally known as The Spaced Out Library and consisted of about 5,000 items from Merril’s personal collection. Renamed in the early 1990's, the Merril Collection has grown to about 60,000 items, including books, periodicals, and manuscripts. It is considered one of Canada’s premier collections of science fiction, speculation, and fantasy material.

Judith Merril recalled the origin and development of the collection in her Better to Have Loved: the Life of Judith Merril (2002), a beautiful soft cover book which was completed by her granddaughter, Emily Pohl-Weary, after her death in 1997:
The first summer at Rochdale was the summer of the first moon landing. It was the perfect time to open up the first version of a science fiction library, which we called the Spaced Out Library. The Rochdale library was nothing more than a collection of books owned by people in the building who were prepared to lend them out knowing that they were going to lose some. The books weren’t actually donated to Rochdale. It was understood that they were to be temporary donations. I think I put in the largest number of books, but a lot of other people contributed. The Toronto Public Library System ... helped us establish the library by lending us display shelves and giving us information about how to catalogue publications. …

A year or so after the Spaced Out Library began at Rochdale College, maybe even less than that, the library was closed. Rochdale had run out of education money. There never was much, but the financial situation eventually became desperate. ... I was sharing a house with five or six other people. When I brought all my books home, my tiny room was completely filled with them. They were climbing the walls up to the ceiling all around me. I fell asleep at night waiting for the books to topple onto me. I figured I should sell them, but it seemed wrong to sell them off one by one, so I tried to find a place that would buy them as a collection. The offers I got were so ridiculously small compared to my estimation of the collection’s value that I didn’t even want to consider them.

Then Harry Campbell of the Toronto Public Library came along. He had heard I wanted to dispose of my collection, and suggested I give them to the library system so that they could start a special science fiction collection. It seemed the perfect solution. In 1970 the Spaced Out Library became an official part of the Toronto Public Library with my donation of some five thousand books and periodicals. In return Harry wrote into the deed of gift that I was to have office space in the collection for my entire life. Over the years this has surely added up to more value than I could ever possibly have gotten from selling them.
Judith Merril penned three Mars-related novels: Outpost Mars (1952), Gunner Cade (1952), and The Tomorrow People (1960). The first two were written with Cyril Kornbluth under the joint pseudonym Cyril Judd. Outpost Mars was featured in our blog post of November 17, 2007.

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