Contact: Wendel Sloan at 505.562.2253
PORTALES—A couple from Silver City, N.M., has donated more than 15,000 volumes of science fiction books and magazines to the Jack Williamson Science Fiction Library at Eastern New Mexico University in Portales. The library is named after Jack Williamson, 98-year-old renowned science fiction pioneer and retired ENMU emeritus professor of English.
According to Noelle Bartl, director of the ENMU Foundation, R. Duane and Kathryn Elms drove a U-Haul from Silver City, N.M., packed with works he has been collecting for 50 years.
"It is an incredible gift for our library," said Bartl. "The gift should move our sci-fi collection from 4th in North America to 2nd."
Melveta Walker, director of ENMU's Golden Library, believes that the collection could be worth up to $150,000. The gift includes one-of-kinds, first editions, signed editions, and thousands of collectable publications.
R. Duane Elms, the director of information technology at Western New Mexico University, said that he was born and raised in Clovis, and that his mother, Edna Elms, received her master's degree at ENMU.
"Eastern is a part of my background, and we felt that our collection was substantial enough to be worth preserving. None of our potential heirs had the interest to carry on the collection," said Elms. "Eastern has the Williamson Library, a preserving library focused on science fiction. The Williamson Library is an active library, not just a repository.
"After reviewing our options, including Bowling Green State University and the University of Toronto, we felt that our collection could make the most impact at ENMU as part of the Williamson Library."
The former race car driver and long-time employee of General Electric added humorously, "We can also use the space in our house."
Elms said his collection started in 1959, although at the time he didn't realize that he was collecting. "There was always something about books that fascinated me to the extent that once I got a book I never let it go. Since I had become interested in science fiction and had discovered how to get good used books for a dime each, the science fiction books began to pile up. After I got out of college I finally accepted that I was 'hooked' and began to pay more attention to what had by then become many hundreds of books."
In 1986 Elms purchased a collection from a fellow collector who was getting married and needed the money. This collection contained about 3,800 volumes of old science fiction magazines and pulps, including Vol. 1 No. 1 of "Amazing Stories," the very first true science fiction magazine ever published (April 1926).
Some of the collection that Elms finds especially noteworthy include: Amazing Stories number 1; the first Street and Smith Astounding; E.E. 'Doc' Smith's first appearance in Astounding; several Weird magazines with Margret Brundage covers; The Uplift War by David Brin; Earth by David Brin; The Vorkosigan series by Lois Bujold; and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein.
Gene Bundy, Special Collections LIbrarian at ENMU, says, "Duane is a real collector. He has gathered all of the Ace double books. He gave us many, many limited edition books - true collector items. He has full runs of four science fiction magazines. There are complete sets of two small press runs.
"This collection adds lots of items that won't be available in more than one or two other libraries, if at all. Any book collector would be amazed at the depth of this collection. It is a really remarkable gift."
Elms says that he wanted to make sure his collection was preserved and made available others because of the insight that science fiction offers society.
"Science fiction is an unceasingly optimistic genre in that even the most depressing vision of the future assumes that the human race has somehow survived. Today, that is by no means a given, not so much because of the potential of nuclear holocaust, but because the universe is a dangerous place and we're not very good at looking after our long-term interests. For that matter, the toys the universe plays with are so big that right now it's not possible for us to have much of an impact on anything the universe cares to throw at us.
"Science fiction also allows us to explore the consequences - and sometimes unintended consequences - of choices without actually having to risk more than prudence would allow. It provides cautionary tales, models of things to avoid, and incentives to learn cooperation and tolerance."
Pictured above: Small Boxes, Huge Donation—R. Duane and Kathryn Elms of Silver City, N.M., recently donated more than 15,000 volumes of science fiction books and magazines to the ENMU's Jack Williamson Science Fiction Library. (photo by ENMU)