Core Science Fiction Collection 1975-1995

A 1996 paper on picking science fiction for a small public library

(The final recommendation list is at


My hypothetical library is based on the one I used to use in high school. It is one of the smaller public libraries in Pinellas County. It serves a small incorporated area between St. Petersburg and Largo. The library recently was moved into a new building, considerably larger than the old one, and because of the increased space and new funds coming from the Pinellas County Library Cooperative, the collection can be expanded greatly.

Circulation records indicate that most of the adult circulation is fiction. In the years of smaller budgets, most of the fiction bought has been mainstream bestsellers, with mysteries and westerns as the major genre fiction purchased. The library had a subscription to the Science Fiction Book Club at one time, but it appears to have been given up in the mid-seventies, judging by the publication dates of the books on the science fiction shelves.

Except for a few donations, the library's collection in this genre is very outdated, and some patrons have complained. With more space and more money, the library has now decided to update this part of the collection, adding new titles published primarily in the past twenty years, and subscribing to periodicals that publish short fiction in the genre. The videotape collection is also being expanded as the library gains space, and an effort is being made to add science fiction titles to the video collection.


Since the purpose of the science fiction periodicals for this collection is as entertainment material rather than research, the first criterion for the serials being selected is that they be oriented toward those who read the genre for pleasure, rather than critical study of the genre. Ulrich's International Periodicals Directory lists several dozen magazines of varying circulations oriented toward the science fiction reader. Only four are indexed in any kind of short story index: Analog Science Fiction/Science Fact, Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine, Interzone, and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.

Katz and Katz's Magazines for Librarieslists as the basic periodicals in the science fiction genre Analog, Asimov's, Locus: the Newspaper of the SF Field, Fantasy and Science Fiction, and SFWA Bulletin. Locus and SFWA Bulletin are not fiction magazines; Locus, as its subtitle suggests, prints news of the events in the science fiction and fantasy world, and SFWA Bulletinis the newsletter of the Science Fiction Writers Association and is oriented toward those who write science fiction rather than those who read it.

Neil Barron's Anatomy of Wonder lists as core collection serials Analog, Asimov's, Locus, Fantasy and Science Fiction, Cinefantastique, Extrapolation, Foundation, and Science Fiction Studies. The last three are academically oriented critical journals and therefore outside the scope of the entertainment reading collection being developed here. Cinefantastique, according to its annotations in this and other reference books, is concerned with fantastic films, but caters toward horror viewers and special effects fans more than general science fiction on film, and so is also outside the scope of this part of the collection.

So the only recent reference sources I found agreed on three fiction magazines (Analog, Asimov's and Fantasy and Science Fiction ) and one other science fiction periodical (Locus). Though it does not print fiction, Locus seemed like a good choice for a science fiction collection, as it keeps readers up to date on what their favorite authors will be publishing, what is going on in the interesting field of science fiction fan conventions, and (most importantly) prints some of the most detailed book reviews in the genre, which could be a great service to both science fiction readers and collection development librarians.

Also listed in Ulrich's, though not considered as a magazine in any listing I saw, are the Science Fiction Writers' Association's annual anthology of the nominees and winners of the Nebula Award, voted on by members of SFWA for the best science fiction each year. Previous Nebula award winner volumes were listed in nearly every reference source for book choice that I came across; the library should put in an order for the next one.
These five items only total $172.65 at current subscription prices, probably less with the discount given by the serials vendor. This is not enough to expend the $500.00 allotted for periodicals. Yet the choices cover the most recommended titles in the field, and there seems to be no purpose in buying lesser titles unless, after seeing how much use the major titles get, there still seems to be a demand for magazine science fiction. The $327.35 remaining can be better spent on back issues of some of these titles, if they are popular with readers, or on books from the period in which the library bought almost nothing in the genre.


Science fiction is a field where any individual book is often available only in limited qualities. The 1981 edition of the science fiction reference book Anatomy of Wonder actually recommends to librarians in its "Selection, Acquisition and Cataloging" section that if they want hardcover science fiction for the library, they should join the Science Fiction Book Club, because often the SFBC puts out the only hardcover editions available of science fiction books. The later edition of the book no longer includes this recommendation, but the problem still exists; for example, Lois McMaster Bujold, author of four books which have won the Hugo and/or Nebula awards, the highest awards given by fans or writers in the field, did not appear in Fiction Catalog or its supplements at all, most likely because only the latest one of those four books came out in any trade cloth version. I have given books available in cloth a slight priority over paperbacks when a hardback and a paperback were recommended by an equal number of sources, but otherwise considered the works only on the recommendations given about the content.
The sources used to make a preliminary list of books were: Each book that was recommended in more than one of these works made the preliminary list. The variety of the sources seems to balance popular work with critically acclaimed science fiction, and the choices of readers outside the field with those more familiar with it.

Then I used Books In Print (the electronic version available through LUIS in the USF library) to determine by searching by title which of the books on the list were still in print, and in what type of book each was available. About a third of this list of the science fiction classics of the last twenty years was eliminated through being out of print.

Then I prioritized the remaining books by the number of sources which recommended them, and whether they were available in cloth or paperback. Then I took the $500 allotted for books and the money leftover from the periodical allotment, and added up the prices of the books in priority order. Therefore, the first books to be "bought" were those recommended by six sources and available in hardback, then those found in six sources but only available in paper, and so forth down to books recommended by three sources, after which the budget was depleted. The total for books was $825.27. The discount received form buying through a jobber would decrease this amount, but the library would probably want to bind some of the numerous paperbacks, so the money saved through discounts would probably be spent on binding.


Determining what constitutes a science fiction movie is a difficult job. Some guides place A Clockwork Orange and On the Beach as science fiction movies, others do not. The World Science Fiction convention routinely awards the Hugo for Best Dramatic Presentation to movies such as The Princess Bride or Raiders of the Lost Ark which don't really fit any definition of science fiction. Nonetheless, I used the list of movie which have received this award as an outline of what science fiction fans must like, since they are voting for these movies for the award, while eliminating obvious non-science fiction titles.

In addition to the Hugo Winners list, the sources used were:

Each of these sources identified movies by genre in its index. The movies which made the cut appeared in at least two of the books, and all but five won the Hugo. The one's that didn't have that award appeared in all three sourcebooks or got the highest possible rating in two. Hopefully the library will in future be able to flesh out its collection with more titles, but the included ones seemed to constitute a good core collection for science fiction on film. Their total came to $509.01, but the extra $9.01 would be covered by money not used for the other two categories because of discounts.

The library will probably have to order these films directly from the distributor, but that is the best assurance of receiving the low prices listed in the VideoHound Golden Retriever. The total amount spent on all three categories, out of a budget of $1500.00, was $1506.93. The extra seven dollars can probably be scraped up form somewhere in the library budget.

Works Cited

Back to the Recommended Science Fiction List


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