Academic journal article Reference & User Services Quarterly

Arcane Magic: Hal Hall and the Creation and Transformation of Science Fiction Indexing

Academic journal article Reference & User Services Quarterly

Arcane Magic: Hal Hall and the Creation and Transformation of Science Fiction Indexing

Article excerpt

Scholarship in Science Fiction Studies has expanded greatly in recent decades. As a field of study, it has been extant in one form or another since the 1940s, with the first peer-reviewed journal, Extrapolation, regularly published since 1959. In the past sixty years, several other field-specific journals, including Science Fiction Studies and Foundation: The International Review of Science Fiction, have also provided a forum for scholarly discourse. Perhaps most importantly, scholarship in the area has begun to appear in a variety of non-field-specific serials, including titles such as The Journal of Popular Culture as well as the less intuitively linked Teaching of Psychology and Journal of Marriage and the Family. For the comprehensive researcher, this variety of sources can prove problematic when accessing traditional databases or reference indexes whose contents are focused on a more general or discipline-specific area of study, such as the humanities or the social sciences. Thus, we see the need for a consistent and reliable resource to assist both librarians and their patrons in locating suitable material.

Launched in 2000, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Research Database (SFFRD) (, available online through Texas A&M's Cushing Memorial Library & Archives, is the only resource of its kind. It is a digital index of critical articles, book reviews, and nonfiction items and resources within the field of Science Fiction Studies. Further, it is an open access project, provided and maintained by Texas A&M University, and thus open to any scholar with an Internet connection and a desire for critical Science Fiction (SF) citations. The database has its roots in indexing work begun by Halbert (Hal) W Hall in 1967, described by one reviewer as "the Early Paleomoskowitz era of SF criticism." (1) This article will discuss the history and ongoing transformation of the database, examining its relationship to open access resources and science fiction scholarship.


   Back in 1967 or thereabouts I was on the reference desk
   at Sam Houston University and a kid came up to the desk
   saying he had to read this book by Asimov for a class and
   he wanted a book review. So we went to the Readers' Guide
   and there were no book reviews for Asimov in there! Well, I
   remembered that I'd read something in an issue of Analog
   so that night I went home and found it for him. And that
   was why I did a test index. (2)

The genesis story of the SFFRD centers on a librarian and a student's question. The librarian was Halbert W Hall; the student's name is unknown. The initial reference question, seemingly simple--"How can I find book reviews on works by Isaac Asimov?"--proved to have a profound afterlife. As Hall found, there were then no distinct reference sources available to either directly provide a citation or to identify further sources to do so. The short-term solution for the question was relatively simple; Hall went home and located a book review from his personal collection of literature. The long-term solution involved more planning and research.

Was there a true desire among patrons and potential researchers for a resource of this type? During the late 1960s, science fiction criticism at the academic scholarly level was still a new area of inquiry. The number of full-length studies and monographs was comparatively small; there were not yet academic publishers with a dedicated line of production devoted to this audience. Further, Science Fiction Studies programs were either just being instituted (James Gunn's programs of study at the University of Kansas began in 1970, with the Center for the Study of Science Fiction formally instituted in 1982) or had not yet been founded (The Eaton Conference at the University of California, Riverside, was launched in 1979). The first cohort of dedicated science fiction scholars was still surfacing. …

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