Toronto's Merril Collection has a new librarian in charge

News Aug 07, 2017 by David Nickle City Centre Mirror

Sephora Hosein grew up the daughter of a film projectionist and she credits her father with beginning her lifelong interest in science fiction and fantasy.

“I’m just a lifelong fan,” says Hosein in her office at the Lillian H. Smith Branch of the Toronto Public Library on College Street. “I’m just a lifelong fan. I grew up reading it, grew up watching it. My dad was a projectionist so I grew up watching films. I saw E.T. nine times in the theatre. It was a very strange childhood.”

Hosein is six weeks into what can only be a dream job for her – that of the new collection head of the Merril Collection of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Speculation. She is the first new head of the 47-year-old collection in more than three decades.

The Merril collection is one of, if not the, largest public research collection of its kind in North America, with more than 72,000 items of science fiction, fantasy and speculative fiction. It was founded in 1970 as the Spaced Out Library, when American science fiction writer and editor Judith Merril left the U.S. for Toronto as a conscientious objector against the Vietnam War.

Merril donated her personal collection of science fiction to the Toronto Public Library, and established an endowment to help the library start work on an ambitious plan: to acquire and archive one copy of every speculative book published in the English language.

Hosein has taken the reins from longtime collection head Lorna Toolis, herself having moved from managing another formidable research collection — Toronto Public Library’s Canadiana Collection at the Toronto Reference Library.

“It’s an extremely unique kind of collection in general in a public library setting, to be publicly available, to encourage the level of access that we do — that’s the one thing,” says Hosein. “Then on a grander scale, I’m told that the Merril is a premier collection among the world’s premier collections. I think that’s fabulous for Toronto, for the academics here and the people who travel here to look at what maybe others don’t have. And speculative fiction has become so much more a part of the fabric of popular culture, so much more mainstream, so much more acceptable.”

The collection on the third floor of the Lillian H. Smith branch has hardly been hidden away — over the years it’s played host to readings from popular science fiction and fantasy writers like Cory Doctorow,  Neil Gaiman and Robert J. Sawyer, and it’s served as a focal point for Toronto’s growing community in the genre.

But Hosein wants to take the promotion of the collection to another level, reaching out through social media and programming for people who maybe love science fiction and fantasy, but never dove deep into fandom.

“I want people to associate us with somewhere to go, somewhere to investigate, somewhere to take their kids,” says Hosein. “I don’t know that we’ve opened up to a lot of younger audiences. Maybe our material isn’t associated for that age group, but there is some. And the younger people are the ones we want to be our future users.”

Hosein also wants to let the public know that it’s not just books at the Merril. The library has also amassed a very complete collection of role-playing games and tabletop games.

“We are investigating doing programming with that,” she says. “If you’ve never played Dungeons and Dragons, why not come try? If you’ve just watched Big Bang Theory on TV and said, ‘oh that’s what Sheldon and his friends play …’ It might spark some interest, or respark some interest if they’ve done it as children and left it off.”

For Hosein, the job itself represents a massive rediscovery. Much of the collection is locked away in climate-controlled stacks, and as she walks through those stacks, “I joke that I’m going to get a neck injury,” she says. “Almost every time I walk through the stacks I’ll see something out of the corner of my eye – some piece of art that we own. Dune (the classic science fiction novel by Frank Herbert) is my favourite of all time, and we have all the different covers … The fact that we have an original, first-edition copy of Dracula.”

Sadly, only library staff can walk through the stacks themselves – the older pieces in the collection are too fragile for casual handling. But researchers and academics who know what to ask for from the knowledgeable staff there are rarely disappointed. And for those who don’t know what to ask for? Hosein is hoping  they’ll come in to learn.

“The people who know about us or need to use our collection for research, they know where to find us,” says Hosein. “It’s the people who don’t know. These are the people we want to reach out to.”

Toronto's Merril Collection has a new librarian in charge

Sephora Hosein wants to bring the Big Bang Theory generation to the library

News Aug 07, 2017 by David Nickle City Centre Mirror

Sephora Hosein grew up the daughter of a film projectionist and she credits her father with beginning her lifelong interest in science fiction and fantasy.

“I’m just a lifelong fan,” says Hosein in her office at the Lillian H. Smith Branch of the Toronto Public Library on College Street. “I’m just a lifelong fan. I grew up reading it, grew up watching it. My dad was a projectionist so I grew up watching films. I saw E.T. nine times in the theatre. It was a very strange childhood.”

Hosein is six weeks into what can only be a dream job for her – that of the new collection head of the Merril Collection of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Speculation. She is the first new head of the 47-year-old collection in more than three decades.

The Merril collection is one of, if not the, largest public research collection of its kind in North America, with more than 72,000 items of science fiction, fantasy and speculative fiction. It was founded in 1970 as the Spaced Out Library, when American science fiction writer and editor Judith Merril left the U.S. for Toronto as a conscientious objector against the Vietnam War.

Merril donated her personal collection of science fiction to the Toronto Public Library, and established an endowment to help the library start work on an ambitious plan: to acquire and archive one copy of every speculative book published in the English language.

Hosein has taken the reins from longtime collection head Lorna Toolis, herself having moved from managing another formidable research collection — Toronto Public Library’s Canadiana Collection at the Toronto Reference Library.

“It’s an extremely unique kind of collection in general in a public library setting, to be publicly available, to encourage the level of access that we do — that’s the one thing,” says Hosein. “Then on a grander scale, I’m told that the Merril is a premier collection among the world’s premier collections. I think that’s fabulous for Toronto, for the academics here and the people who travel here to look at what maybe others don’t have. And speculative fiction has become so much more a part of the fabric of popular culture, so much more mainstream, so much more acceptable.”

The collection on the third floor of the Lillian H. Smith branch has hardly been hidden away — over the years it’s played host to readings from popular science fiction and fantasy writers like Cory Doctorow,  Neil Gaiman and Robert J. Sawyer, and it’s served as a focal point for Toronto’s growing community in the genre.

But Hosein wants to take the promotion of the collection to another level, reaching out through social media and programming for people who maybe love science fiction and fantasy, but never dove deep into fandom.

“I want people to associate us with somewhere to go, somewhere to investigate, somewhere to take their kids,” says Hosein. “I don’t know that we’ve opened up to a lot of younger audiences. Maybe our material isn’t associated for that age group, but there is some. And the younger people are the ones we want to be our future users.”

Hosein also wants to let the public know that it’s not just books at the Merril. The library has also amassed a very complete collection of role-playing games and tabletop games.

“We are investigating doing programming with that,” she says. “If you’ve never played Dungeons and Dragons, why not come try? If you’ve just watched Big Bang Theory on TV and said, ‘oh that’s what Sheldon and his friends play …’ It might spark some interest, or respark some interest if they’ve done it as children and left it off.”

For Hosein, the job itself represents a massive rediscovery. Much of the collection is locked away in climate-controlled stacks, and as she walks through those stacks, “I joke that I’m going to get a neck injury,” she says. “Almost every time I walk through the stacks I’ll see something out of the corner of my eye – some piece of art that we own. Dune (the classic science fiction novel by Frank Herbert) is my favourite of all time, and we have all the different covers … The fact that we have an original, first-edition copy of Dracula.”

Sadly, only library staff can walk through the stacks themselves – the older pieces in the collection are too fragile for casual handling. But researchers and academics who know what to ask for from the knowledgeable staff there are rarely disappointed. And for those who don’t know what to ask for? Hosein is hoping  they’ll come in to learn.

“The people who know about us or need to use our collection for research, they know where to find us,” says Hosein. “It’s the people who don’t know. These are the people we want to reach out to.”

Toronto's Merril Collection has a new librarian in charge

Sephora Hosein wants to bring the Big Bang Theory generation to the library

News Aug 07, 2017 by David Nickle City Centre Mirror

Sephora Hosein grew up the daughter of a film projectionist and she credits her father with beginning her lifelong interest in science fiction and fantasy.

“I’m just a lifelong fan,” says Hosein in her office at the Lillian H. Smith Branch of the Toronto Public Library on College Street. “I’m just a lifelong fan. I grew up reading it, grew up watching it. My dad was a projectionist so I grew up watching films. I saw E.T. nine times in the theatre. It was a very strange childhood.”

Hosein is six weeks into what can only be a dream job for her – that of the new collection head of the Merril Collection of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Speculation. She is the first new head of the 47-year-old collection in more than three decades.

The Merril collection is one of, if not the, largest public research collection of its kind in North America, with more than 72,000 items of science fiction, fantasy and speculative fiction. It was founded in 1970 as the Spaced Out Library, when American science fiction writer and editor Judith Merril left the U.S. for Toronto as a conscientious objector against the Vietnam War.

Merril donated her personal collection of science fiction to the Toronto Public Library, and established an endowment to help the library start work on an ambitious plan: to acquire and archive one copy of every speculative book published in the English language.

Hosein has taken the reins from longtime collection head Lorna Toolis, herself having moved from managing another formidable research collection — Toronto Public Library’s Canadiana Collection at the Toronto Reference Library.

“It’s an extremely unique kind of collection in general in a public library setting, to be publicly available, to encourage the level of access that we do — that’s the one thing,” says Hosein. “Then on a grander scale, I’m told that the Merril is a premier collection among the world’s premier collections. I think that’s fabulous for Toronto, for the academics here and the people who travel here to look at what maybe others don’t have. And speculative fiction has become so much more a part of the fabric of popular culture, so much more mainstream, so much more acceptable.”

The collection on the third floor of the Lillian H. Smith branch has hardly been hidden away — over the years it’s played host to readings from popular science fiction and fantasy writers like Cory Doctorow,  Neil Gaiman and Robert J. Sawyer, and it’s served as a focal point for Toronto’s growing community in the genre.

But Hosein wants to take the promotion of the collection to another level, reaching out through social media and programming for people who maybe love science fiction and fantasy, but never dove deep into fandom.

“I want people to associate us with somewhere to go, somewhere to investigate, somewhere to take their kids,” says Hosein. “I don’t know that we’ve opened up to a lot of younger audiences. Maybe our material isn’t associated for that age group, but there is some. And the younger people are the ones we want to be our future users.”

Hosein also wants to let the public know that it’s not just books at the Merril. The library has also amassed a very complete collection of role-playing games and tabletop games.

“We are investigating doing programming with that,” she says. “If you’ve never played Dungeons and Dragons, why not come try? If you’ve just watched Big Bang Theory on TV and said, ‘oh that’s what Sheldon and his friends play …’ It might spark some interest, or respark some interest if they’ve done it as children and left it off.”

For Hosein, the job itself represents a massive rediscovery. Much of the collection is locked away in climate-controlled stacks, and as she walks through those stacks, “I joke that I’m going to get a neck injury,” she says. “Almost every time I walk through the stacks I’ll see something out of the corner of my eye – some piece of art that we own. Dune (the classic science fiction novel by Frank Herbert) is my favourite of all time, and we have all the different covers … The fact that we have an original, first-edition copy of Dracula.”

Sadly, only library staff can walk through the stacks themselves – the older pieces in the collection are too fragile for casual handling. But researchers and academics who know what to ask for from the knowledgeable staff there are rarely disappointed. And for those who don’t know what to ask for? Hosein is hoping  they’ll come in to learn.

“The people who know about us or need to use our collection for research, they know where to find us,” says Hosein. “It’s the people who don’t know. These are the people we want to reach out to.”