January 15th, 2004
CONTACT: Monte Maxwell, WVU Libraries 304-293-4040 ext. 4004
Science fiction writer Isaac Asimov used his books to explain the complicated world of science to readers around the globe. The West Virginia University Libraries are now using the Internet to share his works with the masses.
WVU Libraries recently launched an online exhibit celebrating their Isaac Asimov Collection.
The collection, donated last year by WVU alumnus Larry Shaver, contains works by Asimov, who has been called one of the greatest science fiction writers of the 20th century. Many critics, scientists, educators and readers praised Asimov for explaining complex scientific concepts in a clear, digestible way.
“We often think of rare library books as old books,” said Beth Toren, Web services librarian. “It is exciting to see something really different: a late 20th century science fiction collection, the complete works of one author, which include many first editions, autographed copies and great visuals. The sci-fi art lends itself to a graphic display, as do the hardcover editions with their book jackets intact.”
The online exhibit features digital images and descriptions of some of the more than 600 books, games, audio recordings, videos and wall charts included in the Libraries’ Asimov Collection.
Creating the exhibit required long hours. Toren relied on help from Alicia Myers, an art student and Web services assistant, who scanned and processed each image in the exhibit. Myers also photographed several posters, games and other items.
So far, the exhibit has attracted a fair amount of visitors, and those who signed the guest book reported that they found the Web site informative and entertaining.
Toren said now is an ideal time to spotlight Asimov because she expects a renewed interest in the writer to spark with the release of the upcoming movie “I Robot,” based on Asimov’s work.
“This is a great time to let people know about our Isaac Asimov Collection,” Toren said. “A new generation is about to learn a little more about him.”
That thought pleases Shaver, who spent about three decades building his collection.
“Putting them together, I’ve had the pleasure of reading every one,” Shaver said.
“But as the collection grew, it seemed such a waste to keep them on my shelf.”
The Fairmont native and 1974 WVU graduate developed an interest in Asimov when he spotted one of the author’s paperbacks in a Pittsburgh bookstore more than 30 years ago.
He quickly finished the book and began looking for more titles by Asimov. After reading 100 of Asimov’s books, Shaver set the goal of reading all 600 of his books.
Rather than trying to assemble a collection, Shaver simply intended to read the author’s books. He just held onto each book as a reminder that he had read it.
It was about 10 years ago that Shaver accomplished his first goal and set his next challenge as replacing the paperback with better editions.
Since then, first editions account for nearly 75 percent of the collection, and 20 of the first editions are signed. Shaver also got Asimov’s wife, Janet, to inscribe a first-edition of the late author’s autobiography, “It’s Been a Good Life,” to WVU.
There are also a few rare items, such as two college textbooks. The voluminous collection contains all but 25 titles on the most comprehensive lists of the writer’s work.
“Isaac Asimov was not only one of the most prolific authors of all time, but also one of the most diverse,” said John Cuthbert, special collections curator. “In addition to being one of the pillars of science fiction, he wrote often about history, religion, literature, theater, chemistry, physics, mathematics, humor – the list goes on and on. Thus, there is literally something for everyone in this marvelous collection.”
The prolific storyteller who propelled readers throughout the universe wrote from a foundation of science fact. He held a doctorate in chemistry and taught biochemistry at Boston University’s School of Medicine. His scientific research included work in kinetics, photochemistry, enzymology and irradiation.
Shaver, now an air traffic control instructor at the Federal Aviation Administration Academy in Oklahoma, credits Asimov for stirring his interest in academics. He said Asimov incorporated an easy-to-understand writing style in explaining fairly complicated topics, like the sciences.
“I didn’t know those things were so interesting. I thought they were things to be avoided,” Shaver said. “I think he earned the title of the Great Explainer. He explained it to me, and now he’ll explain it to other people.”
Visit the online exhibit at