Science Fiction Library

Bianca Darby-Matteoda peruses a book in the lending portion of The Clute Science Fiction Library at Ghost Town Grocer. Local residents are allowed to check out books through an honor system. (Photo by Jessica Kutz/Telluride Daily Planet)


Telluride is known as a place where ideas and resources converge and take root, adding to the intellectual wealth of the community. 

This year, the town will become a conduit for a new cultural resource through the acquisition of the Clute Science Fiction Library. 

The library, a program of the Telluride Institute, contains over 11,000 volumes, many of them first editions. It is located on Colorado Avenue next to Ghost Town Grocer. 

The Clute Science Fiction Library is intended to be a place of excellence for scholars, writers and researchers, according to Pamela Lifton-Zoline, vice president and founding trustee of the Telluride Institute, a nonprofit that works to enrich “the health of environments, cultures, and economies,” according to the organization’s website.

The volumes were a private collection belonging to John Clute, an award-winning author, essayist and editor of “The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction.” Clute contributed over 2 million words and thousands of entries to the encyclopedia. 

Clute, who resides in England, has been a trustee of the Telluride Institute since its inception in 1985 — but he has been friends with Lifton-Zoline since high school, where she remembers meeting him in their French class. 

“He came into this French class and he was just so exotic, (being) from Canada. We became really good friends,” Lifton-Zoline said. “(The library) is a work of friendship as much as it is a work of ownership.”

She added, “He has promised to bless the library with his visits, his presence, his connections and his whole community of wonderful writers.”  

Clute has visited Telluride more times than he can count. He will return again in June 2017, this time to give an inaugural lecture at the Sheridan Opera House entitled: “Those Who Do Not Know Science Fiction are Condemned to Repeat it.”

Both Lifton-Zoline and Clute think of science fiction as a way to study the world, and as an intellectual undertaking, something they are passionate about bringing to Telluride. 

“I think that science fiction started out as a genre of fiction. I think we are very proud of that. It’s a very muscular beginning,” Lifton-Zoline said.

But over time it has evolved as a means to influence popular thinking, she said. 

“The strange and wonderful rush to purchase copies of ‘1984’ (by George Orwell) after this election is an immediate example. Science fiction is the only genre of literature large enough to reflect back to us our present situation,” she said. 

Clute, whose interest in science fiction started when he was young, said the genre “captured my spirit. Science fiction was a secret message to the planet that I thought I was listening to, and I think I’m right!” 

Clute thinks the term science fiction has become muddled and synonymous with “what many people think of as sci-fi, a lot of gear, a lot of adventure, cheap action and not too much thought. 

“It certainly doesn’t describe the genre over the years or the work that I’ve been doing over the years,” he said. “Science fiction is not simply entertainment, or simply advocacy, or a particularly high road to the stars. It is also that desperately important thing — a way of recognizing where we are now and where we are going.”

Lifton-Zoline said one reason for bringing the collection to Telluride is to cement a tangible literary culture in an otherwise digital world. 

“In a world of digital swash, making the fortification of the non-digital is building for the future in a particular way,” she said.

Clute echoed that sentiment.

“There is kind of a sense that at the present time, in the 21st century, it is a very good idea for us to be defiant about book culture as being essential to stories; essential to the context of stories,” he said. “A really good way to do that is to create a library of science fiction.”

Lifton-Zoline described the library as powerful. 

“It is a room, to my way of thinking — and other people have responded to it similarly — that when you enter it, you sense a kind of hum which is really wonderful,” she said.

Clute added: “The library is going to be a beehive, a hum that you can actually experience.”

Although the research library is open by appointment only, the lending library is public, and housed in Ghost Town Grocer. The lending library consists of over 2,000 science fiction books from a collection compiled by Roger Robinson, a research editor of “The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction.” 

The lending library operates on an honor system. Local residents simply leave their name, the title of the book they checked out and the date on a clipboard. Books are expected to find their way back to the shelves within a month. 

For more information about the library or to set up an appointment, contact librarian Joanna Spindler by email at

Other anticipated activities and events expected to take place as a result of the library’s presence include writers’ residencies, writing workshops and an annual “Mountain Colloquy,” which will gather science fiction’s best minds, according to a news release.