In the front display case of the University of Iowa Main Library’s first floor gallery, the tribbles are slowly multiplying.
The small furry aliens are featured in “The Trouble with Tribbles,” a 1967 episode of “Star Trek,” where despite their fluffy cuteness, they quickly take over the ship by constantly doubling their numbers.
The UI Library’s tribbles are more benign — they’re the creation of library Special Collections outreach and instruction librarian Colleen Theisen, who along with students has been sewing the round balls of fur for the library’s exhibit, “50 Years of Star Trek.”
Along with the tribbles, which true to their storyline increase in the display case day by day, the exhibit features “Star Trek” memorabilia, including a pair of Spock ears worn by Leonard Nimoy on the set, an extensive collection of “Star Trek” art and literature created by fans, and papers from UI alumni Nicholas Meyer.
Meyer directed “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” and contributed to the shooting script for that film, wrote portions of the screenplay for “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home” and went on to direct “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country,” for which he also co-wrote the screenplay. He is also involved as a writer and producer for a new Star Trek television series set to debut on CBS in 2017.
The exhibit includes things like letters between Meyer and studio executives discussing the films, negatives from film sets Meyers worked on and storyboards he used to help develop plots.
“This stuff is unique. A lot of the fan stuff, you might be able to see other places, but not the Nicholas Meyer stuff,” said Peter Balestrieri, curator for science fiction and popular culture collections at the University Libraries.
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The gallery space, on the library’s first floor, is relatively new, the result of extensive remodeling to the library last year. This is the second exhibit in the space, and more are planned throughout the year, starting with a Shakespeare exhibit at the end of August.
Though the exhibit, on display through Aug. 5, is named in homage to the 50th anniversary of Star Trek’s debut on television in 1966, it is about much more than television and film, Balestrieri said.
“We decided we wanted to tell the same kind of story I am telling all the time, which is that science fiction is a literary genre,” he said.
Star Trek inspired deep devotion in fans, many of whom responded by creating their own stories and collecting them in fanzines. Created by fans, for fans, fanzines were usually published informally and distributed on a small scale via subscription or traded between fans at conventions and meetups. Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry had a robust relationship with his fans and he encouraged them to create such art.
“He loved the fans, and he gave the fans free reign,” Balestrieri said.
The fanzines and art in the exhibit are just the tip of the iceberg as far as the UI Library’s collection. Those interested in seeing more can come into the Special Collections department anytime, Balestrieri said.
Special Collections has some 10,000 fanzines, spanning eight decades of fan devotion to not just Star Trek but other series and works beginning in the 1930s. Collected by dedicated science fiction enthusiast James L. “Rusty” Hevelin, the works came to the UI in 2012 after Hevelin’s death in 2011.
The library is working to make them more accessible — each zine is being carefully photographed for a digital database. Volunteers will then transcribe, annotate and index the contents. The entire database won’t be available online due to copyright concerns, but the public will be able to search the annotated catalog to see what is available. They can then come into the library to read the materials in person, but instead of having to wade through 10,000 zines to find what they want, they can ask to see specific pieces.
“Fans come in from all over the world to spend two to three days reading fan-fic they can only read at Iowa, and graduate students come from all over the country,” Balestrieri said. “The goal is, we accumulate these things and make them available for research. It’s about connecting people to information.”
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Many notable science fiction writers got their start as fanzine contributors, he said, including Ray Bradbury, Robert Heinlein, Arthur C. Clark, Marion Zimmer Bradley and George R.R. Martin.
Balestrieri said he thinks fan art and literature is so popular because it allows people to engage with their favorite stories and characters on another level.
“People’s imaginations are really captured by science fiction and fantasy,” he said. “I think part of it is the idea that anything is possible. Fandom gives people an opportunity to be part of something they love.”
If you go
What: 50 Years of Star Trek exhibit
When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday, 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, through Aug. 5
Where: University of Iowa Main Library Gallery, 125 W. Washington St., Iowa City
Information: (319) 335-5922, lib.uiowa.edu/gallery
Need more Star Trek? Head to TrekFest on June 24 and 25 in Riverside — the future home of Captain James Kirk — to celebrate 50 years of Star Trek.
Festivities include food and drinks, live music, a carnival, pet show, sky-watching, Trek trivia, movie screenings and more. The parade starts at 10 a.m. June 24. More information can be found at Trekfest.com.