Monday, May 11, 2009

Duplicitous Preservation

Double Fold: Libraries and the Assault on Paper Double Fold: Libraries and the Assault on Paper by Nicholson Baker

My review

rating: 5 of 5 stars
It took me a ridiculously long time to finish this book, for reasons into which I shall not go, but that is no reflection on the book itself. It is about the decimation of our libraries by fiendish proponents of microfilm. Untold treasures of periodicals and books have been lost due to the persuasion of librarians by "preservationists" that the paper would soon crumble into dust. One test that would be done to prove the incipient crumbliness of a page was called the "Double Fold" test.
Nicholson Baker has a field day with this one, as the root meaning of "duplicity" is "double fold." The test involves folding down a corner of a page, and then folding it all the way back, and repeating until the corner falls off. Not surprisingly, it doesn't take that many folds; that's why your mother/teacher/librarian always told you not to dogear your books. Baker makes up his own test, which is basically turning the pages of a book exactly as you would do if you were reading. Again not surprisingly, all the books tested in this way hold up strikingly well, even very old ones. So how can it be that so many librarians allowed bound periodicals and books to be "disbounded" in order to be photographed for microfilm, and then thrown in the trash? Especially when the microfilm was very often of very poor quality? The answer is not clear, but through no fault of Baker's. It's just one of those stupid outcomes of bureaucracy and false economy. Having actually done research on microfilm, I know from experience that it is a heinous technology, and a major cause of headaches among students. Luckily, digital technology has made it largely obsolete; however, that does nothing to bring back all the pages that have been lost. At the end of his book, Baker describes heroically trying to save many volumes of old, bound newspapers by buying them from the British Library; if only more people had cared before him about the preserving the actual objects than just the content of written works.



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2 comments:

  1. This makes me sad. There is no medium in existence that is indestructible or that will survive the ravages of time, except maybe cockroaches, and they don't read. It seems a sacrilege. I can't even bring myself to throw away a book, recycling issues aside. I LOVE the library and that is where I presently get all my current reading material. I could possibly be persuaded on the issue of newspapers and periodicals (are they the same?), but how does one check out a microfilm from the library and then read it at home, or did I miss something?

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  2. Most of the materials he talks about in the book are really old, going back to the 19th century in many cases. The bound periodicals were years' worth of illustrated newspapers and magazines. A lot of the stuff would only have been used for research, but on microfilm is such a horror to look at that no one would want to use it for any reason, and of course you can't take it home. It is all very sad. I got a Kindle for Mother's Day, and while the technology is pretty cool, I'm feeling ambivalent about using it because I love books as objects.

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Overeducated mom, addled by constant interruptions due to demands of family and dog, trying to read books and write coherent sentences about them. Luckily, yoga keeps me centered. Sharing my love of yoga through teaching helps make sense of it all. I have a yoga blog at susiemarplesyoga.com. Since 2015, it has been my pleasure to serve as a reader for Epiphany, a literary journal publishing fiction, poetry, nonfiction, and art; on Twitter as @epiphanymag. http://profile.to/susiemarples http://pinterest.com/susiem66

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