Monday, March 29, 2010

K. 590 - Nicholson Baker

Nicholson Baker - January 7, 1957

Exploring the writings of Baker through my research on him for this post, I discovered that he is the author of “Double Fold: Libraries and the Assault on Paper”.

Yikes – I’m not even going to get into the tornado of opinion surrounding this work.

I remember starting off here at the library and seeing the above book reviewed in a publication...not sure which one it was, NYT, New really isn’t important now – but what is, is that I remember it from then, 2001, and I am now completing a sort of circle with this author.

His argument in his book touched something in me as a new worker in a library and a lover of books.

I started working at the newspaper in the library in December of 2000. I saw everything at that time through innocent eyes. I really couldn’t understand fully the complete arguments that Baker made. There was something though that I felt was important in his message and I smelled it every day as I walked into work and into a room of old newspapers.

Part of my duties here in the library was to archive the newspaper.

Back in 2001, we were still doing the electronic archiving manually. The electronic copy was in the production system, but it was our job to make sure it matched up with the printed version and manually push it over to an electronic archive.

– We did this with photos and text – but they were two separate archives.

We also kept a 13 month hard copy archive (15 copies a day of each paper), a year worth of papers on a “stick file” for quick access, 3 copies of each paper (1 month supply in a secret closet) and then the microfilm copy.

We also had a special section box that we stored copies of - special sections.

Today, we still have all of the above archives but with a small variation to the electronic archive. This is now an automatic system. We have a single photo/text archive of the paper that is pushed over automatically from the production side of the paper to the archive side of the paper. I will NOT go into what I feel are the disadvantages to this system – I will say though that we still have a 13 month archive and the microfilm.

I should also note that we have a MASSIVE clip file archive of the newspaper from the mid 40s – 1990. The clip files are actual clipped articles from the newspaper filed into small manila envelopes, indexed by topic or name and placed into sliding shelves which are housed in one of two massive rotating filing systems.

These are the clipped articles - dated and indexed

They are placed into these envelopes

Here are the rotating files

The index above, and the cabinets below

We also have an index to this file system – the only one in existence. It is a wonderful archive and we use it daily.(see above)

Now, we also have about 100 years of bound editorial pages that we have recently moved from a warehouse into a temperature controlled environment. We are pretty lucky to have the space as well as these wonderful volumes.

We have been approached by several companies (including the one that begins with a GOO) concerning the digitization of our newspaper but we are holding off on that right now for reasons I can’t get into on this blog.

These are the systems we have here at the paper. I know Baker wouldn’t necessarily approve of it – but it’s what we have, and we make it work.

I’d like to draw a little line of connection now between Baker and what I am dong with this project.

I think it’s safe to say that I would not be able to read digital copies of these books. As far as I know, and my research is pretty thorough, the only copies of these early editions of “The Best American Short Stories” that exist are in a hard copy format. I have seen a couple of scanned PDFs of a couple reallllly old copies – but nothing that I have now. I can not at this time find electronic versions of these early publications that would work on today’s e-readers.

Will they ever be digitized?

I would imagine so – someday.

But would the electronic version have the two poppy seeds I found this weekend pressed between the pages – left perhaps by a reader years ago as they read the book over breakfast? I doubt it. (look for further discussion of this find and another project surrounding these seeds in the days to come!)

A majority of my collection was purchased through companies or individuals that acquired them from libraries. The books were not shredded and they did not end up in a landfill. They sat on the shelves of libraries for years, and now they will sit on my library shelf for years. I feel that I have rescued these books and I am doing a bit of a service to their authors to mention their name (even if it just their name – without even delving into the meat of their story) – and I know, it is I who benefits the most from these books. I am the one gaining the richness and the lesson they have to offer. I find the seeds, the coffee stains, the hairs, the crumbs, the underlined phrases, the fingerprints...

I have to think that the founders of the companies (Thrift Books, Better World Books, and as middle men - Ebay and Amazon) felt the weight of Baker’s argument and pushed them towards acquiring books from libraries – and making these rare books available to me – and to my future.

"Why can't we have the benefits of the new and extravagantly expensive digital copy and keep the convenience and beauty and historical testimony of the original books resting on the shelves, where they've always been, thanks to the sweat equity of our prescient predecessors?" (p. 67).

Double Fold: Libraries and the Assault on Paper

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