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Double Fold: Libraries and the Assault on Paper Hardcover – April 10, 2001

3.8 out of 5 stars 48 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

All writers of course love the printed word, but few are those willing to start foundations in order to preserve it. Not only has noted novelist Baker (The Mezzanine; Vox; etc.) done so, he's also written a startling expos‚ of an ugly conspiracy perpetuated by the very people entrusted to preserve our history librarians. Baker started the American Newspaper Repository in 1999, when he discovered that the only existing copies of several major U.S. newspapers were going to be auctioned off by the British Library. Not only were U.S. libraries not interested, it turned out that they'd tossed their own copies years before. Why? Baker uncovered an Orwellian universe in our midst in which preservation equals destruction, and millions of tax dollars have funded and continue to fund the destruction of irreplaceable books, newspapers and other print media. The instruments of that destruction microfilm, microfiche, image readers and toxic chemicals are less to blame than the cadre of former CIA and military operatives at the Library of Congress in the 1950s who refused to acknowledge that those technologies were, in fact, inferior to preserving and storing the originals. They were more concerned with ways to (in the words of one) "extract profit and usefulness from" old books while at the same time "prevent [them] from clogging the channels of the present." Baker details these events in one horrifying chapter after another, and he doesn't mince words. One can only gasp in outraged disbelief as he describes the men and women who, while supposedly serving as responsible custodians of our history, have chosen instead to decimate it. (on-sale Apr. 10) Forecast: The genesis of this book, an article in the New Yorker, generated quite a fuss, and this book is bound to receive attention in the print media. The subject and the passion with which the case is made guarantee healthy sales.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Pulling no punches, novelist Baker (Vox) is a romantic, passionate troublemaker who questions the smug assumptions of library professionals and weeps at the potential loss of an extensive, pristine run of Joseph Pulitzer's New York World. For him, the wholesale destruction of books and newspapers to the twin gods of microfilming and digitization is an issue of administrators seeking storage space not of preserving a heritage. He contends that the alarmist slogans "brittle books" and "slow fires" are intended to obscure the reality and the destruction. Throughout his book, Baker hammers away at the Orwellian notion that we must destroy books and newspapers in order, supposedly, to save them. Particularly singled out for opprobrium are University Microfilms Inc. and the Library of Congress. This extremely well-written book is not a paranoid rant. Just this past October, Werner Gundersheimer, director of the Folger Shakespeare Library, said at LC's "Preserve and Protect" symposium that, amid all the smoke and fury, Baker was essentially pleading for "a last copy effort of some kind." Double Fold is the narrative of a heroic struggle: Picture Baker as "Offisa Pup" defending "Krazy Kat," of the printed word, against the villainous "Ignatz Mouse" of the library establishment all in glorious, vivid color on brittle (but unbowed) newsprint. Highly recommended for all libraries.
- Barry Chad, Carnegie Lib. of Pittsburgh
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; 1st edition (April 10, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375504443
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375504440
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1.2 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (48 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #946,578 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

I've written thirteen books, plus an art book that I published with my wife, Margaret Brentano. The most recent one is a comic sex novel called House of Holes, which came out in August 2011. Before that, in 2009, there was The Anthologist, about a poet trying to write an introduction to an anthology of rhyming verse, and before that was Human Smoke, a book of nonfiction about the beginning of World War II. My first novel, The Mezzanine, about a man riding an escalator at the end of his lunch hour, came out in 1988. I'm a pacifist. Occasionally I write for magazines. I grew up in Rochester, New York and went to Haverford College, where I majored in English. I live in Maine with my family.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Baker raises some extremely interesting points in regards to libraries and the disposal of books and newspapers. This is an important and necessary read for anyone in the field of librarianship. I do think that there are some problems with this book however. Baker clearly began this book with an agenda--an admirable one in my view--but one that has prevented him from accurately portraying the story. He repeatedly refuses to acknowledge the very real and very pressing space problems that every library in America is now facing. Space is at a premium and libraries cannot continue unabated growth. Baker argues that it is cheaper to build storage facilities than to microfilm books and newspapers. Perhaps, but it is immeasurably cheaper to purchase a newspaper on microfilm than to build and maintain storage that is deperately needed for many other resources. Further, microforming and digitaization provide greater access to resources. I agree that discarding the original of microformed or digitized texts is bordering on criminal and idiotic, but libraries have realistically been left with no option. Money is scare and money is needed to hold on to thousands and thousands of volumes.
Baker delights in depicting librarians as nefarious ogres who delight in destroying books and newspapers in favor of microforms and digitization. This is an unfair and inaccurate depiction. Most librarians regret the destruction of books--for many, including myself, it can be a painful decision to discard a book--but unless governments and universities are willing to spend the money to store these items and maintain that storage area, there really is no practical alternative. Every librarian I know would prefer to have a hard copy of every book and newspaper they use, but this just is not possible.
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Format: Paperback
Nicholson Baker's _Double Fold_ is an extended screed on the destruction of old books and newspapers by research libraries, and their inadequate replacement by microfilm and microfiche and digital copies. The book is not temperate in tone at all, which at times is a disadvantage. Baker at times advances his arguments unfairly. (For instance he complains in one case that a chemical used in a deacidification experiment was also used in bombs. So what? There are a number of other example of slippery rhetoric on his part.) Still, he makes his main points very well, and the story he has to tell is rather distressing.
Baker's interest in this subject was piqued when he learned that the British Library was selling off its extensive collection of old American newspapers. He found that for many newspapers no copies may exist but on microfilm, or at any rate that physical copies are harder and harder to find. The primary justification for this was that the papers, especially those printed since about 1870, were doomed to decay into unreadability, because of the low-quality, high-acid, wood pulp paper on which they are printed. (The secondary justification, somewhat more sensible perhaps, was simply a need for more space.) Baker found in particular that American libraries rarely have extensive runs of old papers anymore, opting instead for subscribing to microfilmed copies. Baker makes a good point that microfilm is simply not a good reproduction of the papers, particularly the color illustrations. He makes even better points that the process of reduction to microfilm has been rife with errors: skipped pages, pages photographed so poorly that they cannot be read, many missing issues.
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Format: Hardcover
This work is not news reporting. This is one intelligent and passionate person's account of his suprise, shock, and disgust at the manner in which historically important documents of popular American history have been mismanaged over time. Decisions on the destruction of newspapers (and more recently of older books and journals, as Nicholson points out) were made on broad statements of supposed fact, rather than a professional study of the material under question. He maintains librarians could have and can maintain their collections better. As a librarian, I know this to be true, and I agree with Mr. Baker.
This is not a perfect book. Nicholson Baker is aggressive and engages in hyperbole. He can be one-sided. However, he does not hate libraries, or librarians, but he has a major bone to pick. His suggestions of consiracy are a bit stretched, but his evidence that similar poor solutions were widespread and fed one on another is accurate. His focus on newspapers may make them sound more imporant to historical research then perhaps is true, but in some branches of study access to the complete sets of originals is indeed crucial. And he is right in most instances as to the failure of the system, even if he does not show constraints libraries are under. I, however, personally believe the book would have been less strong had he done so.
Baker advocates we keep as much as we can - far more than we do now. However, every library cannot keep all it has and will receive. Deterioration of material does happen, material is stolen or damaged, and more money for a new library storage facility is difficult if not impossible to secure in these times.
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