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13 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Baker hits the nail on the head, April 30, 2001
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This review is from: Double Fold: Libraries and the Assault on Paper (Hardcover)
As a longtime newspaper researcher, I was already well aware of the problems of converting library materials to microfilm, but this book lays out the whole story in horrifying detail. If you care about history, the value of a complete and unadulterated historical record, or even just the intrinsic value of the materials being destroyed, this book will make you very angry. We trusted our country's record of history to the libraries and they casually threw most of it into the nearest convenient trashcan.
Baker's indictment reveals the extent of the loss, the foolish assumptions that led to it, and the military (!) bureaucrats who led the campaign. It is a terribly sad story but one that must be told and learned from if we are to avoid further losses. If you know a librarian, buy them a copy of the book, too (I can't imagine many libraries will put this book on the shelves!).
My only quibble with the book, and it's a small one, is that Baker has missed two important points:
1 - the microfilm companies are holding our nation's history hostage; by charging hundreds of thousands of dollars for a run of one newspaper on microfilm they are effectively keeping it out of the hands of libraries and, thus, researchers. If one of the reasons for the mass switch to microfilm was to cut costs, why didn't the libraries dictate terms to the microfilm companies when they started cutting up those precious bound volumes? Many libraries can't even afford to stock the microfilm of their hometown papers!
2 - because microfilm is so expensive, the stated problem of accessibility was not solved. One reason to photograph everything was so that researchers could have improved access to materials. In fact, the opposite has happened. Few libraries own microfilm, and those that do are unwilling to do inter-library loans. Thus, the researcher has to travel to the libraries to do their research or hire local researchers (a cottage industry these days).
No matter - Baker's passionate indictment hits plenty of high points; more than enough to convert most anyone (except perhaps the librarians who were duped for so long that they can't conceive of changing their positions).
I also salute Nicholson Baker for putting his money where his mouth is. His purchase of a good portion of the British Library's American newspaper archives (yes, even in 2000 the libraries are still gleefully disposing of paper) is excellent news. I only wish I'd known about the sale at the time - I would have gladly participated. However, the libraries know darn well that their actions are a public relations nightmare, so they keep these mass disposals very quiet.
Buy this book! Loan it to friends! Get the word out!
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