R Hadden Writes :Nicholson Baker has written another article criticizing past and
current library decisions. \"Deadline.\" New Yorker, July 24, 2000, pages
42-62, describes how libraries disposed of original copies of newspapers
when they microfilmed them.
Finally, in disgust at their bad decisions about money, staff, space
and acid decomposition, Mr. Baker has purchased his own collection of 19th
and early 20th century newspapers and has started his own private newspaper
library. It will be interesting to see how he will handle the many
management decisions needed in running a library. Money, staff, space and
preservation needs led to this library problem- I am dying of curiosity to
find out how he can run a library without these problems affecting him.
Mark C. Rosenzweig has written quite a response that is also making the rounds on the lists. Read on to check that one out, it\'s worth a read.
From: mark rosenzweig
To: ALA Council List
\"A disturbing light cast on librarianship\'s \"core\" responsibilities\"
As some of you already must know and others will have heard soon enough,
there is a scathing, disturbing article by Nicholson Baker in the current
New Yorker (1/4/200, p 48-) about the dereliction of responsibilities by the
library profession with respect to the preservation of the complete historic
record and our stewardship of the human birthright of ideas and their
embodiments, in their original formats, to the best of our ability.
Entitled \"Trashing\" it regards the literal \"trashing of America\'s
newspapers\" by the libraries of record, including the British Library, the
Library of Congress, the NYPL Research Library, other major research
institutions as well as local, regional and state libraries of all kinds.
He shows how, beginning in 1950, with the wild enthusiasm for microfilm,
embraced zealously by the management of the Library of Congress, and
proceeding to spread everywhere at an ever faster pace (now fueled by the
added enthusiasm about how everything is going to be scanned and available
on the Web), that the actual physical newspapers of the post-1870 period, in
all their colorfulness, unique artifactual significance,impact, browsability
etc. have been systematically trashed, destroyed in reproduction, discarded
or sold off, and replaced, regardless of the actual physical condition of
the bound runs, with microfilm or microfiche and with no complete paper
The idea was that the newspapers were \"deteriorating\' (what isn\'t?) but his
investigation shows that the major considerations have had to do with space
saving and that perfectly fine,bound sets of our most important newspapers,
in reasonable states of preservation and with a shelf-life, under proper
conditions, which in many cases would rival most books, all have had
substited for them copies on reels of low-resolution, sometimes illegible,
monochrome, and also physically/chemically unstable microfilm (which is
browsable only by people with nerves of steel). Incomplete, unreadable,
microfilm runs have replaced complete sets of the real thing.The real things
are being destroyed, wholesale.
The article in the New Yorker\'s current issue is another indictment by
admitted library-lover/muckraker, novelist/journalist Nicholson Baker, of
our profession\'s concern for the \"bottom line\", the giving of the appearance
of with-it-ness, and of savvy kowtowing to political/economic expediency,
over and against the professional responsibility to resist the destructive
forces which threaten to create gaps and blurs in the human record,trends
which are the results of unquestioning acceptance of corporate influences,of
the increasing monopolization of ownership of information resources, and the
irresitableness of \"virtualization\" of public space and of artifactual
His other forays into this arena were his work about the implications of the
destruction of our card catalogs, his exposes of the SFPL\'s large scale,
irresponsible \"weeding\" of books in order to fit into their new
accomodations which seemed to have more important purposes than housing the
It is embarassing and depressing that a non-librarian has called on the
conscience of the library world, in work aimed at a level at which our most
central functions and beliefs are concerned, and we have never risen, as a
profession or an association, to the challenges he has previously posed,
except with the spokespeople for instituions crafting of bureaucratic
excuses and management-styled rationalizations.We have never engaged this
extraordinary man and what he represents. This time once again he is saying
\"stem the tide\" before it\'s too late. See if you don\'t think, as I do, that
we have a need to examine how, in light of his call, we can and must
review, rethink and renew our commitment to what librarianship is all about.
I cannot summarize the richness of Baker\'s argument or capture the pathos of
his desperation as he tries,almost singlehabdledly, and at great personal
effort and expense, to \"save\" the few surving intact copies of major
newspapers through efforts of his own to acquire them before they are sold
to dealers who cut them up for re-sale as birthday knicknacks, etc.
ALA Councilors must read it for themselves. The \"Heads\" must read it and
think of something other than clever justifications for disatrous policies.
Baker must be engaged, openly, honestly, constructively and the implications
of his story, \"Trashing\" must be thought through. I urge us all to take it
seriously, especially as he has exposed to public scrutiny, in brilliant
prose, in a major,widely read journal of high repute, and as an advocaye -
afriend - of libraries, a seamy side of our profession\'s behavior which is
more undermining of the public image of librarianship and of its necessity
than all the negative efforts Family Friendly Libraries and local book
Mark C. Rosenzweig
ALA Councilor at large