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The ostensible purpose of a library is to preserve the printed word. But for fifty years our country's libraries—including the Library of Congress—have been doing just the opposite, destroying hundreds of thousands of historic newspapers and replacing them with microfilm copies that are difficult to read, lack all the color and quality of the original paper and illustratio The ostensible purpose of a library is to preserve the printed word. But for fifty years our country's libraries—including the Library of Congress—have been doing just the opposite, destroying hundreds of thousands of historic newspapers and replacing them with microfilm copies that are difficult to read, lack all the color and quality of the original paper and illustrations, and deteriorate with age. With meticulous detective work and Baker's well-known explanatory power, Double Fold reveals a secret history of microfilm lobbyists, former CIA agents, and warehouses where priceless archives are destroyed with a machine called a guillotine. Baker argues passionately for preservation, even cashing in his own retirement account to save one important archive—all twenty tons of it. Written the brilliant narrative style that Nicholson Baker fans have come to expect, Double Fold is a persuasive and often devastating book that may turn out to be The Jungle of the American library system.


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The ostensible purpose of a library is to preserve the printed word. But for fifty years our country's libraries—including the Library of Congress—have been doing just the opposite, destroying hundreds of thousands of historic newspapers and replacing them with microfilm copies that are difficult to read, lack all the color and quality of the original paper and illustratio The ostensible purpose of a library is to preserve the printed word. But for fifty years our country's libraries—including the Library of Congress—have been doing just the opposite, destroying hundreds of thousands of historic newspapers and replacing them with microfilm copies that are difficult to read, lack all the color and quality of the original paper and illustrations, and deteriorate with age. With meticulous detective work and Baker's well-known explanatory power, Double Fold reveals a secret history of microfilm lobbyists, former CIA agents, and warehouses where priceless archives are destroyed with a machine called a guillotine. Baker argues passionately for preservation, even cashing in his own retirement account to save one important archive—all twenty tons of it. Written the brilliant narrative style that Nicholson Baker fans have come to expect, Double Fold is a persuasive and often devastating book that may turn out to be The Jungle of the American library system.

30 review for Double Fold: Libraries and the Assault on Paper

  1. 5 out of 5

    Lucy

    DON'T LISTEN TO HIM! Nicholson Baker is NOT a librarian or archivist; he does not understand the missions of these institutions. His argument, therefore, is uninformed and inherently romanticizes the concept of preservation. He is, in short, a nutcase willing to spend his life savings on a crumbling anti-legacy. For a scholarly response (from an eminent archives scholar), look to Richard Cox's Vandals in the Stacks?: A Response to Nicholson Baker's Assualt on Libraries. DON'T LISTEN TO HIM! Nicholson Baker is NOT a librarian or archivist; he does not understand the missions of these institutions. His argument, therefore, is uninformed and inherently romanticizes the concept of preservation. He is, in short, a nutcase willing to spend his life savings on a crumbling anti-legacy. For a scholarly response (from an eminent archives scholar), look to Richard Cox's Vandals in the Stacks?: A Response to Nicholson Baker's Assualt on Libraries.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Jesse

    Nicholson Baker’s Double Fold: Libraries and the Assault on Paper is a fiery polemic dedicated to the task of protecting what he sees as one of our nation’s most important resources: our libraries’ massive stockpile of seldom-used older books and newspapers. As Baker explains, the extent of our paper reserves of old newspapers and rarely read old books is dwindling, often being chopped up and “preserved” (that is, their content, rather than their form, is preserved) in either microform or a digi Nicholson Baker’s Double Fold: Libraries and the Assault on Paper is a fiery polemic dedicated to the task of protecting what he sees as one of our nation’s most important resources: our libraries’ massive stockpile of seldom-used older books and newspapers. As Baker explains, the extent of our paper reserves of old newspapers and rarely read old books is dwindling, often being chopped up and “preserved” (that is, their content, rather than their form, is preserved) in either microform or a digital format. Baker’s position is not a nuanced one; we need to save everything. To do this, libraries need to purchase warehouses, warehouses basically without end, so that not a Sun-Times or musty tome is thrown aside. The very first sentence in the summary on the back cover reads “The ostensible purpose of a library is to preserve the printed word” which shows Baker may have a basic confusion between the definition of a library and the definition of a repository, but never mind: the point is, Baker says, a library neglects its duties when it throws away disused materials. Baker’s writing style is eloquent and engaging; however, the entire book is dominated by a one-sided and hostile tone, along with his distinctly uncharitable characterization of his opponents. I think the basic philosophical difficulty in Baker’s position can be found in the chapter with the title “A Swifter Conflagration.” Here, Baker fully reveals his philosophical position that all pieces of written media are valuable as individual objects. It is not merely enough that a rarely-used book’s contents are preserved somewhere; merely disposing of a particular object is itself always a dereliction of duty. Baker says: “The truth is that all books are physical artifacts, without exception, just as all books are bowls of ideas [i.e. textual content]. They are things and utterances both. And libraries, [Baker’s ally] believes, since they own, whether they like it or not, collections of physical artifacts, must aspire to the conditions of museums. All their books are treasures, in a sense…” This is a rather overstated thesis. Some books and newspapers are valuable essentially for their own sake, rare books such as the Gutenberg Bibles, for example. However, it doesn’t follow that every library must preserve every non-duplicate book or newspaper on its shelves, some of which, such as pulp novels, are almost certainly disposable once their shelf-life is over. What Baker calls for is for libraries to devote large portions of their physical holdings to items that, not virtually, but literally, do not circulate. There are times in Double Fold when Baker seems to be using the sheer confidence of his vituperation to slip some questionable logic past the reader. At one point Baker complains that the Library of Congress threw out ten million dollars worth of public property. However, his criterion for this figure is replacement value. This is a somewhat meaningless, almost sneaky figure. A lot of otherwise worthless things might be rather pricey to replace. Being difficult to replace does not make something valuable in the first place. This is not say there are not some worthwhile themes in Double Fold. Baker’s complaints about microform are well taken, his call for a national repository even more so. Baker also provides the reader with an entertaining and occasionally fascinating history of book “preservation,” including the disastrous use of large, book-filled, black-goo spurting tanks of explosive gas, formerly owned by NASA. Another memorable anecdote involves the creation of paper from the wrappings of Egyptians mummies. The fact that Baker's book is quite biased and sometimes infuriating should not dissuade an intelligent reader from giving it a shot; however, some practical knowledge of libraries and a questioning attitude are prescribed.

  3. 4 out of 5

    A. Jesse

    Unbelievably stupid. In his first (and as far as I know his best) book The Mezzanine, Nicholson Baker displays a charming affection for the antique, the mechanical, the ingenious. But in Double Fold this charming affection is stripped away, revealing an impractical Ludditism. Baker argues that libraries shouldn't throw away card catalogs once they've been replaced with online databases, and instead they should preserve these hulking and impractical monstrosities for the subtle data they contain: Unbelievably stupid. In his first (and as far as I know his best) book The Mezzanine, Nicholson Baker displays a charming affection for the antique, the mechanical, the ingenious. But in Double Fold this charming affection is stripped away, revealing an impractical Ludditism. Baker argues that libraries shouldn't throw away card catalogs once they've been replaced with online databases, and instead they should preserve these hulking and impractical monstrosities for the subtle data they contain: The marginalia on the cards, their patina that reveals the pattern of finger-handlings on their edges. Bullshit. Card catalogs are obsolete, a bain of my childhood and the childhoods of millions, and they are rightly banished as a bad substitute for computers, a stopgap waiting for the invention of electronics. Baker acknowledges that librarians were beside themselves with joy when card catalogs were discarded. He describes bacchanal parties in which librarians burned the catalogs. Apparently, the professionals who dealt with them wanted nothing more than to obliterate them for good. But Nicholson Baker knows better than librarians: He alone sees the true value of card catalogs, and libraries worldwide should take his advice and preserve them. Such an argument, Baker's clarion call for inefficiency, a defense of deadweight, is just ossified curmudgeonery founded on nostalgia. Baker confirms the worst of our fears about his love of the worn and tactile, preferring such old-fashioned contraptions over new technology no matter what the cost, and no matter how firm the consensus among professionals far more experienced than he. To see him so wrong-headed on such a trivial matter raises grave doubts about Human Smoke, his latest book, where he takes on the greatest question in history: Was war a justifiable response to the Nazis? Again, in Human Smoke, Baker takes the contrarian position, arguing that pacifism was the righteous path, even in 1939. I'd like to believe him. I'm a pacifist myself. But if Double Fold is an example of Baker's reasoning, I don't have much faith in him when it comes to the great questions.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Laura Jean

    I decided to be honest with myself. I read several chapters of this book in school. I intended to go back and read the whole thing, because there is some very interesting ideas in the book. However, I realized it's just going to make me MAD. Now, I am all for reading things that challenge your assumptions, I am. But not this topic. Not at this point of my life. So If I ever decide at a later time to read it. I'll start again. I decided to be honest with myself. I read several chapters of this book in school. I intended to go back and read the whole thing, because there is some very interesting ideas in the book. However, I realized it's just going to make me MAD. Now, I am all for reading things that challenge your assumptions, I am. But not this topic. Not at this point of my life. So If I ever decide at a later time to read it. I'll start again.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Susie

    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 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.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Jenny (Reading Envy)

    "The library has gone astray partly because we trusted the librarians so completely." Nicholson Baker has written a heavily researched retelling of when the first digitization (microfilming) movement hit the major libraries in the United States, leading many to dump the only originals of major newspapers, journals, and books. He zeroes in on the Library of Congress and other government agencies (CIA, NASA, and the NEH) who have had major roles to play in the destruction of print. While I found s "The library has gone astray partly because we trusted the librarians so completely." Nicholson Baker has written a heavily researched retelling of when the first digitization (microfilming) movement hit the major libraries in the United States, leading many to dump the only originals of major newspapers, journals, and books. He zeroes in on the Library of Congress and other government agencies (CIA, NASA, and the NEH) who have had major roles to play in the destruction of print. While I found some of his reasoning to exclude fair arguments from other viewpoints, and one chapter to miss important details completely (the JSTOR project includes several libraries that act as repositories for the print, I should know, I was the graduate assistant in cataloging who added the dusty volumes to the collection), I think overall it serves as a cautionary tale to libraries and archives. Shouldn't somebody keep the original? Can we ever be completely certain that the digital copy has enough longevity, looking back and learning from what was lost by the original microfilming process? I think the biggest mistake Baker has made, or really any scholar might be making, is in assuming that libraries are as a whole somehow charged with retaining and preserving the world's knowledge. Like any other industry out there, libraries change with the times. I don't think this noble mission actually exists in the minds of most library administrators; instead we work to serve the needs of our patrons. Some of our decisions to promote access to materials has led to the destruction of the original, although even Baker admits this has become less of a trend starting in the 90s. It does beg the question - the massive digitization projects being sponsored by Google at several universities these days - what is happening to those originals? "Leave the books alone, I say, leave them alone, leave them alone."

  7. 5 out of 5

    Peter Tillman

    I should have written a review of this, and may have some comments written in an old paper journal.... In the meanwhile, Susie's review https://www.goodreads.com/review/show... will give you an idea of why this book is still relevant, even if that battle was pretty much lost. Baker's American Newspaper Repository survives, as a part of the Duke University Libraries: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/America... I shouldn't be (but am) surprised at the venom of some of the library pros against Baker's ef I should have written a review of this, and may have some comments written in an old paper journal.... In the meanwhile, Susie's review https://www.goodreads.com/review/show... will give you an idea of why this book is still relevant, even if that battle was pretty much lost. Baker's American Newspaper Repository survives, as a part of the Duke University Libraries: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/America... I shouldn't be (but am) surprised at the venom of some of the library pros against Baker's efforts & book. Doubling down on a bad call, I guess. Anyone old enough to remember browsing old mags & newspapers in the library basement will appreciate the value of actual *paper* historic documents.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Andrew

    The elegance and irreverence Nicholson Baker usually brings to his fiction work (especially the sublime vignette "The Mezzanine") is completely absent in "Double Fold", Baker's screed about the replacement of library books with microfiche and other digital storage. While the author's quest -- to rally for the preservation of rare and old tomes -- seems noble enough, his methods are more in line with conservative news reporting. Whenever he interviews someone who shares his viewpoints, they are d The elegance and irreverence Nicholson Baker usually brings to his fiction work (especially the sublime vignette "The Mezzanine") is completely absent in "Double Fold", Baker's screed about the replacement of library books with microfiche and other digital storage. While the author's quest -- to rally for the preservation of rare and old tomes -- seems noble enough, his methods are more in line with conservative news reporting. Whenever he interviews someone who shares his viewpoints, they are described in a positive and pleasant light; when he interviews someone who disagrees with him, they are often presented unflatteringly, as if his fellow saints in the book-preservation business were the warriors of good sense and all opposed are just Philistines and tight-mouthed bureaucrats. What's saddest of all about "Double Fold" (the name comes from a test where aging paper is creased back and forth until it breaks off) is that Baker often seems guided solely by passion and nostalgia, and not by objective argument. He decries microfiche for its inability to preserve text and images any more reliably than the books he's trying to save, brushing under the rug the variety of more permanent data storage methods available (ample at the time of the book's publishing a decade ago, and even more so now.) The end of the book finds Baker blowing a substantial portion of his savings on several thousand library books that would otherwise be destroyed; while his home 'book humidor' may be more suitable to their preservation than in some basement stacks, it seemed a quixotic gesture, more the purchase of a hoarder than a historian. Reporting of this nature works best when the author keeps his own emotions in check and lets the facts tell the story; as it turns out in "Double Fold", Baker is an old-book romantic in search only of like-minded patrons and no one else, regardless of whether there's really any sense in the venture.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Leslie

    A little more than a year ago, I was chatting with my boss about a New Yorker article that I'd read many years before; the piece concerned card catalogue information (I believe it was at the San Francisco Library) being input into a computer database and discarded, losing all of the notes that scholars and others had written in the margins of the cards over decades. He knew exactly what I was talking about, went to his bookcase, and pulled down his copy of this book, which he loaned me on the sp A little more than a year ago, I was chatting with my boss about a New Yorker article that I'd read many years before; the piece concerned card catalogue information (I believe it was at the San Francisco Library) being input into a computer database and discarded, losing all of the notes that scholars and others had written in the margins of the cards over decades. He knew exactly what I was talking about, went to his bookcase, and pulled down his copy of this book, which he loaned me on the spot. Over the course of the past year, I read this book for a few minutes whenever I had time over my lunchtime. Of course, I lost a lot of threads and forgot who was who in the ever-expanding cast of real-life characters, but one horrible truth became abundantly clear: our libraries, including our own Library of Congress, that we have expected to be our repositories of books, newspapers, magazines, and other printed media have let us down and heads of these organizations have methodically allowed these media to be scanned—often poorly—for microfilm and then destroyed. Why? Because storage space is limited and the books, etc., were going to break down and be useless anyway. Nicholson Baker painstakingly outlines his case for these arguments being false and the reasons why the arguments are being made in the first place and how long this has been going on. Fortunately, he also saved decades' worth of copies of such newspapers as the New York Times and the Chicago Tribuune, and my heart was glad to see that he also rescued copies of the Saturday Review, when he found out that the British Library (of all places) was going to discard them. (All true; he formed the American Newspaper Repository, a non-profit, which he continues to run.) While depressing and horrifying, this book was enlightening and ultimately made me happier than ever that Nicholson Baker is out there, doing more than writing elegant novels and non-fiction pieces. Thank you, Mr Baker; the editor in me and my own writing style made me want to re-write parts of this book, but I'm so grateful that it was written.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Michael Fitzgerald

    A fascinating book, but incredibly biased. Needs to be balanced with Vandals in the Stacks by Richard Cox. A fascinating book, but incredibly biased. Needs to be balanced with Vandals in the Stacks by Richard Cox.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Wesley

    Baker has some serious hoarding issues. The premise of the book is that libraries are throwing away tons of old newspapers and books and we're supposed to feel bad about it. He even mixes in some conspiracy theory to connect this practice to the military. Overall I just didn't buy any of it. Really all it did was make me wonder how Baker's wife could stand living with him, since he blew all of their savings to buy a bunch of old newspapers, and spent his free time bending the pages in all of the Baker has some serious hoarding issues. The premise of the book is that libraries are throwing away tons of old newspapers and books and we're supposed to feel bad about it. He even mixes in some conspiracy theory to connect this practice to the military. Overall I just didn't buy any of it. Really all it did was make me wonder how Baker's wife could stand living with him, since he blew all of their savings to buy a bunch of old newspapers, and spent his free time bending the pages in all of their books.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Katie

    I get why he's upset. Yay to him for pointing out issues. But he's unnecessarily snarky, often has no clear point, and occasionally seems to have no idea what he's talking about. I get why he's upset. Yay to him for pointing out issues. But he's unnecessarily snarky, often has no clear point, and occasionally seems to have no idea what he's talking about.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Adam

    In the process of purchasing Double Fold by Nicholson Baker, I read several blurbs for and descriptions of the book. The way these blurbs and descriptions presented the book it seemed as though Baker had set out to find something bad about libraries and from there had proceeded to research the issue so he could sensationalize it and rally his readers to the downfall of libraries. I was prepared to be cynical. I was prepared to do my own research to combat Baker’s points of view. What I wasn’t pr In the process of purchasing Double Fold by Nicholson Baker, I read several blurbs for and descriptions of the book. The way these blurbs and descriptions presented the book it seemed as though Baker had set out to find something bad about libraries and from there had proceeded to research the issue so he could sensationalize it and rally his readers to the downfall of libraries. I was prepared to be cynical. I was prepared to do my own research to combat Baker’s points of view. What I wasn’t prepared for was to be dismayed by the actions taken by different Librarians of Congress, the ostensible leaders of the librarian profession. I wasn’t prepared to be won over by Baker's arguments. And I certainly wasn’t prepared to have my perceptions of preservation and conservation in the information science professions to be altered for the better. In the following paragraphs I will explore some of the issues that Double Fold raises for librarians and archivists concerning microfilming as a means of preserving the information in a book. I will also briefly discuss how the knowledge I gained while reading Double Fold will enhance my performance when it comes to my stewardship over the items in my collection. Baker’s tone for the first few chapters is so combative that it’s hard to discern the changes he would like librarians to make in their care of the books in the library. He seems more interested in pointing out how evil librarians are than presenting his case for the changes he believes need to be made. Maybe it’s a technique he’s chosen. Maybe he wants to be abrasive so that readers get offended and will make a call to arms to create change. My personal reaction was that I didn’t want to pay attention to the writer. I can only imagine what professionals who have been in the field for a long time must be feeling. On page 5 of Double Fold, Baker mentions the “library propaganda” that books with brittle paper will crumble away and no longer be able to be read (Baker, 2001). He hints that this is the major reason for removing a book from the shelf to have it microfilmed and then discarded. There are other reasons for weeding a book from a collection. One could be its lack of use. If the newspapers bound into the volume that Baker examined are “surprisingly well preserved” (Baker, 2001) then that means that the bound edition likely hasn’t been used much. If a book is not getting used, why is it in a library? On page nine Baker talks about the bound newspaper volumes being “properly stored” to extend their lifespan. He states that librarians should do more to “take decent care of” these volumes. A concept he rephrases on page thirteen as “taking reasonable care” of a volume. Baker doesn’t take the time to explain where the money or space to “take reasonable care” of every book will come from. Libraries generally don’t profit from their services. Of course, later in the book, on pages ninety-four and ninety-five, Baker shows that building a warehouse to store these volumes would be cheaper than paying for the process to microfilm the books and then store the microfilms, which also require special care in order to help them survive and fulfill their “rated life expectancy of 500 years” (Hamperian, 2005). Of course, this explanation comes later in the book when Baker has started to show his research and explain why he feels microfilming is such a bad idea. At the beginning of the book Baker is so focused on evoking outrage in the reader that he doesn’t bother to even foreshadow the points made in later chapters that will help support his case. After reading Double Fold I find myself trying to figure out why microfilming is such a popular thing to inflict upon books. Roger Hamperian wrote an entire essay extolling the virtues of microfilming and proclaiming it the best practice for when reformatting is needed. Hamperian quotes a report Don Willis made to the Commission on Preservation and Access when he said, “Micrographics…is currently the only truly archival preservation media” (Hamperian, 2005). Hamperian also declares that microfilm technology is “well established, and…with proper processing and storage, has a rated life expectancy of 500 years. In addition, microfilm doesn’t take up a lot of space and can be read without sophisticated equipment” (Hamperian, 2005). Books don’t require any equipment, sophisticated or otherwise, in order to read them. Even the much-feared brittle books, made of paper with high acid content, have been surviving better than anybody thought they would. In explaining some of the downfalls of microfilming on pages fourteen and fifty-one of Double Fold, Baker mentions that microfilmed copies of books are done in flat black and white so the detailed, color illustrations from old newspapers become black blobs in the viewer. He also points out that some portions of the newspapers don’t get filmed, either because the technician making the film didn’t think to include each edition (which usually had different content) of the paper for any particular day, or because an issue was accidentally skipped in the process. To top it all off, the images taken of the pages are sometimes illegible (Baker, 2001). From these comments, and even those of Hamperian, it’s hard to understand what advantages microfilming has over the printed volume. They both require special storage and care to survive their full life spans. The printed versions are easier to read. Microfilming is actually more expensive than storing books, even if that requires purchasing or building a new location in which to store them (Baker, 2001). The only advantage I can find for microfilm is that the rolls of film are physically smaller than the books they are meant to replace. One Baker starts discussing how particular books are chosen for microfilming and he goes into the details of the process of microfilming is when I really start to wonder how it ever became popular. Baker repeats several times that proponents of microfilming claim that they are preserving the information found in books that are turning to dust. Baker reports on page two hundred fifty-eight that “turning to dust” was hyperbole. The books crumble if you crumple the pages. To get a better, not great, but better, image, the pages are cut from the binding, rendering them almost impossible to use in the future, so they are then discarded. Due to the less than stellar track record of microfilming, we have, as Baker puts it, “…lost intellectual content in the attempt to preserve it” (Baker, 2001). And worst of all, it’s impossible to go back to the original to find the missing information because the original was destroyed in the process of microfilming. In Chapter 34, Baker discusses how the trend now is to digitize books rather than microfilm. In fact, the lackluster images recorded on microfilm are being scanned so that they are kept on the more modern format. Unfortunately, the lessons taught by microfilming have not been learned very well as the process for digitizing a book is the same as for microfilming: the pages are removed from the binding to provide for better imaging, which destroys the book (Baker, 2001). To save the books the books are being destroyed. It’s kind of sad that the same mistakes are being made. The decision process to begin microfilming brittle books, as described by Baker, will have ramifications as I work to develop my stewardship over the books in my care. What I have learned is that I need to do the work and study out the “preservation” techniques that are being sold to me either by vendors or by others in my profession. I would certainly be more inclined to trust others in my profession, but even librarians and archivists can be led astray. When it comes to vendors I feel that I will need to look askance at the claims they make to promote their product. While the theory of what they are presenting could seem amazing, it may not be so in practice. The primary concern of my work needs to be maintaining my collection for the use of the patrons. The means making sure the materials survive to be used. While microfilming and digitization can help extend the life of a book by providing a copy that can be used without turning the physical pages of the book, I need to ensure that the process to get a book reformatted will not destroy the book. It is possible to have my cake (reformatted copies) and eat it, too (maintain the original). While Baker’s obvious ire at the destruction of bound volumes of newspapers in order to microfilm them put me on the defensive when I began to read Double Fold, I was won over by his analysis of the microfilming process. I am now convinced that the process to mass-microfilm books does more harm than good. Microfilming, and digitization, can serve a purpose, but it needs to be done in such a way as to maintain the book in its original form as well. References Baker, N. (2001). Double Fold: Libraries and the Assault on Paper. New York: Random House. Hamperian, R. (2005). Reformatting: Fiction and Current Best Practice. Kentucky Libraries, 69(1), 16-19.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Kate

    I probably read 80% of this book. For the first two hundred pages, I enjoyed Baker's crusade against microfilm, his horror at the destruction of collections of primary sources (particularly newspaper collections); I even laughed when another reviewed charged him with "hoarding." No, I would counter. He's not a hoarder. He understands that there is something about having access to the original documents when trying to understand a period of history that is more instructive than surveying a few ar I probably read 80% of this book. For the first two hundred pages, I enjoyed Baker's crusade against microfilm, his horror at the destruction of collections of primary sources (particularly newspaper collections); I even laughed when another reviewed charged him with "hoarding." No, I would counter. He's not a hoarder. He understands that there is something about having access to the original documents when trying to understand a period of history that is more instructive than surveying a few articles on cold and distant microfilm (or microfische). I get it. I was willing to entertain the decades-long conspiracy which he unravels. It just gets repetitive. I think that if he had limited himself to about three-quarters of his argument, it might have been stronger. It starts to feel obsessive, and not in the way that feels charming in his other essays. It feels long-winded. It starts to lose the page-turning impact of the first few chapters. I agree with Baker's overall concerns. I think that libraries, particularly the Library of Congress, would be well-served by buying up some big warehouses and allowing some of the collections of the past to live on for the good of the scholars who want to immerse themselves in the past. I think that a lot of mid-century attempts at "preservation" (which is helpfully distinguished from "conservation" in this work) actually did a lot more harm than good. I think it's tragic that some of the art and articles of the past hundred years of American history are simply gone because librarians of our greatest institutions did a bad job of hanging on to them for us. They made mistakes, and now there is no going back. It provides a significant warning for the future, and even if I am committed to the usefulness of digitizing collections for the use of far more people than can travel to any given library, I still think you're wise to hold on to the originals.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Alex Telander

    Attention college students: a great crime is being committed and right under our noses! It is no longer possible to enter reputed libraries like the San Francisco or New York Public Library, and call up a wonderfully preserved copy of say The New York World from 1912, because said issue no longer exists in its original form. All that remains is a badly lit photograph of each page on low-resolution microfilm. And what did the library do with the original copy they once possessed? Why, they threw Attention college students: a great crime is being committed and right under our noses! It is no longer possible to enter reputed libraries like the San Francisco or New York Public Library, and call up a wonderfully preserved copy of say The New York World from 1912, because said issue no longer exists in its original form. All that remains is a badly lit photograph of each page on low-resolution microfilm. And what did the library do with the original copy they once possessed? Why, they threw it away. This is the heart and soil of Nicholson Baker’s latest work of non-fiction: Double Fold: Libraries and the Assault on Paper. The title comes from the way libraries “test” whether a newspaper is to be kept or scrapped: the corner is folded back and forth repeated; if it remains, it is kept, while if it breaks off, the entire newspaper is thrown away. And this is no joke; this is taking place in many libraries across the country, with only a few people being made aware of it. Double Fold is an in-depth work and study on libraries and how the invention of the microfilm revolutionized the way many papers are kept. This reaches all the way up to the Library of Congress. And these libraries do not even do a thorough job of checking that the microfilm is clear and legible, so entire issues are lost and can never be recovered, because the originals have already been turned to pulp. If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here. Originally published on October 15th 2001. For over 500 book reviews, and over 40 exclusive author interviews (both audio and written), visit BookBanter.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Rebekah

    Baker basically makes his point in the first chapter. Libraries across the country are putting all of their newspapers onto micro-film and discarding the originals. Microfilm and its cousins are bad because they degrade easily, do not record text clearly, are incapable of capturing the color of images, cartoons and are often incomplete. Libraries would actually save money per volume if they simply rented warehouses to store materials in, instead of paying to have the newspapers photographed and Baker basically makes his point in the first chapter. Libraries across the country are putting all of their newspapers onto micro-film and discarding the originals. Microfilm and its cousins are bad because they degrade easily, do not record text clearly, are incapable of capturing the color of images, cartoons and are often incomplete. Libraries would actually save money per volume if they simply rented warehouses to store materials in, instead of paying to have the newspapers photographed and turned into microfilm. However, fewer and fewer original copies remain, even in the Library of Congress. It would be better for libraries to maintain the originals. Now, libraries are considering doing the same to books and he is 100% against that. However, he continues to repeat this same argument over and over and over again, through 20 some-odd chapters, with new anecdotes, examples and evidence of ways in which technologically transforming our cultural history into digital or film is inferior to simply taking care of the original. If I hadn't needed to read this book for class, I would have returned it to the library after chapter 3 said the same things as chapter 1 and 2.

  17. 4 out of 5

    George

    This is Nicholson Baker's obsessive treatise on the "assault on paper". I am somewhat sympathetic to his cause where he describes how libraries in the name of "preservation" and/or "creating space" have replaced rare newspaper collections with subpar technologies. In doing so, we have lost information that isn't being captured by microfilm, microfiche, and other technologies. These early technologies led to the destruction of irreplaceable collections. He instead advocates the preservation of pa This is Nicholson Baker's obsessive treatise on the "assault on paper". I am somewhat sympathetic to his cause where he describes how libraries in the name of "preservation" and/or "creating space" have replaced rare newspaper collections with subpar technologies. In doing so, we have lost information that isn't being captured by microfilm, microfiche, and other technologies. These early technologies led to the destruction of irreplaceable collections. He instead advocates the preservation of paper. While paper gets brittle, he argues convincingly that paper can last a long time if handled properly and our collections are not crumbling away as predicted by alarmists. Ultimately, it's a fascinating look at how money has been thrown at a problem to develop a technological solution when the traditional ways are often better. I probably differ from Baker in believing that digitization is the way to go in the future, perhaps as an ongoing technology (i.e. papers from today) and not to replace the legacy of yesterday.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Kevin Luy

    I came to this book a big Nicholson Baker fan. I came to this book as an archivist, who spends a lot of time trying to convince people not to destroy copies of things once they have been digitized in hopes of finding good info or quotes to back me up. This book was a huge disappointment. Nothing but emotional and conclusory arguments. Personal attacks all around - especially the last third of the book which was largely Baker interviewing people only to call them liars or implicate them in some con I came to this book a big Nicholson Baker fan. I came to this book as an archivist, who spends a lot of time trying to convince people not to destroy copies of things once they have been digitized in hopes of finding good info or quotes to back me up. This book was a huge disappointment. Nothing but emotional and conclusory arguments. Personal attacks all around - especially the last third of the book which was largely Baker interviewing people only to call them liars or implicate them in some conspiracy or another. He regularly calls people's math fuzzy or facts wrong, without providing any evidence or counter-argument. And frankly, Baker's argument boils down to him fetishizing the written word on old paper. That argument may work for the already converted. Unfortunately I don't deal with the already converted. And few (if any) of the "arguments" here should convince any reasonable person to change their mind.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Kaethe Douglas

    I get what he's saying, but I'm still not sure if I agree. Yes, there is value in saving the stuff of daily life. But I'm not convinced that libraries in general are obliged to try and keep everything. Yes, when you convert from one medium to another, you lose something (maybe an awful lot if you choose a dead-end medium like say Betamax). But paper isn't always the answer. It's going to become an even greater question this century, I suppose: what do we keep, and how do we keep it? And how do we I get what he's saying, but I'm still not sure if I agree. Yes, there is value in saving the stuff of daily life. But I'm not convinced that libraries in general are obliged to try and keep everything. Yes, when you convert from one medium to another, you lose something (maybe an awful lot if you choose a dead-end medium like say Betamax). But paper isn't always the answer. It's going to become an even greater question this century, I suppose: what do we keep, and how do we keep it? And how do we pay for it?

  20. 4 out of 5

    Elaina Vitale

    Baker has some good points but largely knows absolutely nothing about libraries, preservation and microfilming.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Jake Bornheimer

    I read enough to be able to say this. What becomes very clear very early on is that Baker has only so many arguments. What he has are well written and, I think, valid. Basically, they are 1) Microfiche (especially soon after its invention) has a high rate of failure, 2) Many libraries moved too quickly to adopt microfiche, leading to original copies of newspapers being destroyed, and 3) The experience of reading the paper is lost when switching media. I think these points all stand. Moving quick I read enough to be able to say this. What becomes very clear very early on is that Baker has only so many arguments. What he has are well written and, I think, valid. Basically, they are 1) Microfiche (especially soon after its invention) has a high rate of failure, 2) Many libraries moved too quickly to adopt microfiche, leading to original copies of newspapers being destroyed, and 3) The experience of reading the paper is lost when switching media. I think these points all stand. Moving quickly to microfiche is not a bad thing if the originals are retained long enough to ensure the information is properly retained (hey often weren't). Unfortunately, these points are stretched really thin over the length of the book. What’s more, Baker isn’t amenable to discuss alternatives. High resolution digital imaging is now a distinct possibility for preservation, especially when paired with constantly improving OCR. This book was released in 2001 and so could not have easily anticipated reasons why digital can become a good substitute (huge increase in processing, AI-assisted searchable text, much cheaper storage space), but he was permeated with a pessimism that seemed to cloud his judgment. But yes, I can agree that preserving the physical original should be the mandate of libraries where possible. Speaking of that pessimism, the real issue with this book is the presentation. To stretch his few (but persuasive) arguments over the length of a full book, Baker dips into a kind of emotional bibliopopulism, if I may coin a word. Baker presents his emotional arguments with no more nuance than the average person who, trembling at the mere idea of tossing out a moldy Tom Clancy mass-market, offers “it’s a book” as a weak excuse for not wanting to part with it. Preservation is extremely important, but Baker and the imaginary Clancyhead both fundamentally fetishize the past and especially the form of the information. This doesn’t go over well with people who actually deal with the constraints of space and shelving, as well as the cost of them.

  22. 4 out of 5

    L

    Interesting read that makes a lot of important points. The writing is a bit uneven, and at times feels like it might have been better served as a series of articles than a single book, but it was still worth reading. Sadly, twenty years later, not much has changed. Unfortunately, libraries are still prioritizing space (at my library, "study space" over space for books) and dumping materials to free up that space. Books and journals are hauled away in the middle of the night to avoid upsetting (o Interesting read that makes a lot of important points. The writing is a bit uneven, and at times feels like it might have been better served as a series of articles than a single book, but it was still worth reading. Sadly, twenty years later, not much has changed. Unfortunately, libraries are still prioritizing space (at my library, "study space" over space for books) and dumping materials to free up that space. Books and journals are hauled away in the middle of the night to avoid upsetting (or alerting) patrons, and many cuts are justified on the basis of other libraries maintaining a copy of something (even though the accuracy of WorldCat is often suspect because of how infrequently libraries update their holdings). I would have liked it if the book addressed some of the copyright issues of reformatting materials and then selling the resulting "new" content, but perhaps that's another book entirely. In any case, the author has clearly done his homework and was willing to put his own money on the line to rescue discarded materials. His recommendations for libraries should be taken seriously.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Devin

    A scathing indictment of major American libraries’ stewardship of their collections, with a particular focus on the role of public funding (the National Endowment for the Humanities, etc) and key leaders at the Library of Congress. Precipitated by a manufactured crisis — the specter of “crumbling books” fueled by shoddy materials research — library directors began to “preserve” their periodicals in microfilm, and later, digitally... But this process generally resulted in inferior or incomplete c A scathing indictment of major American libraries’ stewardship of their collections, with a particular focus on the role of public funding (the National Endowment for the Humanities, etc) and key leaders at the Library of Congress. Precipitated by a manufactured crisis — the specter of “crumbling books” fueled by shoddy materials research — library directors began to “preserve” their periodicals in microfilm, and later, digitally... But this process generally resulted in inferior or incomplete copies, and usually involved destroying the irreplaceable originals, often in the name of simply freeing up space in the library. This book involves several fascinating tangents: bizarre experimentation with weapons-grade flammable gas for de-acidification, the use of mummy wrappings in late 19th c. ragstock, and more. Highly recommended.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Robin

    As a fairly-avid reader, I was intrigued by this topic. How could books and papers be in danger? Then it was explained. After reading the book, I am conflicted with it. I can see where digitalization is a good thing. As a researcher, I turn to on-line articles/books constantly and am thankful I no longer have to spend time "in the stacks" However, I can see where microfilm is not usable and lose the true sense of "paper." As far as the book itself, it was well-written and steered from too much As a fairly-avid reader, I was intrigued by this topic. How could books and papers be in danger? Then it was explained. After reading the book, I am conflicted with it. I can see where digitalization is a good thing. As a researcher, I turn to on-line articles/books constantly and am thankful I no longer have to spend time "in the stacks" However, I can see where microfilm is not usable and lose the true sense of "paper." As far as the book itself, it was well-written and steered from too much jargon. I appreciated that!

  25. 4 out of 5

    Ietrio

    First I though somebody was describing the assault of somebody else by writing on a piece of paper. Turning the pages, I was wrong, it was about somebody who was assaulted while sitting on a piece of paper. Finally, it all made sense: the paper is the victim. And Baker is right: he and his drinking buddies won't pay a dime, but if Congress will continue to refuse to raise taxes more, no piece of paper will feel safe leaving the home. Let's face it: it's a dangerous world out there and we need a First I though somebody was describing the assault of somebody else by writing on a piece of paper. Turning the pages, I was wrong, it was about somebody who was assaulted while sitting on a piece of paper. Finally, it all made sense: the paper is the victim. And Baker is right: he and his drinking buddies won't pay a dime, but if Congress will continue to refuse to raise taxes more, no piece of paper will feel safe leaving the home. Let's face it: it's a dangerous world out there and we need a new police force to escort the pieces of paper on their daily routes.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Thomas Warger

    My librarian colleagues practically shunned me when I mentioned that I liked this book. It tells the story (with maybe excessive technophobia) of one of the great technological blunder--and a rare one--in the history of libraries: the awful rush to microfilm newspapers to clear shelf space. Granted, it is easier to take umbrage given that this happened not terribly long before digital scanning and non-destructive handling of the newspapers came along. But it is a classic story of Hubris.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Courtney

    2.5 stars.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Michael Alford

    Everyone should rad this book! It will break your heart, and give you a legitimate excuse to hoard old books.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Michelle Powers

    I read this book in graduate school. I didn't agree with the argument made by the author but I remember reading it so it was memorable. I read this book in graduate school. I didn't agree with the argument made by the author but I remember reading it so it was memorable.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Audra M. Deemer

    Nicholson Baker feels strongly about the importance of libraries as depositories of information. They are to hold for us now and future generations of information-seekers the original, physical texts of newspapers and books regardless of their current or past popularity. What may not be popular today may be tomorrow and if the original is gone, we may be left with an unreadable copy in the form of illegible or deteriorated Microfilm or even an obsolete digital form. Double Fold is a critical and Nicholson Baker feels strongly about the importance of libraries as depositories of information. They are to hold for us now and future generations of information-seekers the original, physical texts of newspapers and books regardless of their current or past popularity. What may not be popular today may be tomorrow and if the original is gone, we may be left with an unreadable copy in the form of illegible or deteriorated Microfilm or even an obsolete digital form. Double Fold is a critical and opinionated look on what has been happening and continues today to the vast collection of newspapers and books in libraries. During the 1980s and early 1990s, the movement to preserve books and periodicals for the future led to the destruction of the original copies in order to film them on Microfilm. Regardless of whether the preservation is done because of the deterioration of the texts or to make space in libraries, Baker laments why we cannot have both the original and a copy and presents what we lose in those copies. While Baker’s efforts to preserve (maybe more appropriate “conserve”) the many newspaper runs at his American Newspaper Repository is laudable, it is also leads to more questions for information professionals as examined by the Society of American Archivists in their response to his book. Richard Cox in “Don’t Fold Up” points out the impossibility of archivists to save everything (or even the copy). The fact is that “libraries and archives have many other competing priorities with limited resources.". Although Double Fold was written before much of the mass digitization and born digital going on today, I have to believe Baker is still criticizing much of the work being done in libraries and archives. What Baker fears if we lose so many original texts is the opportunity to know or find history for ourselves.

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