Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Baker v. Librarian

Nicholas Baker tells an exciting story about the failures of microfilm and American libraries in general. He uses his years of experience as a fiction writer to craft a doomsday tale so believable that you must keep yourself from running to the microforms office of your local library to protest the destruction of our collective historical record between chapters. Baker sprinkles his tale with histories of paper made from mummy wrapping, exploding vacuum chambers, and connections to CIA torture experiments.

My question to the class is, what of Baker’s story do we believe and why have we done so? Here is a man who has no formal library training, traipsing through some of our country’s greatest information depositories telling us, librarians, how to do our jobs. Moreover, he spends thirty-eight chapters telling the public that we have lied to them about the state of our collections and that our books are not in fact falling apart on our shelves as we have stated for years in our requests for funding. What has driven him to tear apart decades of procedures perfected by library professionals and are his concerns about these practices valid?

1 comment:

Heather said...

Wow. Anne has written a really thought provoking post. I think it's important to consider that this book was intended for the masses, not exclusively for scholars. That does not mean that the book is not factual or that Baker isn't qualified to have an opinion on library matters. I don't think that Baker is telling "us" how to do our jobs... as an outsider I think that he has a valid voice in criticizing what is a huge undertaking by libraries like the Library of Congress. After all, it effects the public who supports. It's not as though he's making accusations willy-nilly. In many instances Baker went to the librarians to inquire about their procedures, and in several instances, the librarians were unwilling or unable to explain their actions. Shouldn't they be accountable to the public? Just because Baker has no formal library training doesn't mean he isn't qualified to form an intelligent opinon about a topic that spans well beyond our profession, and it's not as though he spent 38 chapters fabricating events that point to his thesis. And I'm not exactly clear on what these "perfected" procedures are. If they are perfected, why are there ongoing problems related to the irretrievable loss of original works, space limitations, poor microfilm, etc?