Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Cox responds to Baker

Folks looking for the "archivist's response" to Nicholson Baker's arguments may want to check out this essay by Richard Cox in First Monday. Cox attempts to refute Baker's arguments against newspaper microfilming and subsequent destruction one by one:

Novelist and literary essayist Nicholson Baker once again has caused a stir in the library world, this time attacking the sale and/or destruction of original newspapers once they have been microfilmed. Ably and eloquently arguing his case, Baker is still wrong while succeeding in raising public awareness about the care of basic documentary sources and in forcing librarians and archivists alike to re-think basic assumptions and practices. My essay responds to what I discern as Baker's four main points - a lie foisted upon the public about the care of the newspapers, the insidious destruction of original newspapers, the resultant loss of trust by the public in libraries and archives, and a set of wrong priorities leading to the misguided microfilming and destruction of the newspapers. My essay also suggests that we should expect more such public debates as the developing Digital Age brings more intense concerns for original books, archives, and other documents.

As the final reading of the semester in our class -- and a reading which recounts the library history of the twentieth century from the perspective of one who is neither librarian nor historian -- I hope we can respectfully consider and/or challenge Baker's points as Cox does. But I will be curious to see what you think, in the end, of the contradictory meanings of "preservation" and "conservation" that Baker reveals.

Once again, though I know you're sick of it: What is (has been, should be) the social function, social purpose, social value of the library?

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