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Subject: Nicholson Baker article

Nicholson Baker article

From: Dorothy A LaValle-Hagag <dlav>
Date: Friday, October 6, 2000
    The New Yorker
    4 Times Square
    New York, NY 10036

    Dear Editors:

    Re: Nicholson Baker article entitled "Deadline: The author's
    desperate bid to save America's past" in the July 24, 2000,

    Collecting, preserving and providing access to the written word
    is a core activity of all libraries.  Unfortunately, the
    chemical 'vice' of certain formats, such as the acidic and
    impermanent newsprint on which most of the world's news is
    printed, limits what libraries can retain in original format.
    The Library of Congress, along with other libraries, has
    implemented preservation strategies to slow the natural decay of
    collections, and in cases where the original is of inherently
    poor quality or too damaged to be used, to transfer the
    disappearing information onto a more stable format that can be
    preserved for future generations.

    In asserting that newsprint will last indefinitely, Mr. Baker is
    overlooking several decades of scientific research that
    contradicts the linchpin of his argument.  Library of Congress
    experts shared that information, as well as more recent
    unpublished scientific data, with Mr. Baker when he visited the
    Library in December 1998.

    Microfilming, while not perfect, has proven to be an effective
    technology for rescuing brittle paper and for facilitating
    shared access to endangered research materials.  Microfilm
    created in accordance with international standards has succeeded
    in preserving millions of newspaper pages that would otherwise
    have crumbled into uselessness.  It has also enabled innumerable
    numbers of readers in distant locations to gain access to the
    content of newspapers that they otherwise could not have used.

    In recent testimony before Congress, the eminent historian,
    James McPherson explained that in doing his research he had
    tried to use 19th century newspapers in the Johns Hopkins
    library, and as he "turned these precious but highly acidic
    pages, some of them tore and crumbled in my hands no matter how
    carefully and delicately I handled them."  He continued, "I was
    horrified by the experience of damaging, perhaps destroying the
    very sources that nurtured my knowledge.  Here I was, in one of
    the world's greatest libraries defacing its rare and valuable
    resources!.... Intellectually I knew why these pages were
    crumbling, knew that it was not my fault.  But emotionally I
    could not escape the feelings of guilt and shame."

    Mr. Baker would have your readers believe that the Library of
    Congress, in a clandestine manner, routinely discarded perfectly
    useable newspaper volumes in a zealous search for shelf space.
    This is both ridiculous and insulting.  Librarians must make
    decisions every day about how best to acquire,  preserve and
    make permanently accessible the record of human creativity; but
    they cannot keep everything, or keep everything in its original
    "container."  For example, the Library of Congress retains all
    newspapers in hard copy from the 17th and 18th centuries.  The
    Library also collects and retains original newspapers about
    historic events, such as the sinking of the Maine, published
    since the 1830s.  Those decisions are based on many criteria,
    but pre-eminent among them is that knowledge must be preserved
    in a way that makes it usable by successive generations.

    Even though the Library of Congress and other libraries do not
    have the luxury of preserving and storing hundreds of thousands
    of rapidly deteriorating newspapers in their original format, we
    welcome help from people like Nicholson Baker who apparently can
    afford to do so.

    Winston Tabb
    Associate Librarian for Library Services
    Library of Congress, LM-642
    Washington, DC 20540-4000
    (202) 707-6240

Dottie LaValle-Hagag
LIBN/OC/PAO (1610) LM-105

                  Conservation DistList Instance 14:22
                Distributed: Saturday, October 14, 2000
                       Message Id: cdl-14-22-004
Received on Friday, 6 October, 2000

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