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Subject: Nicholson Baker article

Nicholson Baker article

From: Donald Farren <dfarren>
Date: Sunday, October 22, 2000
Re Ellen McCrady's response (Cons DistList 14:23, October 16, 2000)
to Winston Tabb's letter to the editors of The New Yorker
(distributed in Cons DistList 14:22, October 14, 2000) about
Nicholson Baker's article in The New Yorker of July 24, 2000,
"Deadline: The Author's Desperate Bid to Save America's Past".

Ellen reports that she "heard that some of the Europeans at one of
the IFLA conferences (1986 or 1989) were shocked at our practice of
discarding serials after the spines were cut off for microfilming."
I'm not sure what conference Ellen refers to, but I remember
attending a conference on "Saving Newspapers for the Future" (or
some such title) that was held about the time she mentions, convened
by IFLA at the Library of Congress with an international audience,
to which as the then Associate Director for Special Collections,
University of Maryland College Park, I gained admission.  Most of
the participants in the conference from abroad were representatives
of their national library, who were expected, as leaders in their
counties, to disseminate the deliberations of the conference.
Following are one man's memories of that event.

In my naive way I initially thought that the conference was a forum
for examining the issues of preserving and conserving newspapers,
and in fact, to lend an appearance of objectivity to the
proceedings, the organizers commissioned a paper that was circulated
to conference participants that favored the conservation of
newspapers in their original form.  That thankless job had been
assigned to an author who had not been able to really think through
the issues, as a result of which the author's defense of conserving
original artifacts was based chiefly on sentimental grounds rather
than on an understanding of the intellectual significance of
artifacts per se.  Thus the real agenda of the conference soon
became apparent--namely getting the conferees to endorse the
doctrine that the only way of "saving newspapers" was to microfilm
them.  (I lost my initial naivete when I learned that the organizers
of the conference had drafted a statement of the resolutions of the
conference in that vein before it had begun.)

In the face of the formidable pressure to endorse a policy of saving
newspapers by chopping, filming, and tossing them, I advanced the
modest proposal that national libraries should assume the
responsibility (distributed countrywide as appropriate) to Conserve
in Original Form at Least One Copy of Every Newspaper.  At the time,
the only person at the conference who publicly supported my proposal
was Randy Silverman, and the charge against my proposal, on the
grounds of impracticality (as if it was practical to microfilm
everything without saving the evidence and the content borne by at
least one original copy) was led by (since I am naming names) one
Margaret Childs (or Child), who was then responsible for promoting
preservation microfilming for the National Endowment for the
Humanities, who as such--as a gateway to funding, swung a lot of
weight. (Ms. Childs/Child was, I remember, a staunch opponent.  She
declared that she had researched *her* dissertation by reading
newspapers on microfilm and that the experience hadn't ruined *her*
eyes, as if the inconvenience of reading microfilm was an issue
central, rather than peripheral, to conservation and preservation
policy.)  The result of my making a proposal to conserve was that
the proposal was taken under advisement and thereafter not again
seriously considered.

Despite the inevitability of an endorsement of mass microfilming,
the conference had its points, indeed poignant moments.  I remember
one representative of the national library of a developing country
commenting that microfilming was all well and good but that in her
country they did not have a reliable enough source electricity so
they could count on machines of any kind, including microfilm
readers, functioning.

As Nicholson Baker's piece suggests, time will tell, and public
opinion will decide, which policy--selective (at least) conservation
or mass microfilming--is the wisest.

    **** Moderator's comments: For the record it's Margaret S.
    Child. Donald Farren wrote back and provided this citation:

    "Managing the Preservation of Serial Literature:  An
    International Symposium." Conference held at the Library of
    Congress, Washington, D.C., May 22-24, 1989, Sponsored by the
    International Federation of Library Associations and
    Institutions and the Library of  Congress.  Edited by Merrily A.
    Smith. K.G. Saur, New York 1992.  IFLA Publications 57.  ISSN:
    3-598-21783-8. $60.  292 pp.

Donald Farren
4009 Bradley Lane
Chevy Chase, MD 20815
Fax: 301-951-3898

                  Conservation DistList Instance 14:25
                 Distributed: Monday, October 23, 2000
                       Message Id: cdl-14-25-003
Received on Sunday, 22 October, 2000

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