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Subject: Nicholson Baker article

Nicholson Baker article

From: Peter Graham <psgraham>
Date: Tuesday, October 24, 2000
As one of those terrible administrators, I want to ask a couple of
questions about the three letters in the most recent Cons DistList
14:25.  The first two writers, Mitchell Bishop and Colin Webb,
simply take Baker's statements as being the case and don't add new
information to the discussion.  Webb, in Australia, speaks of the
desirability of saving one hard copy.  So does Farren.  What is the
need for this, if not the "sentimental" reasons that Farren speaks
of?  I know this is a hard-nosed question; I'd like a hard-nosed
answer.  I'm just as sentimental as the next guy, but I'm in the
position of having to manage funds and make decisions--one hopes
with good advice--on this sort of issue.

Other answers might include whether, as is claimed, microfilming
technique and quality control is better now than it used to be.  If
not, can it be?  If so, back to first question.

Is there good measured qualitative information on what Colin Webb
calls the "variable rates" of decay of newsprint? --I've begun
seeing anecdotal statements about this since the Baker article, but
not data.  Is it affected by usage?  If not, what affects it and can
this be brought into microfilming and other preservation decisions?
If so, then the calculus of use vs. preservation comes very much
into play, and the perfectly-preserved newspapers become candidates
for decay if in fact they are used (as, say, the lone remaining hard

Colin says, "Managers with too much to do, "80/20" agendas, and a
host of new pressures piling up, tend to simplify the evidence, look
for the broad approach, and aren't very interested in what look like
redundant solutions. As preservation managers we fall for this, and
so do our senior executives."  Well, yes.  What would you have us
(and I mean you and me, Colin) do?  The right answer to present to
Baker is that society is not supporting preservation, not that
librarians are doing a bad job of it. Meanwhile we have to make
partial decisions, cost-effective decisions, bang-for-the-buck
decisions, in the absence of alternatives.  It becomes sentimental
in its own way to bemoan the loss of these newspapers to the
guillotine without considering the gain of preserved newspapers as a
result of intervention.  Losses at the margin?  of course.  How big
is the margin?  Let's talk about it.  But it isn't
managers-vs.-real-librarians here.

Meanwhile the Baker article, like his previous ones, has enough
truth in it that it needs to be dealt with.  Not by flagellation of
an unsupported profession, however, but by advocacy for more social
support for doing the right things better.  The "redundancy" that
Colin and Donald talk about is very desirable; how about redundancy
in funding so that we can experiment, and to keep more than one
without losing another?  *That's* the argument to be made. Our
colleagues, as Colin rightly says, are not the enemy.  --pg

Peter S. Graham
Syracuse University Library
Syracuse, NY 13244-2010
Fax: 315-443-2060

                  Conservation DistList Instance 14:26
                Distributed: Wednesday, November 8, 2000
                       Message Id: cdl-14-26-001
Received on Tuesday, 24 October, 2000

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