That question was asked by journalist Richard Poynder, whose piece covers the book, the bitter reaction to the book by librarians and archivists, and the real issue at hand, which is, what is the best way to preserve the great volumes of newspapers that have not been dumped, chain-sawed, or left to molder in spidery warehouses?
A book published by Richard Cox -- Vandals in the Stacks? -- is largely seen as an attempt to rebut much of what Baker has argued; "I do not want to denigrate the debate into merely a matter of 'I am a professional and Nicholson Baker is an amateur'," writes Cox, who is an information sciences professor at the University of Pittsburgh. "Yet, the essence of being an expert is in mastering a specialized body of knowledge and of using that knowledge for a public good," he concludes. And so, Poynder responds in his article, "The public should trust [librarians]. We know what we're doing."
However, the writer goes on, "trust ... is now in doubt. Double Fold has tested the public's faith in libraries."
Poynder quotes Abby Smith, program director at the Council on Library and Information Resources, says that Baker " ... doesn't know very much about how libraries work, how they are funded, and what their core missions are." Janet Gertz, the director of preservation at Columbia University Libraries believes that Baker is confused about the missions of libraries and archives. Libraries, she explains, "are not archives responsible for keeping every single item forever."
But to that, Baker (interviewed by Poynder) replies that some critics are "fascinated" over the notion that he doesn't understand "what an 'archive' really is. This is goofy," he scoffs, going on to point out that his book clearly delineates the differences.
Journal of Academic Librarianship joins Baker in ripping libraries: In his short but succinct article, Steve McKinzie goes along with Baker in assaulting librarians, who have put together, he says, "a well-constructed, well-financed conspiracy" to in effect "replace many of the nation's newspaper and book collections with microfilm." Librarians insist they have little choice in the matter, McKinzie writes, "because of the highly acidic nature of the paper used" in many newspapers.
Baker, however, "charges librarians with misrepresenting the facts, if not outright lying ... To glean funding from a gullible public and to free up stack space for new acquisitions" (McKinzie, 2002). Baker's book shows how librarians, "in their zeal to ease storage concerns and in their fascination with Central Intelligence Agency postwar microfilming, have mortgaged one of the countries greatest cultural heritages," which is the real bound copies of newspapers in original form. For McKinzie, Baker is "the man of the hour" when it comes to library issues worth discussing.
Common Knowledge calls Baker "a brilliant essayist as well as novelist ... " Through his book, Double Fold, Baker, writes G. Thomas Tanselle, has shown "how consistently library administrators, eager to save space, have failed to understand the function of physical evidence in reading." Primary sources, Tanselle explains, "are not simply words, but words attached to physical objects made and used at particular past times."
The controversy stirred up by Baker's book, Tanselle continues, has revealed other problems in terms of the destruction of originals in the name of "preservation and access." For example, the United States Patent and Trademark Office has been converting its archives to "an electronic database," which is not an evil adventure, but in the process of the conversion, "is throwing away many original drawings of inventions submitted for patent protection." The fact that newspaper reporters, recently dipping into the trash bins outside the Patent Office, have turned up "sketches by Thomas A. Edison," offers ample evidence, the writer asserts, that a serious discussion on preservation is needed.
Journal of the Society of Archivists reviews the Baker and the Cox books: this review of Baker's book, and the rebuttal publication mentioned earlier in this paper, is fairly even-handed, but in the end comes down on the side of Baker. The writer (Forde, 2003) explains that Baker has "lanced arrows" against librarians, and has "issued some very public indictments of heinous crimes apparently perpetrated by professionals on an unconscious world." And Cox, whose publication "is really addressed to fellow librarians, archivists and educators," begins to "flounder when the issues of his own role and his present audience are raised" in his book, Vandals in the Stacks? Meanwhile, Baker's "diatribe has attracted wide interest," Forde writes, and the result should be that librarians must involve the public in the issue, which has previously been debated only "internally."
The Library Journal points out some good Baker has done: Many librarians "may be outraged by Baker's 'purposeful misrepresentations,'" according to the article by a trio of writers, but other librarians "are glad for the exposure and look forward to broad public discussion of preservation concerns." The article quotes the executive director of the Association of Research Libraries, Duane Webster, as saying Baker is "unfair" to critique all librarians for using microfilm, which was "state-of-the-art" when it was first promoted by the industry, and later, by librarians.
Albanese, Andrew. "Duke Receives Baker's Archives." Library Journal 129.11 (2004):
Baker, Nicholson. Double Fold: Libraries and the Assault on Paper. New York: Random
Forde, Helen. "Blast and Counter-Blast: perfidy exposed?" Journal of the Society of Archivists 24.1 (2003): 103-106.
McKinzie, Steve. "Double Fold: Libraries and the Assault on Paper." Journal of Academic Librarianship 28.3 (2002): 166-168.