Saturday, November 18, 2006

"Double Fold" by Baker- discussion questions

Hello! Hopefully everyone is staying sane in their end-of-semester crunch time, and you've got enough brain power left over from all your hard work to ponder some questions on this week's reading.

1) Baker defines the difference between conservation and preservation in that conservation aims to preserve or repair the original document, preservation aims to maintain or preserve the words or images from the original document (107-108). Do you agree with this distinction? If so, if your goal is to preserve a book, is it also possible to conserve it?

2) With the Google Book project and UW’s participation in it, according to the UW website there are three main reasons that are listed for joining the project, storage, preservation and access. Do these motives differ from the motives that created the push to move newspapers, periodicals and books to microfilm? Do you think projects like Google Book learned from the past and the first push to move text from being bound to being available in Microfilm? What do you think Baker would think of Google Book? Do you think librarians as a profession and our society as a whole are doing enough to keep digital books and PDFs from being the next version of microfilms and optical disks?

3) The title of the book is Double Fold, based on the test that is used to determine the brittleness of a book. Baker dismisses that test because he believes it doesn’t test the true factor in deciding whether a book is in usable condition and offers his own test to determine the viability of a book. Do you think the double fold test is valid? If not, is Baker’s test valid? If it’s not valid, then why has the double fold test almost universally been accepted as reasonable libraries?

4) Baker quotes G. Thomas Tanselle in stating that Tanselle believes libraries should “aspire to the condition of museums. All their books are treasures, in a sense; the general stacks become a sort of comprehensive rare-book room – not staffed and serviced as rare-book rooms are,obviously, but understood as occupying the same kind of unreformattable sensorium.” Baker also quotes Philip Mores and his view of the modern library “cannot now be operated as though it were a passive repository for printed material.” Which statement do you think lines up more with the purpose for the library today?

5)A reoccurring theme in Double Fold is the idea that those involved in the destruction of newspapers and books to be microfilmed are destroying important public historical artifacts without the publics knowledge or consent. Is Baker overstating this, or are the advocates of microfilming and digitizing documents really robbing us of our heritage?

6) Baker spends a lot of time discussing how funding was procured for projects like Brittle Book and attempts to “deacidfy” books, using both private and government funds. In Double Fold, was motivation for these projects ways to get funds for the library or did the people running these programs truly believe in their programs cause? How much does the drive to fund libraries and library projects determine what projects are taken up in the library world?

7)Baker claims that storing books and newspapers is less costly than microfilming them, and that library professionals are overselling the "space limitations" quandary. Are libraries really that pressed for space? If so, are there other alternatives for storage than Bakers "large building near Washington"?

8)Do you think his ideals of having multiple copies of each bound item in the library is something that can be achieved? Think in terms of our society today: one bound (pun not intended) by budget cuts and job this something that can happen?

9)How can ordinary citizens who are opposed to the destruction of newspapers and books for microfilming get involved? What political recourse exists for them?

10) Contrast Baker's work with Levy's "Scrolling Forward". One noteworthy factor in comparing the two authors and their point of view is their background and experience. While Baker is a well-known novelist, Levy has real-world experience both as an IT expert (working at Xerox PARC) and a print culture expert (working with historic forms of calligraphy). How do you think their divergent backgrounds have an impact on their viewpoints?

11) Every great story has its villains. Baker has no shortage of evil henchmen in this book- Verner Clapp comes to mind as the Lex Luthor of "Double Fold". However, more often than not, the key players in the microforms push often come across as characters and not real people. Do you think there's more to their opinions than simply a displeasure for old books, a desire to save space, and a love of new gadgets? Do you think that a desire for heightened academic and professional standing factored in their viewpoints? Do you think that these "villains" would have been as successful at their public awareness-raising and corresponding funds-getting if they would have pushed for simply more storage space or improved conservation?

12) What do you think of the fact that Print Culture History as a valid field of academic study has practically no mention in "Double Fold"? Keep in mind that the field rose to prominence in the late 1970's, yet the film "Slow Fires" was developed in the late '80s and its subsequent result on discarded collections didnt happen until the 1990s. In addition, Baker constantly laments the fact that technology enthusiasts ("preservationists"?) far outnumber those with actual bookbinding and paper chemistry experience ("conservationists"?). Do you think the Print Culture Historians and conservationists in the world would benefit from a piece of PR like "Slow Fires"?

13) After all his huffing and puffing, Baker comes up with a pretty simple, concise list of recommendations for improving the current state of library affairs. What do you think of the viability of these suggestions- specifically the idea of libraries keeping their discard records public, and the LOC adding more shelve space to hold everything they're sent?


At 5:01 PM, Blogger Eric Bartell said...

re: 5)
On one hand, I do think Baker makes some valid points about the way the handling of newspapers and books could have been better. However, I do think he is overstating the issue, especially in regards to newspapers. Even though we miss out on some of the value in hard copies, micorfilms and digitized forms (if readable--if not, that is definitely an area for necessary improvement), I think the majority of the value is still there. Plus, he takes the issue out of the broader context. You cannot store everything ad infinitum. Eventually we will run out of space, and then it will be a matter of "what is more important?" Is a storage facility more important than someone's house, stemming urban sprawl, etc? I wonder to what degree is this a matter of sentimentality, fear of the impermanence of life, and a syndrome of being a "packrat." Let's not just unreflectively throw everything out, but let's also not make it the most important issue in life.

At 8:03 PM, Blogger Catherine Panosh said...

I do not think that libraries would willingly destoy their own collections. In this sense, Baker's claim that storing newspapers and periodicals as being less costly than microfilming them is completely overblown. Therefore, I do not feel that librarians are "overselling the space quandry." In addition, Baker's suggestion for a "large building near Washington" is overly optimistic, considering what the costs of maintaining such an extensive book depository would be.

At 10:06 AM, Blogger ekbromley said...

regarding #4:
Baker makes a pretty strong case against the double fold test. I agree with him that the page-turning test he tried out would be more indicative of a book's strength and possible longevity.
Which makes me wonder, as question #4 mentions, why do all of these usually reasonable libraries hold the double fold test up as valid? Maybe it's one of those cases where people prefer to have any answer over having no answer. That is, people want to know how long their book will last, someone with credentials comes up with a method for predicting that, and then people accept it willingly because they are glad to have an answer to their question. Sometimes the validity of a test matters less to people than the existence of the test itself.

At 10:10 AM, Blogger Kristin said...

The biggest complaint I have about Double Fold is Baker's creation of villains. I feel he is setting up a strawman by saying those, who choose to replace hard copies of newspapers with microfilm or microfiche, are merely doing so due to a "supposed" lack of space. There are more than simply overhead and labor costs involved if we make the decision to keep everything. Newspaper collections require processing and maintenance. That will take up a certain amount of staff time. Now let's pretend we bought a warehouse separate from the library to house this collection. There will be retrieval costs as well. How often would retrievals be made? For each delivery from the warehouse to the library, there will be an additional cost. How often are these papers going to be used? Do the costs outweigh the benefits of keeping them? If we spend money retaining old copies of newspapers, what are we giving up? Does this turn into a situation of old newspapers versus database subscriptions, staff, or a literacy program?

As any good archivist will tell you, we cannot keep everything. There are limits to staff time, shelf space, and funding. This also applies to libraries. For each thing we keep, we are taking resources from something else. We cannot process everything. Historians don't have time to sort through everything. Preservation requires a decision on the part of the librarian or archivist regarding relative importance of the item.

At 10:37 AM, Blogger Jamey said...

When comparing Baker to Levy, I feel Levy is more realistic. He has experience on both sides and, although he prefers print over digital material, he sees the advantages of both. It seems to me Baker cannot or will not see the other side of the issue and, as Kristin said, labels all who do not agree with him as villains. Perhaps if Baker had more real world experience in this area, he would have written a slightly more unbiased book.

At 10:42 AM, Blogger Becky Jean said...

re: question 2

I think Baker would find Google Book a completely seperate argument. Although, the project lists preservation and storage as key points, much of what is being done truly seems to focus on the access part of the equation. This differs from the basic reasoning behind the microfilming of newspapers and books, which was a space issue essentially, although some argued conservation. Microfilming did not change the book/newspaper's accessibility in the way in which Google Books will. Its availability was still bound to the physical restrictions of a book, even more so as it now required a microfilm reader. Google Books requires a computer, but not a limited physical object.

At 11:21 AM, Blogger Cynthia said...

re: question 4

Within the conversation with Tanselle, Baker writes, "Once a large research library makes the decision to add a particular book to its collection, it has a responsiblity to try to keep that physical book in its collection forever." (pp.225) To me, this is a completely ridiculous statement. Besides being untenable with a library's mission, it's plain nuts to think that a library will attempt to keep every single book it acquires in its collection forever. I believe Philip Mores is much more is realistic (and desirable) in his statement that libraries ought not be passive repositories. Yes - managers do need to keep in mind that research trends vary over time, but we cannot predict those trends and trying to keep everything will only result in everything being kept poorly.


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