The E-Sylum:  Volume 4, Number 17, April 22, 2001, Article 7


   Stephen Pradier, Tom Fort, and others all pointed out the 
   release of a new book that is a call to arms for bibliophiles, 
   researchers, and historians.  "Double Fold : Libraries and the 
   Assault on Paper"  by Nicholson Baker is "an outraged, bitterly 
   funny indictment of how our country's most august libraries have 
   systematically trashed older books and newspapers.  With a 
   few notable exceptions, the librarians we meet in the book aren't 
   the prudent, book-nuzzling custodians we'd expect to find at the 
   National Archives and major university libraries; instead, they're 
   efficiency-minded technophiles who wantonly destroyed original 
   texts and replaced them with badly filmed, unreliable facsimiles. 

   As a result, the original copies of many newspaper runs and 
   books are gapped or gone, while their microfilm replacements, 
   imperfect to begin with, are melting and yellowing.  Newer, 
   more sophisticated duplication efforts, such as digital scanning, 
   are stymied before they even start:  The microfilms are too poor 
   to copy from, and the originals have already been destroyed. 

   This is because, in the library biz, what's called "preservation" 
   is actually destructive. (If you want to talk about the literal 
   repair of books, the term is "conservation.")  To microfilm a 
   text is to ruin it: The volume is gutted like a fish so that its 
   sheaves may be easily fed into the camera, and the 
   disemboweled result is usually sold or dumped."  [from 
   commentary in the online magazine Slate:, 
   forwarded by Stephen Pradier. 

   From the Publisher: "Since the 1950s, our country’s greatest 
   libraries have, as a matter of common practice, dismantled their 
   collections of original bound newspapers and so-called brittle 
   books, replacing them with microfilmed copies.  The marketing 
   of the brittle-paper crisis and the real motives behind it are the 
   subject of this passionately argued book, in which Nicholson 
   Baker pleads the case for saving our recorded heritage in its 
   original form while telling the story of how and why our greatest 
   research libraries betrayed the public trust by auctioning off or 
   pulping irreplaceable collections.  The players include the 
   Library of Congress, the CIA, NASA, microfilm lobbyists, 
   newspaper dealers, and a colorful array of librarians and digital 
   futurists, as well as Baker himself — who eventually discovers 
   that the only way to save one important newspaper is to buy it. 
   Double Fold is an intense, brilliantly worded narrative that is 
   sure to provoke discussion and controversy." 

   Book Excerpt: "The British Library's newspaper collection 
   occupies several buildings in Colindale, north of London, near 
   a former Royal Air Force base that is now a museum of aviation. 
   On October 20, 1940, a German airplane — possibly 
   mistaking the library complex for an aircraft-manufacturing plant 
   — dropped a bomb on it.  Ten thousand volumes of Irish and 
   English papers were destroyed; fifteen thousand more were 
   damaged. Unscathed, however, was a very large foreign- 
   newspaper collection, including many American titles: thousands 
   of fifteen-pound brick-thick folios bound in marbled boards, 
   their pages stamped in red with the British Museum's crown-and- 
   lion symbol of curatorial responsibility. 

   Bombs spared the American papers, but recent managerial 
   policy has not — most were sold off in a blind auction in the fall 
   of 1999.  One of the library's treasures was a seventy-year run, 
   in about eight hundred volumes, of Joseph Pulitzer's exuberantly 
   polychromatic newspaper, the New York World.  Pulitzer 
   discovered that illustrations sold the news; in the 1890s, he 
   began printing four-color Sunday supplements and splash-panel 
   cartoons. The more maps, murder-scene diagrams, ultra-wide 
   front-page political cartoons, fashion sketches, needlepoint 
   patterns, children's puzzles, and comics that Pulitzer published, 
   the higher the World's sales climbed; by the mid-nineties, its 
   circulation was the largest of any paper in the country. William 
   Randolph Hearst moved to New York in 1895 and copied 
   Pulitzer's innovations and poached his staff, and the war 
   between the two men created modern privacy-probing, 
   muckraking, glamour-smitten journalism. A million people a 
   day once read Pulitzer's World; now an original set is a good 
   deal rarer than a Shakespeare First Folio or the Gutenberg Bible. 

   Besides the World, the British Library also possessed one of 
   the last sweeping runs of the sumptuous Chicago Tribune — 
   about 1,300 volumes,  reaching from 1888 to 1958, complete 
   with bonus four-color art supplements on heavy stock from 
   the 1890s ("This Paper is Not Complete Without the Color 
   Illustration" says the box on the masthead); extravagant layouts 
   of illustrated fiction; elaborately hand-lettered ornamental 
   headlines; and decades of page-one political cartoons by John 
   T. McCutcheon. The British Library owned, as well, an 
   enormous set of the San Francisco Chronicle (one of perhaps 
   two that are left..)." 

   [Editor's note:  This gutting of our libraries has been in full 
   swing for many years.   My interest in contemporary accounts 
   of coinage in America led me, over time,  to purchase a large 
   number of old newspapers containing such content.   I published 
   many of these in a book draft and on my web site 
   (  I naturally asked myself the 
   question, "Where are these dealers getting all this stuff?", and the 
   answer was that libraries had been deaccessioning newspapers 
   for some time, boosting a cottage industry of paper and 
   ephemera dealers who buy and remarket the papers to 

   One dealer who contacted me was remarketing a partial set 
   of London-based Gentleman's Mazagine, vol 1 (1731) to vol 71 
   (1801).   I purchased from him a set of virtually all numismatically- 

   related articles published in the magazine during those years, 
   which included several items related to American numismatics. 
   I shudder at the thought of someone dismembering a set of this 
   important journal, but a number of personal libraries were 
   enriched as a result (as was the seller, no doubt).] 

  Wayne Homren, Editor

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