Saturday, October 23, 2004


I've had a bear of a time getting a good night's sleep recently, so I've attempted to make the most of my insomniac ways by strategically placing reading material throughout the house, so wherever I end up dozing I can at least make my way through a book or two I've been dying to read. Right now I'm working on the following three titles:

Bibliophilia, by Michael Griffiths

The Rape of Greece, by Peter Murtaugh

Double-fold: Libraries and the Assault on Paper, by Nicholson Baker

And I'm enjoying them immensely, each in its own way. Bibliophilia is a collection of short stories, beginning with the title story, which takes the idea of sex in the library stacks and just runs away with it. Murtaugh's journalistic history of the military junta which ruled Greece for a decade is equal parts chilling and depressing, and a necessary read for anyone who's at a loss to understand why our European allies may not always give us the benefit of the doubt as to the basic goodness of our foreign policy endeavors. Between Winston Churchill's stubborn insistence that Greece remain a monarchy and the United States' paranoid fears of a Communist takeover, the Greeks suffered terribly and needlessly for years after the horrors of Nazi occupation.

And as for Double-fold - I guess I'm going to have to be counted as one of those librarian types who is just as horrified as Nicholson Baker at the willful destruction of original copies for the sake of space and cost. Having been around library management long enough to know that Groupthink is a real and dangerous phenomenon among a profession which faithfully gathers twice a year to disseminate new ideas (and upgrade their buzzwords!), I can easily see how the allure of switching to an all-microfilm collection for periodicals, newspapers, and ultimately books might have infected the Powers That Be with its promise of freeing up floors and floors of shelf-space.

Even if Baker ends up going a little overboard in pushing the military-industrial complex into the center of his tale, it shouldn't detract from his very valid point that we must make absolutely certain that we do not make the same mistakes again with the prospect of digitization, which is being hailed in almost exactly the same terms as microfilm was to library decision-makers last century. How this book has been distorted by my colleagues as an outsider blasting us naively for "not saving everything" is an interesting bit of circling the wagons, as anyone who reads Double-fold knows damned well that Baker wouldn't be so hopping mad if we as a profession had bothered to save just one master set of originals for each newspaper or periodical in question. We deserve our lumps on this issue, lest we do it all over again in the much-ballyhooed electronic age.

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