Save the papers?
April 23, 2001 7:45 AM   Subscribe

Save the papers? Nicholson Baker, in his new book Double Fold, tries to convince libraries and anyone else who will listen that we need to keep original newspapers to preserve the historical record. He's even started the nonprofit American Newspaper Repository so that libraries would sell their old papers to him.
posted by amyscoop (7 comments total)
The original Declaration of Independence has suffered over the centuries, and this guy's wanting to protect newspapers? They weren't intended to last a week, much less as long as they have. Newspapers were and are disposable media. He'd be better off dictating the text or scanning images into a computer. Either process would be cost-prohibitive. I agree with him that microfilm's not the way to go, although some believe otherwise but if he just wants to preserve the original pulp in its present form, he's chasing windmills.
posted by ZachsMind at 8:22 AM on April 23, 2001

Baker wrote a great piece a while back in the New Yorker (so of course no link) about his crusade, which I think is plenty worthwhile. Newspapers may be a "disposable media," but the information they contain and the snapshot of important events they provide are very valuable indeed. Of course, if preservation means sticking them down a mine shaft like the Bettmann photo archives then I say no way.
posted by thescoop at 11:00 AM on April 23, 2001

They weren't intended to last a week

Is that the guiding motto of archivists nowadays?

I was going to link to the recent NYT review of Double Fold, but their archived search appears to be way slow this morning. Poke around for some Baker-related links.
posted by gluechunk at 11:29 AM on April 23, 2001

Newspapers are not only good at giving others a view at how we view major events, but they are an unreproducable window into how we view the minutia of our life. And for a minutist like Baker, they are an invaluable archive of how the public navigates its world. A newspaper is like a guide to our culture: the national news, local news, housing market, food recipes and restaurant reviews, cars for sale, personal ads, the weather, sports, editorials. And the advertisements that reflect back to us what we like and want. It's a pretty amazing artifact, the daily paper.
posted by bison at 11:53 AM on April 23, 2001

Wraps my fish great, too!

Seriously, as the son of a social historian, there's nothing like a daily newspaper for telling us how people really lived. In fact it IS the disposable media that are the most useful, because that's where we put stuff that needs to be there, not stuff that we want to reflect on us better in a century.

Zach, Baker isn't some lone crank here; the preservation of fragile media is an important issue for librarians, archivists, and historians. The trouble is that most small institutions cannot get the money or personnel to do these tasks, and they are often charged not with preservation/conservation of media, but with access. So they microfilm and hope they got everything. Baker's goal here is to create an institution with the (attainable) goal of conservation.

It may not be wholly successful in the end, but I'm glad someone is trying.
posted by dhartung at 12:01 PM on April 23, 2001

I applaud Baker's effort, but am more concerned with saving the information than the physical paper. (I've purchased old maps and documents sold as collectibles when, given the choice, I would have been perfectly happy with a photocopy.)

Ideally we should have a captured image (microfilm or scan) and searchable text, available online, so getting 1950s articles from the Hartford Times (which is no longer in business) wouldn't require a flight to Hartford.

I'll add a "me too" to local newspapers being an invaluable source of historical information. History books, essays etc. will summarize and filter the information, if they include it at all; and even then will cover it with the sensibility of months or years of hindsight. The newspaper can capture the mood of the public (or at least the journalist) on the day the event happened.
posted by kurumi at 9:41 AM on April 24, 2001

Then we shouldn't stop with daily papers. When I was in high school, there were these kids who made an independent zine called "The Nameless Generation." I think all twelve of the issues they produced should be preserved. In fact there's kids every semester who produce tracts or zines they pass out en masse to their fellow students in high schools and colleges all over the country. All over the world. Just because a press isn't circulated to hundreds of thousands daily, or has a brand name like "TRIBUNE" or "TIMES" doesn't mean it isn't worth saving. In fact it should be more criminal to dispose of any printed word than it is to burn the American flag.

And we should print out every web page ever designed. Preserve them all too.

You say this is an attainable goal? I say it's a foolish one. The paper and ink can be replaced. New mediums come and go with time. The words are what's important. Save what you can to microfilm or disk. Recycle or trash the paper. Sometimes I think there are people who believe if we don't preserve the original copy of the DoI, the US gov't would dry up the next day.

It's the WORDS that are important. It's the ideas and thoughts they convey. It's why Basho would write haiku on rice paper. It is the exhalation of breath.

The moment of life captured
is what matters. It
is Meaning. Not medium.
posted by ZachsMind at 3:02 AM on April 28, 2001

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