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Double Fold: Libraries and the Assault on Paper

3.37  ·  Rating Details  ·  794 Ratings  ·  90 Reviews
The ostensible purpose of a library is to preserve the printed word. But for fifty years our country’s libraries–including the Library of Congress–have been doing just the opposite, destroying hundreds of thousands of historic newspapers and replacing them with microfilm copies that are difficult to read, lack all the color and quality of the original paper and illustratio ...more
Paperback, 370 pages
Published April 9th 2002 by Vintage (first published 2001)
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Feb 21, 2007 Lucy rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: NOBODY
DON'T LISTEN TO HIM! Nicholson Baker is NOT a librarian or archivist; he does not understand the missions of these institutions. His argument, therefore, is uninformed and inherently romanticizes the concept of preservation. He is, in short, a nutcase willing to spend his life savings on a crumbling anti-legacy. For a scholarly response (from an eminent archives scholar), look to Richard Cox's Vandals in the Stacks?: A Response to Nicholson Baker's Assualt on Libraries.
May 31, 2007 Jesse rated it liked it
Shelves: libraries
Nicholson Baker’s Double Fold: Libraries and the Assault on Paper is a fiery polemic dedicated to the task of protecting what he sees as one of our nation’s most important resources: our libraries’ massive stockpile of seldom-used older books and newspapers. As Baker explains, the extent of our paper reserves of old newspapers and rarely read old books is dwindling, often being chopped up and “preserved” (that is, their content, rather than their form, is preserved) in either microform or a digi ...more
May 28, 2009 Susie rated it it was amazing
It took me a ridiculously long time to finish this book, for reasons into which I shall not go, but that is no reflection on the book itself. It is about the decimation of our libraries by fiendish proponents of microfilm. Untold treasures of periodicals and books have been lost due to the persuasion of librarians by "preservationists" that the paper would soon crumble into dust. One test that would be done to prove the incipient crumbliness of a page was called the "Double Fold" test. Nicholson ...more
A. Jesse
Mar 16, 2010 A. Jesse rated it did not like it
Unbelievably stupid.

In his first (and as far as I know his best) book The Mezzanine, Nicholson Baker displays a charming affection for the antique, the mechanical, the ingenious. But in Double Fold this charming affection is stripped away, revealing an impractical Ludditism. Baker argues that libraries shouldn't throw away card catalogs once they've been replaced with online databases, and instead they should preserve these hulking and impractical monstrosities for the subtle data they contain:
Jul 24, 2009 Andrew rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
The elegance and irreverence Nicholson Baker usually brings to his fiction work (especially the sublime vignette "The Mezzanine") is completely absent in "Double Fold", Baker's screed about the replacement of library books with microfiche and other digital storage. While the author's quest -- to rally for the preservation of rare and old tomes -- seems noble enough, his methods are more in line with conservative news reporting. Whenever he interviews someone who shares his viewpoints, they are d ...more
Michael Fitzgerald
Nov 22, 2007 Michael Fitzgerald rated it liked it
Shelves: libraries
A fascinating book, but incredibly biased. Needs to be balanced with Vandals in the Stacks by Richard Cox.
Aug 05, 2011 George rated it liked it
This is Nicholson Baker's obsessive treatise on the "assault on paper". I am somewhat sympathetic to his cause where he describes how libraries in the name of "preservation" and/or "creating space" have replaced rare newspaper collections with subpar technologies. In doing so, we have lost information that isn't being captured by microfilm, microfiche, and other technologies. These early technologies led to the destruction of irreplaceable collections. He instead advocates the preservation of pa ...more
Jenny (Reading Envy)
Nov 28, 2009 Jenny (Reading Envy) rated it really liked it
Shelves: read09
"The library has gone astray partly because we trusted the librarians so completely."

Nicholson Baker has written a heavily researched retelling of when the first digitization (microfilming) movement hit the major libraries in the United States, leading many to dump the only originals of major newspapers, journals, and books. He zeroes in on the Library of Congress and other government agencies (CIA, NASA, and the NEH) who have had major roles to play in the destruction of print.

While I found s
Alex Telander
Jan 28, 2011 Alex Telander rated it liked it
Attention college students: a great crime is being committed and right under our noses! It is no longer possible to enter reputed libraries like the San Francisco or New York Public Library, and call up a wonderfully preserved copy of say The New York World from 1912, because said issue no longer exists in its original form. All that remains is a badly lit photograph of each page on low-resolution microfilm. And what did the library do with the original copy they once possessed? Why, they threw ...more
Sep 09, 2013 Kate rated it liked it
I probably read 80% of this book. For the first two hundred pages, I enjoyed Baker's crusade against microfilm, his horror at the destruction of collections of primary sources (particularly newspaper collections); I even laughed when another reviewed charged him with "hoarding." No, I would counter. He's not a hoarder. He understands that there is something about having access to the original documents when trying to understand a period of history that is more instructive than surveying a few ar ...more
Feb 21, 2009 Wesley rated it did not like it
Baker has some serious hoarding issues. The premise of the book is that libraries are throwing away tons of old newspapers and books and we're supposed to feel bad about it. He even mixes in some conspiracy theory to connect this practice to the military. Overall I just didn't buy any of it. Really all it did was make me wonder how Baker's wife could stand living with him, since he blew all of their savings to buy a bunch of old newspapers, and spent his free time bending the pages in all of the ...more
Oct 22, 2014 Mike rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
His non-fiction is just as top quality as his wonderful novels.

Reading notes:
12...formed the non-profit Am News Repository (since taken over by Duke U)
14..the Yellow Kid cartoon begat "yellow journalism"
micro-madman Herman Fussler
15..US Newspaper Program..govt project ..catalog as many US papers as possible
17..OSU..Lucy Caswell...Cartoon Research librarian...Bill Blackbeard collection (SF)
19..Historic Newspapers Archives, Inc...birthday keepsake.. $40/issue
25..destroying to preserve
39..reading t
Dec 01, 2015 Laura marked it as will-never-read
I decided to be honest with myself. I read several chapters of this book in school. I intended to go back and read the whole thing, because there is some very interesting ideas in the book. However, I realized it's just going to make me MAD. Now, I am all for reading things that challenge your assumptions, I am. But not this topic. Not at this point of my life. So If I ever decide at a later time to read it. I'll start again.
Elaina Vitale
Nov 27, 2007 Elaina Vitale rated it liked it
Recommends it for: people who aren't swayed by nice writing
Baker has some good points but largely knows absolutely nothing about libraries, preservation and microfilming.
Jul 29, 2014 Julie rated it liked it
I have been a fan of Nicholson Baker since reading "The Mezzanine." This book talks about public libraries and the way that old books and newspapers are handled. Baker is of the belief that all books and newpapers need to be saved- at least at the Library of Congress, and has been outraged to find libraries simply destroying books and papers that have been weeded. He is a tad idealistic, but I can definitely see where he is coming from. Even if things are saved digitally and to microfiche, the q ...more
Jul 16, 2014 Kaethe rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, libraries
I get what he's saying, but I'm still not sure if I agree. Yes, there is value in saving the stuff of daily life. But I'm not convinced that libraries in general are obliged to try and keep everything. Yes, when you convert from one medium to another, you lose something (maybe an awful lot if you choose a dead-end medium like say Betamax). But paper isn't always the answer.

It's going to become an even greater question this century, I suppose: what do we keep, and how do we keep it? And how do we
Oct 20, 2014 Molly rated it really liked it
Equal parts elegy and screed, Double Fold mourns the disappearance of paper and the ascendancy of microfilmic and digital mediums in contemporary libraries. Although that makes it sound like a total yawn, Baker, the author of that phone sex classic (?) Vox, manages to make Double Fold an absolutely absorbing page-turner. This is due in part to the outraged first-person narration through which Baker communicates his personal fury at the space-saving measures undertaken by libraries and especially ...more
Audra Deemer
Aug 07, 2010 Audra Deemer rated it liked it
Shelves: library
Nicholson Baker feels strongly about the importance of libraries as depositories of information. They are to hold for us now and future generations of information-seekers the original, physical texts of newspapers and books regardless of their current or past popularity. What may not be popular today may be tomorrow and if the original is gone, we may be left with an unreadable copy in the form of illegible or deteriorated Microfilm or even an obsolete digital form. Double Fold is a critical and ...more
Aug 31, 2008 Rebekah rated it it was ok
Baker basically makes his point in the first chapter. Libraries across the country are putting all of their newspapers onto micro-film and discarding the originals. Microfilm and its cousins are bad because they degrade easily, do not record text clearly, are incapable of capturing the color of images, cartoons and are often incomplete. Libraries would actually save money per volume if they simply rented warehouses to store materials in, instead of paying to have the newspapers photographed and ...more
Dec 07, 2007 Meredith rated it liked it
I read this for my class on preservation and conservation in library school.

Nicholson Baker is a very passionate writer, but his disgust with library preservation policy is often misdirected in this rather caustic critical work. While he does have solid points, for example the problems of preserving the various editions of each newspaper and the microfilming of color illustrations, he seems to imply that these weren't issues of concern in the library world before he brought them up. However, Dou
Sep 30, 2014 Stephanie rated it did not like it
This book is terribly outdated and Baker is insufferable. He is rude about other people's views and I feel like he never shuts up. He focuses on the most absurd tangents that have nothing to do with book preservation. This book is far too long for a man who's only solution to everything is to buy a building and put shelves in it. That's not how things work buddy.
Jun 05, 2014 Teatum rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Redundant at points. Originally started as a magazine article, and perhaps should have stayed as such. But perhaps by fleshing out into a book, brought more press and attention to this situation.

N.B., published in 2001, makes me wonder how much has changed, if anything, since then.
Sep 05, 2015 Emily rated it it was ok
He makes his point and then repeats it again and again in slightly different ways for the next 200 pages. Painful.

Also, I found the jump to "libraries should never get rid of ANYTHING" a bit much.
Jan 25, 2016 Janie added it
from a rebuttal publication: Libraries and archives have violated their public trust, argues Nicholson Baker in his controversial book Double Fold, by destroying their paper-based collections.
Nov 21, 2010 Mikael rated it liked it
read this book during my nicholson baker phase. which came right on the heels of my john updike phase. in hindsight i only liked bakers non-fiction works, this, a tirade against microfiche which i thoroughly support and his literary stalking of updike in u&i. i kept trying to read his micro-detailed fiction like the mezzanine (ie, what i think about while tying my shoelaces during a lunch break) thinking it must be genius till i gave up thinking i dont give a shit about genius if its this fu ...more
Sep 03, 2011 Lauren added it
Shelves: grad-school
I think Baker suffers from the same disease that the people who are (vilified and exploited) on the television show "Hoarders" do - irrational refusal to dispose of anything that is now useless. It's darling but also sad and overwhelming. Where does he think we're going to keep all these books that don't even have a legitimate research use? Better yet, WHY?

His other tragic flaw is that he argues more on emotion than logical argument, despite supplanting the book with numerous anecdotes and fact
Tom Schulte
Apr 16, 2015 Tom Schulte rated it really liked it
The book is an exploration of the dismantling of the greatest archives of our recorded heritage, paper, as a resource now too fragile to store our history on.
I got to page 50 and just couldn't take it anymore. The whole point of the book is that the author is pissed off at the destruction of physical newspapers in favor of microfilm - this is made clear on the inside of the dust jacket. My problem with the book is that the author keeps saying the same thing in slightly different ways. He gives new facts, lays bare outrageous actions and irresponsibilities on the part of librarians - things that should keep me hooked - but everything is just a variati ...more
The sort of book that makes one feel like an expert on a very specific topic, a topic which they may never have encountered before. Not only do I feel like an expert on destructive library "preservation" tactics, I feel like quite a passionate expert. Mr. Baker is, of course, exactly right about everything, and his opponents should be ashamed. He is also an enormously talented writer--one of my favorites. Who else had a chance in hell of making this book interesting?

This book has been one more
Grey Wolf
Jul 04, 2013 Grey Wolf rated it it was amazing
This was an excellent tour-de-force and an eye-opening warning about the destruction of heritage. The idea that the Library of Congress and the major US university libraries do not have anywhere between them the majority of American newspapers in original form - ie a newspaper! They microfilmed them, and then either sold them or binned them! Hundreds of thousands of books went this way too. And in addition, the idea that the LoC is the repository of one of each copy of every book in the country ...more
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Nicholson Baker is a contemporary American writer of fiction and non-fiction. As a novelist, his writings focus on minute inspection of his characters' and narrators' stream of consciousness. His unconventional novels deal with topics such as voyeurism and planned assassination, and they generally de-emphasize narrative in favor of intense character work. Baker's enthusiasts appreciate his ability ...more
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“In 1855, as the price of paper rose, Dr. Deck proposed to dig up 2 1/2 million tons of Egyptian mummies, ship them to New York, unroll them; and use their linen wrappings to make paper.” 3 likes
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