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Vandals in the Stacks?: A Response to…

Vandals in the Stacks?: A Response to Nicholson Baker's Assault on…

by Richard J. Cox

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Richard Cox writes a valiant response to Nicholson Baker’s Double Fold, citing heavily from the previous work to show the flaws in Baker’s critique and attempt to set the record straight from the library and archives point of view. One of Baker’s biggest fault in his work is the nasty, dismissive tone he takes which discredits his points. Luckily Cox can put that aside to address the major issue which is really how the public views libraries and archives and how librarians and archivists need to improve public relations regarding what it is they (we?) actually do. Another flaw of Baker is that he writes too many pages beating the same points out, which Cox unfortunately follows suit writing an equally long book responding with the same counterpoints repeatedly reiterated. The two books together make for a good jumping off point in library and archival educational discussion.


“I have long taught future archivists that one key to being a good archivist is being a good destroyer, otherwise society would be drowning in information and evidence.” – (p. 86)

“Nicholson Baker’s qualifications as a novelist may get him into trouble here . . . There are many similarities in writing history and historical fiction, but only one purports to make an effort to provide an accurate representation of the past.” (p. 121)

“Nicholson Baker has given us a kind of truncated view of library and archival preservation; while he makes references to events or attitudes at particular time periods, Baker often seems to blend them all into one porridge and lacks any sense of change, past and in progress. Baker switches back and forth between practices ranging over a half century without considering the nature of progress within fields such as archives, librarianship, and preservation. It is a fatal error, minimizing the validity of his ideas and concerns. “ (p. 192)

“What may be ironic is that my own views about the presidential library system may be as controversial to some as Nicholson Baker’s views about library and archival preservation are to me (and others). There is much, I suspect, that we have in common, especially in trying to influence change within the fields responsible for managing our documentary heritage. The primary difference, I think, is that I work from within and with a greater knowledge of and sensitivity to the nuances of the issues than what Mr. Baker possess. The chief value of Baker’s Double Fold may be that it serves as a warning to individuals like me that we cannot take for granted that we or our discipline will be understood or appreciated by external observers.” (p. 196) ( )
1 vote Othemts | Jun 24, 2008 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0313323445, Hardcover)

Libraries and archives have violated their public trust, argues Nicholson Baker in his controversial book ^IDouble Fold^R, by destroying traditional books, newspapers, and other paper-based collections. Baker's powerful and persuasive book is wrong and misleading, and Cox critiques it point by point, questioning his research, his assumptions, and his arguments about why and how newspapers, books, and other collections are selected and maintained.

^IDouble Fold^R, which reads like a history of libraries and archives, is not a history at all, but a journalistic account that is often based on fanciful and far-flung assertions and weak data. The present book provides an opportunity to understand how libraries and archives view their societal mandate, the nature of their preservation and documentary functions, and the complex choices and decisions that librarians and archivists face. Libraries and archives are not simple warehouses for the storage of objects to be occasionally called upon by a scholar, but they play vital roles in determining and shaping a society's knowledge and documentation.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:24:43 -0400)

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