SAA Council's Response to Nicholson Baker's "Double Fold"

In the May/June 2001 issue of Archival Outlook, Richard Cox has provided an excellent overview of Nicholson Baker's book, Double Fold. Council agrees with the overall tone of Richard Cox's overview and response, and especially endorses the following major points:

  • Baker's conclusions are based on a flawed analysis. The fundamental weakness of Baker's argument is his belief, more implicit than explicit, that everything can and must be saved in its original state. Archivists know that our responsibility to society and our employing institutions is to be selective about what is saved.
  • To keep both the originals and copies, as Baker suggests, is not possible due to the competing priorities and limited resources facing every library and archives.
  • Baker's conspiratorial view of the library community's campaign to convey the urgency of preservation needs to the public, along with the implication that the campaign contained lies and concealed evidence of misdeeds, is entirely unfounded.
  • Baker appears to be an individual who loves libraries but does not understand them. He also does not seem to understand the difference between libraries and archives.
  • Although Baker's analysis is flawed, he does raise a number of points which deserve debate and a response from the archives and library communities, in particular the need to:

— re-evaluate the original analyses of the condition of paper;
— factor in the needs of users and the preservation of our documentary heritage;
— redefine the education of librarians, archivists and preservation administrators;
— explain that we are in the selecting, not warehousing, business; and
— re-evaluate the costs associated with preservation and reformatting.


The Council of the Society of American Archivists, May 7, 2001