Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Nicholson Baker Is a Big Fat Idiot

If you go to graduate school to get a degree in library science, you’re bound to come across figures in the literary circle that really pissed off a librarian, and your entire two years in graduate school will be at times misery because of this literary figure.

There was only one when I was in school. Nicholson Baker. There are few people who can stand alone in a sentence by being both the noun and verb--good ole Nick is one of these people.

The curse of Nicholson Baker apparently all started in 1996, when Baker wrote an article called “The Author vs. the Library” for the New Yorker (volume 72). The article attacked the way the San Francisco Public Library was discarding many of its older books.

I have not read the article, I do not care what the article has to say, and indirectly I don’t hold anything against Baker (although I still cringe when I hear his name and silently curse him for the horrors the name put me through in graduate school).

To this very day, many librarians have remained bitter and outraged with Nicholson Baker; in fact many faculty members at San Jose State’s library science department will probably be willing to argue about Baker and book preservation at the mere drop of his name.


Angelique said...

You should read Nicholson Baker -- his older, less famous (than Vox) work is really good. He has a very funny book of essays called The Size of Thoughts where this article is re-printed. The Mezzanine is also a favorite of mine. Library Science was an unrealized grad school dream of mine, so I can sympathize with the pain he may have caused you. He's a good writer though. Give in!

Anonymous said...

You should also read what Baker said about the San Francisco Library. They built a new facility that didn't have room for 600,000 of their books-- real smart. So they threw them away. But they didn't just throw them away, they used an arbitrary process to cull out the unfortunates, and then violated California state law in how they did it.

Baker sued the city and won at the appeals level-- the city was required to keep an inventory of this discarded surplus property. They failed to do so, because they didn't want anyone to know what they were discarding.

That's called bad faith, and Baker was right-- the courts agreed.

I'm just amazed how so many librarians misquote Baker. His claim is not that libraries should keep every copy of everything, just that they should keep things in general, and that that should be their main goal.

How can anyone argue with that?