Nicholson Baker, author of Vox, The Anthologist, many other novels, stories, and non-fiction works, winner, for his defense of paper archives in libraries of the James Madison Freedom of Information Award, and founder of The American Newspaper Repository (inhale) will speak at the Merc on Tuesday at seven. Despite the award, Mr. Baker is no Luddite, professing in this interview on WNKU to enjoy the ease of reading on an iPod touch at night so as not to wake his wife. He also confesses in The Guardian to something of a Wikipedia fascination/addiction . If God is in the details, then Nicholson Baker is some sort of high priest because details–microscopic, visual, infinitesimal–permeate his work. Some criticize this, others find it meaningful. Whatever the case, he is one fascinating writer, and we’re going to embark on a Baker reading-mini-marathon before Tuesday in preparation for his visit. Meanwhile, here’s a brief editorial that links Nicholson Baker, badminton, and an essay George Plimpton once wrote on ball size vis-a-vis literature (insert fist-shaking and grumbled “Damn you, NYTimes Paywall). -Ed Scripsi
Retrocon Notes, or, The digital computer vs. 173 years worth of irascible librarianship, round one. Ding!
You may or may not already know that the Mercantile Library has been awarded a Library Services & Technologies Act Grant for about $101,000, for the purpose of putting our dusty, dearly beloved card catalog online. The cards will be sent off to a company in Utah where they will be scanned and matched with equivalent MARC records. The MARC records will be massaged, assigned additional numbers by OCLC (the Online Computer Library Center), formerly the Ohio College Library Center, in Columbus, OH–that’s right, folks, the epicenter of electronic librarianship is right here in Ohio. In preparing to send the cards off for conversion (I’d like to ask that readers of this web log pray for these irreplacable cards, as they make their Christmas journey), a lot of interesting stuff comes to mind: The often arbitrary nature of classification, the myriad ways twenty different librarians might choose to indicate that an item is located in the Cincinnati Case. Computers, it is true, are perfectly suited for the task of organizing and maintaining huge piles of data. But how do they fare against huge piles of data scrawled and arbitrarily assigned, de-accessed, and finger-walked by one-hundred and seventy three years worth of irascible librarians? As is often the case with technology, this is a trade-off–a strategically beneficial one, but a trade nonetheless. Our new records will not be the original records… gone will be the apocryphal marginalia. What, for example, possessed the librarian to note on this, and many other cards, “Destroyed”, like an angst-ridden Heavy Metal teen? Most of the information, taken purely objectively (assuming anyone can do such a thing), is probably useless. Some could be useful to some sub-sub-librarian writing a very specific history of a membership library, and some of it might not be what you call data, per se, but rather tactile and aesthetic information, the “unique terroir”, provenance and collective experience, the life and death of books in the hands of our membership. Then there are actual questions raised: the names of cases and collections long disbursed and forgotten, the mysterious note, appearing on many cards: “M115″, which, as far as I can tell is some sort of euphemism for “fugetaboutit”. It’s difficult to say what could be of use, so hopefully we’ll find a sub-basement somewhere to keep the original records. Meanwhile, we look forward, thanks to the fine folks at Back Stage Library Works, and especially the hard-working and very smart librarians at the University of Cincinnati Libraries, to the enhanced searchability and visibility of placing our catalog online, as part of the University of Cincinnati Online Library Catalog. Seriously, where is that 1st Edition case? -Ed Scripsi