- Who Wants Yesterday’s Papers? Essays on the Research Value of Printed Materials in the Digital Age
Who Wants Yesterday's Papers?brings together a number of thought-provoking essays on the complex topic of preserving research materials in original form. The majority of the essays derive from a day-long symposium of the same title organized by students in the College of Information Studies and librarians at the University of Maryland. The idea for the symposium, held at the University of Maryland in March 2002, was seeded by Nicholson Baker's 2001 lightning rod, Double Fold: Libraries and the Assault on Paper, which brought to the public's attention and renewed discussion within the library profession on the topic of publications in original format and their role in research. To their credit, symposium organizers moved beyond responding to Double Fold's provocative and sometimes erroneous assertions to consider the broader questions that Baker's book raised: How do librarians and archivists select collection materials for their research institutions (and then reselect them for preservation)? Which information objects must be preserved in original form for future study?
Who Wants Yesterday's Papers?is organized in four parts: "The Race against Time," "Digital Demands vs. Paper Pleas," "Enduring Value," and "The View from the Archives." A strength of the book is that each section is introduced by scholars and library professionals who define the section topic, provide a context for the individual essays, and synthesize the viewpoints of the authors. The primary strength of Who Wants Yesterday's Papers?, however, resides in the variety of viewpoints it brings to the question of the value of printed materials in the digital age. The Library and Information Science (LIS) discipline is interdisciplinary by nature; to answer epistemological and pragmatic questions, researchers and practitioners in the field draw on knowledge from disciplines ranging from the humanities and social sciences to the hard sciences. Who Wants Yesterday's Papers?reflects this interdisciplinary approach, with essays from scholars in history, English, physics, journalism, and LIS, combined with those from notable practitioners in the field of library and archives preservation. With essays as well from relatively young library professionals, Who Wants Yesterday's Papers?provides fresh perspective and a welcome diversity of thinking on the role of original publications (and archives) in human understanding and investigation.
Thankfully, the authors of the essays in Who Wants Yesterday's Papers?do not seek to provide answers and instead call upon the reader to seriously consider the more philosophical and theoretical questions that underpin library and archives preservation. In his fascinating essay on the role of the original printed newspaper in empirical and critical newspaper research John Newhagen quotes media scholar James Beniger, who has proposed that people are rarely aware of what will in the future be seen as the truly important issues of their time. Therein lies the crux of determining what to select for the future and how best to preserve it. What anyone knows about tomorrow is based on what they know today; today's constructs must continue to be revisited over and over again. The ultimate strength of Who Wants Yesterday's Papers?is that it calls on us to pause in the constant, driving momentum to preserve and provide access and to reconsider and refine our understanding of [End Page 201]critical selection issues in the context of and at the genesis of the twenty-first century. One hopes that Who Wants Yesterday's Papers?represents the beginning of renewed questioning of the deceptively complex issues surrounding how we select and preserve for tomorrow the record of human experience, creativity, and discovery.