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Chalk Talk: Digitize, Discard. Discuss. August 15, 2013



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Who: SUL and Coordinate Library Staff
When: Thursday, August 15, 2013, 2:30-4 pm
Where: Green Library, IC Classroom

Join us for a rousing reading-group discussion on the always-hot topic of print vs. digital collections, focusing especially on the question of whether (and under what conditions) digitization replaces print collections, or merely supplements it.

Our texts for discussion include a recent article in the library literature advocating a sort of "digitize and discard" strategy for academic libraries; a blog post (and a related white paper) published in response; and a theoretical article advocating tough standards for true "digital surrogates."  The latter were co-authored by SUL's James Jacobs, who will participate live in our Chalk Talk discussion.

These primary readings, all published within the past 18 months, are accompanied by two much older pieces by the well-known novelist and library provocateur Nicholson Baker: one, his 1994 cri de coeur about the destruction of card catalogs, and the other, an excerpt from his 2001 book Double Fold: Libraries and the Assault on Paper, about the mass discarding of historical newspaper collections.

Has the "print vs. digital" debate changed in the 20 years since Baker's very public interventions?  Is this merely an irresolvable question of Luddites vs. Futurists, or might it be possible to find a nuanced and historically responsible balance in the digitization debate that seems always to be with us?

The readings are somewhat hefty, but all of them include helpful abstracts and summaries, so don't be cowed!  And please feel most free to come and join the discussion, no matter how much you're actually able to read or skim.


1) David Lewis.  "From Stacks to the Web: the Transformation of Academic Library Collecting."

"If academic libraries are to be successful, they will need to: deconstruct legacy print collections; move from item-by-item book selection to purchase-on-demand and subscriptions; manage the transition to open access journals; focus on curating unique items; and develop new mechanisms for funding national infrastructure."

2) James R. Jacobs & James A. Jacobs. "Wait! Don't Digitize and Discard! A White Paper on ALA COL Discussion Issue #1a"

"...we take issue with [the American Libraries Association Committee on Legislation] issue #1a: 'Should libraries be allowed to de-accession and destroy these collections for the greater good of broader on-line access?' The short answer to this question is an emphatic NO."

3) James A. Jacobs & James R. Jacobs. "Introduction to 'The Digital-Surrogate Seal of Approval'."

"In the last few years, there have been a series of articles, reports and proposals that rely on the promises of digitization to address issues of physical space, cost control, access, and collection management for... libraries. One of the reasons we created this Seal of Approval standard is to provide a clear, consistent way to help evaluate some of these promises of digitization."

4) Nicholson Baker.  "Discards" (The New Yorker, April 4, 1994)

(PDF copy posted in the Chalk Talk CourseWork site)

"America's great libraries are scrapping the card catalogue in favor of the more accessible on-line system, and many librarians are toasting the demise of the musty, dog-eared file card and the bookish image it projects.  But are they also destroying their most important -- and irreplaceable -- contribution to scholarship?"

5) Nicholson Baker.  Excerpt from Double Fold: Libraries and the Assault on Paper

"The British Library's papers had escaped the Blitz and the agenbite of their own acidity, but their keepers craved the space they occupied. ... In 1996 the library quietly announced its intent to rid itself of about sixty thousand volumes — almost all the non-Commonwealth papers printed after 1850 for which they had bought microfilm copies."


SUL Chalk Talks are sponsored by the Digital Initiatives Group (DIG) and are held bimonthly (in even-numbered months), normally on third Thursdays at 2:30 p.m. Join us!


Reminder: Please join the Chalk Talk CourseWork site. Here's how:

  1. Go to
  2. Log in using your SUNet ID (red button in upper right corner).
  3. Click on the "Join a Site" link under the "Site Membership" heading. Click on "search for Joinable sites"
  4. In the Search box, enter "Chalk" to find the "Library Chalk Talk Project" site.
  5. Click the Join link under "Library Chalk Talk."

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