(vertical rotary index filing from Progressive Filing, seventh edition, 1961)
in the cards
“As there is no authoritative reference to history, only one other strategy remains for proclaiming the product as an unconditional innovation, as a compelling break with tradition – in short as modern“. Markus Krajewski, Paper Machines, About Cards & Catalogs, 1548 – 1929
Digital data base utilities, as well as the entire domain of screen interaction, are frequently considered an “unconditional innovation” that came out of nowhere to revolutionize human behavior. All we know is that the digital revolution and history itself is the future.
Krajewski points out that the migration of information management from bound account books to card files and card catalogs produced an unquestioned business revolution at the turn of the 20th century. Typewriter entry then became punch entry cards. He records that this change over in business transactions neglected to reflect on its origins including that the card revolution derived from systems innovated in libraries.
The innovation of card cataloging was a challenge to the book format and invalidated the name of the profession of “bookkeeping”. At the turn of the 20th century card catalogs signaled the death of the book and the rise of digital classifications and atomized information. The sweep of modernization erased a more balanced perspective.
Perhaps it is again time to call on perspective from libraries. Here the digital revolution and its utilities have been in full swing for a half century. But this library revolution is interesting for the persistence of the book format as well. A transactional future of interdependent delivery formats, paper and screen, is in motion there.
out of print
It is said that screen books need never go “out of print”. This is actually unproven; even those deliberately curated and preserved may disappear in a half century. Constraints of both the Moore rule of doubling storage as well as a second law of thermodynamic that compels entropy or some incident such as a solar flare may yet impose mortality on screen books.
An out of print state for paper books also results in fates of disappearance. But an interesting feature of physical books is their admission of mortality up-front. When the standing type is melted down a print run from that “server” is impossible. Reprinting is possible from a surviving copy. The survival transaction is simple.
Screen books, however, are recopied in the sense of the pre-print manuscript era. That is they survive in hard-drive versions handed off to shifting network delivery systems and variable device displays via proprietary encryptions. With screen books there is a more complex survival transaction.
Digital dark ages are suggested except for the option of reprinting a screen book. Our current hybrid publishing to both screen and print provides this survival option. Screen books currently have a fall back; reprint survival transaction.
shrink wrap selector
We have used shrink-wrap in lieu of repair for the past ten years. The use driven selection scenario was to repair any book following its third re-wrapping. But these books are predominately brittle and repair is not satisfactory. As Bu, our reformatting specialist, remarks we produce shelf replacement copies instead.
High quality preservation copy facsimiles are a better, immediate collection response. Even where screen copies are present they can lack foldouts, color, and legible paratext features. A preservation photocopy on a well-chosen book paper stock can convey such features accurately.
This option also aligns with another preservation agenda. Following preservation photocopy facsimile production, the original volume is shrink wrapped and retired from circulation into our growing leaf master collection. The preservation function of the leaf master collection is rather overt; to assure a continuing back-up, re-mastering and authentication role of the source in a context of its simulations, both screen and physical.
The suggestion from this process is a working solution for the brittle book problem. And the eerie aspect of that is an inherent solution to the book problem itself. Perhaps all physical books are leaf masters.