Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

2 Iyar 5761 - April 25, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Opinion & Comment
Back to the Beis Medrash

"Everyone knows" that in order to properly preserve printed materials they must be microfilmed. For more than 30 years libraries and commercial companies have committed their documents to microfilm in order to ensure permanent records. Between 1968 and 1984 the United States Library of Congress destroyed more than $10 million worth of books in order to microfilm them, according to author Nicholson Baker.

In an entire book devoted to the issue of microfilm versus paper storage, Baker argues that the whole enterprise of committing printed works to microfilm is wrong-headed.

Storing paper books indefinitely costs about a twentieth of what it costs to microfilm them. The microfilm is not a permanent record, but is also subject to aging and wear, not to mention the possibility of developing blemishes and spots. The microfilm itself is much harder to access, requiring special expensive and clumsy readers. In many cases the microfilm copy is of much poorer quality than the paper original, and especially in the case of fine detail such as in illustrations, the microfilm does a poor job of capturing the details of many print originals.

Baker's book is entitled Double Fold after the test performed in many libraries to determine if an old book is brittle: fold a page corner twice and if it breaks off then the book is too brittle. It sounds reasonable but Baker argues that it is ridiculous. The real test, he says, is page turning and he shows that even a book whose pages break off before completing one fold are in condition to be read many times: he was able to turn the broken page 800 times without any further damage.

But won't all the old books turn to dust because of the acid in their paper? Aren't libraries running out of room?

It turns out that acid makes the books yellow and brittle but it will not make them turn into dust -- or at least no one has seen it happen so far and it can certainly be prevented if the books are stored carefully. The microfilm itself does not last forever. If the microfilm itself becomes at risk it must be reproduced again at a tremendous cost and with a further loss in quality.

As for enough room, Baker claims that a proper warehouse can be built for far less than the cost of microfilming.

If it makes so little sense, why does everyone microfilm? Baker is not sure but he suggests that it is the financial interest of the microfilm companies plus the aura of technology and the assumption that if something is technologically advanced it must be better.

Why are we bringing this up at this time?

Only because this week the yeshivas return to their regular routine of learning Torah. The vision of thousands of the Jewish people's finest learning Torah intensively provides a contrasting backdrop to all those who are involved in worldly pursuits such as microfilming. It demonstrates clearly that someone may be involved in something that appears important and productive but may in fact be a waste of time and even cause damage.

As we get up to go to the beis medrash, we know that we are getting up to divrei Torah that bring us and our surroundings a guaranteed reward, and lead us to Olom Habo. Those who are elsewhere cannot be sure of the value of what they do.

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