New Haven Vice

• • • Secrets From the Staxxx

Baker rails against what he views as a catastrophic self-contradiction inherent in destroying books in order to preserve them—which is how he views microfilming. Walls says, "We do microfilm books, on an individual basis. The book has to be in an endangered brittle state. The paper can no longer maintain its attachment, it can't bind, the pages are cracking off. It's like a book made of glass—if you drop it on the floor, it explodes into little cornflakes.

"At that point, it becomes critical to save the information. Once you're microfilming books in that condition, you often can't keep them; the effort destroys them. But I don't know of anything else you can do to preserve the massive amount of information libraries have in brittle condition. This is controversial—some scholars feel it's a terrible thing to do. Baker certainly does."

Sterling does often meet Baker halfway on his plea to "Leave the books alone, I say, leave them alone." "The books you see tied with string—they've been microfilmed, there's nothing more we can do to save them, but we still want to keep them," says Erika Heinen, the collections care librarian. (Further confirming Sterling as a lovers' playground, Heinen and Walls are married.) And more efforts to rescue books from the stacks are under way. The posh Beinecke Rare Books and Manuscripts Library at Yale has requisitioned all pre-1600 material in the tower, while many low-use items are being moved to a climate-controlled shelving facility in nearby Hamden.

Illustration by Jeff Crosby

"Nicholson Baker is correct in one sense: Everything will eventually have artifactual value," Walls concedes. "Take anything, take a Sears catalog, and transport it 2000 years, and it will be sitting in a major museum."

Walls turns transcendental. "When you die, you don't partly die—everything goes back to the elements. It's the same with books. We have to preserve what we can with the dollars we've got and the technology available." Vice may be inherent in any preservation effort, just as it sullies the books in Sterling's tower and the horny patrons skulking within. Reprobate Yalies will be conversing with the mighty dead for centuries, but many of those ghosts, like Sterling's architecture, will appear in proxy form.

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