Don't press the Wikipedia delete button

Novelist Nicholson Baker defends the online obscure, just as he once fought to save card catalogs


Andrew Leonard
March 1, 2008 4:40AM (UTC)

In the world of librarianship, novelist Nicholson Baker is legendary for his long-running feud with the San Francisco Public Library, and his campaign to save card catalogs and hard-copy newspaper archives from destruction. While some critics dismissed his crusades as quixotic -- who in their right mind would waste their time with a card catalog when a computer was at hand? -- I have always enjoyed his writing and respected his passion to protect everyone else's written word.

Which is why I was delighted to read his sweet ode to Wikipedia in the March 20 issue of the New York Review of Books. At first I wondered (feared, to be honest) if this defender of all things offline would bring a grudge to bear on the New World of digital media, but I should have known better. Baker loves compilations of knowledge, in any and all forms

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Best of all, Baker recounts how he evolved on Wikipedia from an editor into an anti-deletionist -- a defender of Wikipedia articles that other editors deemed too insignificant to be permitted to exist. On Wikipedia, if enough people declare an article lacking in "notability" it will be extinguished. But not if Baker -- a man for whom every deletion of an article on a Pokemon character seems as troubling as a set of encyclopedias sent to a landfill -- could help it.

I found press citations and argued for keeping the Jitterbug telephone, a large-keyed cell phone with a soft earpiece for elder callers; and Vladimir Narbut, a minor Russian Acmeist poet whose second book, Halleluia, was confiscated by the police; and Sara Mednick, a San Diego neuroscientist and author of Take a Nap! Change Your Life; and Pyro Boy, a minor celebrity who turns himself into a human firecracker on stage. I took up the cause of the Arifs, a Cyprio-Turkish crime family based in London (on LexisNexis I found that the Irish Daily Mirror called them "Britain's No. 1 Crime Family"); and Card Football, a pokerlike football simulation game; and Paul Karason, a suspender-wearing guy whose face turned blue from drinking colloidal silver; and Jim Cara, a guitar restorer and modem-using music collaborationist who badly injured his head in a ski-flying competition; and writer Owen King, son of Stephen King; and Whitley Neill Gin, flavored with South African botanicals; and Whirled News Tonight, a Chicago improv troupe; and Michelle Leonard, a European songwriter, co-writer of a recent glam hit called "Love Songs (They Kill Me)."

Love him or hate him, you must concede, the man is consistent.


Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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