3.00 FYI France: Ejournal and archive

by Jack Kessler, kessler@well.sf.ca.us

September 15, 2000 issue. This file presents an archive copy of the issue of the FYI France ejournal, ISSN 1071-5916, which was distributed via email on September 15, 2000.

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Versions of the following have appeared online regularly, since 1992, as a feature of the FYI France ejournal, ISSN 1071-5916, which is distributed for free via email every month except August. Ejournal subscriptions may be obtained via email request to: kessler@well.sf.ca.us

Here this file is one of a number made available -- hopefully attractively, all in one place, and relevant to libraries and online digital information work in France and Europe -- as part of FYI France (sm)(tm), an online service to which anyone can subscribe for 12 months by postal mailing a check for US $45, payable to Jack Kessler, to PO Box 460668, San Francisco, California, USA 94146 (site licenses also are available): please write your email address on the front of your check. Please email suggestions for improvements to me at kessler@well.sf.ca.us


FYI France: Catalogue Collectif de France -- any book in France...


On August 1 the CCFR/Catalogue Collectif de France announced the availability, online, of one of the latest and greatest efforts to provide public access to a truly national union catalog:

-- the bibliographic record of nearly any book ever published in France, in nearly every library in that country, collected and provided in a single, uniform, and easily - used format... try it and see... the cataloger's nightmare, and the "universal bibliographer's" and the researcher's dream...

As of now the CCFR database contains 2.2 million records -- from 262 fonds anciens catalogs of 55 libraries in France, among these the major bibliothèques municipales but also, and very interestingly, minor libraries and little - known / little - used collections of various types -- and more of the latter are scheduled to be added as time goes on.

So a search for Candide already turns up interesting copies in interesting places like the Bibliothèque Abbé Grégoire at Blois, the Médiathèque Jean - Jacques Rousseau at Chambéry, the Médiathèque Jean Lévy at Lille, and the Médiathèque de la Communauté de Villes de l'Agglomération de La Rochelle -- bet you wouldn't have thought of looking in those...

The fonds anciens catalogs in the current CCFR database include:

This current CCFR offering is the result of a massive BnF / Bibliothèque nationale de France - organised "recon" cataloging effort, begun as far back as 1992: "fonds anciens (books printed before 1811)... the libraries were selected for the richness and originality of their collections, for example the fonds ancien Louis XVII at Poitiers, the fonds Jules Verne at Nantes, and the fonds taurin at Toulouse... the collections are of diverse origins [including] confiscations of the libraries of the nobility and the clergy by bibliothèques municipales at the time of the Revolution, gifts, acquisitions from individuals or for local history collections, dépôt légal / copyright deposits from printers in the region".

The detailed description of this fonds anciens recon effort sounds nightmarish: "The catalogs describing these collections were held in a variety of formats (registers, printed catalogs, 'fiches manuscrites ou dactylographiées')" -- imagine... -- "and they followed different rules and standards according to the era during which they were prepared".

What a mess all this must have been, to assemble and sort out. And CCFR even admits, ominously, that "The converted digital version of these catalogs reflects this diversity, which produced a heterogeneous result". Caveats -- inevitable -- and hidden problems: "The Catalogue Collectif de France does not offer normalized / authority record access (several forms of the same author name), or subject access. It therefore may be necessary to make several searches to confirm the presence or absence of a document".

But in the final analysis -- as the kids now say, "whatever" -- kudos, and sympathies, to all who participated, willingly or otherwise, in this enormous and undoubtedly difficult but ultimately invaluable effort...


Once a record is selected, CCFR offers four options:

a) "mettre dans le panier" -- the "shopping basket" of ecommerce fame and notoriety. Once again -- perhaps "as always", or at least since the Middle Ages, the commercial sector is leading the cultural -- culture follows commerce / the commodification of culture / knowledge "bought and sold" -- along with MTV's "refrigerators and color TVs and inbuilt microwave ovens"... the way "books" and the rest all are inter - mingled now on Amazon.com... grump...

b) "emprunter les documents". Beginning in October -- if the oil crisis is over by then? -- users will be able to use a seamless interface to obtain / copy / reserve documents. Hope so...

c) "imprimer". Local printing! I am getting the nicest little screen - dump printouts now of all sorts of fascinating CCRF records: lists of multiple records, too -- you put them all in your "panier", being sure to check the box for each, then just click "imprimer" -- nicely formatted, with French accents intact.

These appear to be "short format" notices only, for now I guess -- there is a "notice de'taille'e" feature, but that seems to be restricted to single notice output only, and for now appears to reach only the same "short format" found in the initial list. Which poses another question: MARC format? -- it may be too much to hope, that the CCFR one day might even offer MARC and other tagged formats for printing and downloading and, particularly, very useful manipulation in users' bibliographic software packages... love to be able to reach all of this, easily, "seamlessly", from my Endnote...

There even is a Z39.50 "profile" available on the CCFR site!:


-- available for viewing as an rtf file which pops up on your browser when you click it, or for downloading as a Word file (this doesn't seem to work at the moment), or for downloading as a zip file. Someone better at figuring out Z39.50 implementations than I am perhaps can tell me whether the presence of this "profile" means that things in fact will get easier for users, and exactly how they will get easier, and I will post whatever they say here next month...

d) "exporter". Most usefully of all, the CCFR provides .txt files for downloading -- "Being Digital", as M. Negroponte irritatingly cautions all of us to be now -- these digital CCFR records instantly and easily may be incorporated into bibliographies, etc., through the magics of database management and word processing... and spreadsheets, for any old business diehards out there... Again, "short format" notices only, it appears, and I do not know myself about any CCFR plans to provide MARC -- or how they deal with different character sets [I wonder if any of the CCFR records are in Arabic, or Cyrillic characters, or Chinese?] -- but what is being provided already is considerable, and very, very useful.


Future CCFR directions will include expansion of the database to over 8 million records, and linkage -- one hopes that this too will be "seamless" -- to the catalogs of the Bibliothèque nationale de France plus 3900 other institutions scattered across the country, these latter the members of the "RNBCD / Répertoire national des bibliothèques et des centres de documentation" --


-- and to the French university libraries, 2900 institutions which since April 3 already have been making union catalog records for 3.5 million of their documents available online --


(re. SUDOC: "Le catalogue contient actuellement environ 3,5 millions de notices bibliographiques de monographies, thèses, publications en série et divers types de documents localisés dans les bibliothèques universitaires françaises ainsi que, pour les publications en série, dans 2900 établissements documentaires de tous types. Il permet la localisation des documents et donne également accès au Répertoire des centres de ressources, c'est-à-dire aux notices de bibliothèques.")

-- all this, together and coordinated, "seamless", and with borrowing and copying and reservation service... and all by 2001...


The people who are doing CCFR include the French national government's Ministry of Culture, and the Ministry of "Education Nationale", and the Bibliothèque nationale de France. CCFR has been the dream of many for a long time -- at least of many catalogers and researchers -- although the current effort stipulated an official program only in 1995, issued a call for proposals in January of 1996, chose Sema Group - Bull and GEAC in December of that year, began work in July 1997 and will finish the current phase in December 2000.


This entire, very impressive, CCFR project -- and particularly that extraordinary bit about "future CCFR directions" -- prompts three general, perhaps wishful, thoughts:

1) "National"... Is the best, or perhaps most practical, basis for a large union catalog effort such as this one of the CCFR really, in fact, "national"?

Could anyone else do it -- anyone smaller / anyone larger? The rationales for slicing this corpus other than along "national" lines are many -- by subject, by state of disrepair of the volumes, by state of digitization, by language, by country of origin. But, as with the famous "coupure" which the President of France at the time declared should cut the initial BnF collection at 1945, any time you start slicing you get into trouble. Could the EU have done it? Or perhaps a province: Saône et Rhône, teaming up with Frankfurt? Some day, perhaps, but not yet. For now if it is to be government it must be national: think of any other country besides France and you'll see what I mean.

2) "Government", and particularly national "Government"... Is the entity best - equipped for sponsoring / enforcing such an effort really, in fact, "Government", and national "Government" at that?

Again, who else could do it? "The nation - state is dead", we read: but a national union cataloging effort is as much a war -- of cooperative effort, and standards, and enforcement, and petty politics and head - bashing -- as the shooting kind is, and nation - states still are the preferred "enforcers" when it comes to shooting wars -- not multinational corporations, yet, and not associations, or professional groups, or international agencies, not even IFLA or the IETF. Who else but a national government minister could compel a rare books cataloger to abbreviate a description... or to compromise a format... And again, think of other places besides France: nearly any is much less centralized / even more likely to harbor local eccentricities / even more in need of "incentives" and "enforcement".

3) And, finally, "Online Digital Fulltext"... When will we see online digital fulltext attached to all of these so - far - merely - bibliographic records?

-- very soon, I myself think. Just as library catalogs like this CCFR now put books into "shopping carts" -- in obedience to the law of the market which apparently dictates that ecommerce will lead the way for eculture -- just so ebooks and commercial online fulltext already are deluging the market for traditional paper publishing products. Readers no longer have time to read paper books -- they are too busy reading etext and entertainment on their computer screens. "Real.com" has beaten "the book" to the ultimate goal, to readers' attention and eyes...

The print publishers are trying, at least and at last, to catch up. In so many commercial and professional and even academic publishing markets, now, "etext" in fact precedes "printed text": text composed digitally at its origin by authors and editors is published digitally to readers directly -- without any intervening step involving the printing of paper. But the well - defined - and - disciplined "ebook" is not truly with us yet, much less a full epublishing product offering and market which can supplant the printed book.

I spend hours myself each day reading online "news" and "email", and even a little "entertainment", on computer screens: so much so that initially I had less time than I ever had before left over for reading "books" -- although recently this situation has reversed itself, as my online efficiency / productivity has begun freeing up more leisure time than I ever had before -- salutary if very recent national trend here in the US, at last, according to Alan Greenspan... Amazon.com may do even better, soon...

But until Mr. Greenspan's "productivity paradox reversal" hits all of us, most users are going to be spending more and more time trying to focus on the silly screen -- in addition to tending to the overflowing "paper" inbasket -- with diminishing amounts of time left over for things like family, holidays, reading books... "Work substitution" has been the idea -- for a long time, at least since the "office automation" 1960s -- but we're not there yet. So we need to telescope the workload down, to bring the screen to the text and the text to the screen -- trying to keep up with both takes the user too much time, now.

Linking such digital fulltexts to the references to them which appear in a bibliographic database, like CCFR, is merely a matter of plugging them in -- or at least conceptually so, and pace all the brave CCFR catalogers who know that there is much more than anything "mere" to the design and implementation of said "plug" -- but it is going to happen / is happening already. Epublishing already is taking over in business and professional communication and entertainment -- epublishers will keep cutting away at what print publishing remains until there is very little of the latter left.

And then, too, there are all the brave "recon" efforts, of which the CCFR also is a leading example. These may be the last and best hope for the preservation of texts, in fact, as the depredations of acid paper and the distractions of transitions in media take their toll: again a matter of "plugging in" digitally - captured texts -- into the bibliographic database which currently only makes reference to them -- and again the French are among the leaders here. (see Bulletin des Bibliothèques de France "Politiques de conservation", t. 45, no. 4, 2000 ISSN 0006-2006 -- digital fulltext version of this BBF issue online hopefully soon at http://www.enssib.fr/bbf/). So the CCFR would do well to plan for accommodating online digital fulltext, too.

Well, hey, stranger things have happened... Robt. Ballard currently is looking, in the Black Sea, for the remains of Noah's Ark!... and if he can find that, then the rest of us should be able to get at least some of those old books mounted as online digital fulltext...

Félicitations, once again, to the able and persistent French on their CCFR achievement. And happy rentrée, everybody.




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Document maintained by: Jack Kessler, kessler@well.sf.ca.us
Last update: September 18, 2000