3.00 FYI France: Ejournal and archive

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

March 15, 2005 issue. This file presents an archive copy of the issue of the FYI France ejournal, ISSN 1071-5916, which was distributed via email on March 15, 2005.

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3.00 FYI France: Ejournal and archive

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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
 

--oOo--
 

Combining "college" & "public", in Clermont-Ferrand

 

Digital library work tends to gloss over traditional library boundaries: "academic" versus "special", either of those versus "children's", any of the above versus "public", and all the rest.

In the modern digital world though, it seems, everything and everyone too often still gets poured into, and sometimes out of, the same pot -- one size fits all -- or so far, anyway.

Librarians long have worried about combining their traditional categories. The worries have been various: for instance that different reading behaviors, and general behaviors, and book and media tastes and usages, just don't mix -- that "children" are too noisy for "grownups" -- that "student" study halls, and student needs for multiple copies of academic texts, don't go well with "general public" pulp fiction preferences -- that "special" libraries are not general enough for most readers, nor "general" libraries special enough for specialists.

So institutions offering imaginative combinations of the traditional categories are interesting. And comparing these across cultures -- as well as just across "media" and "platforms" -- may yield something useful, too, for the time when "one size" no longer fits "all", in digital libraries.

In France at Clermont-Ferrand, for example, the city and the two universities there all combine forces in a single library system:

-- the Clermont-Ferrand official city population is 140,000, although including the surrounding area the population now exceeds 300,000. It is a major agricultural and industrial center. Michelin has been based in the city since 1832, and other tire companies are there. Other city industries include chemicals and clothing and bottled water.

-- and the city is home to two universities, 5 "Grandes Écoles", and over 35,000 students.

-- the Clermont-Ferrand library, then -- since 1902 --

 

The US has a new library system which is trying to achieve much the same sort of "academic" / "public" library combination as that offered by Clermont-Ferrand: in San José, California --

-- the San José California official city population is about 1 million; although recently San José has become the unofficial but functional capital of a rapidly-growing San Francisco Bay Area "urban region", of 7 million inhabitants, in which San Francisco itself is only one outlying inner city neighborhood now... and that region encloses both the old Silicon Valley and the newer Biotech development which rapidly is engulfing it... so there is nothing at all "typical" about San José California...

-- and San José is home to one campus of a California state-wide university system -- one of two such systems, the other being the "University of California" -- and "San José State University" educates about 27,000 students, year-round. Again, though, and very unlike Clermont-Ferrand, San José's "Bay Area Region" is home to dozens of other universities, as well, and colleges, and institutes, and their students: among these 5 other campuses of the California State University system, 19 campuses of the California Community College system, 5 campuses of the University of California, Stanford University... So, plenty of students: plenty more than in Clermont-Ferrand -- not all of whom might use the San José Library, but true comparisons can be difficult...

-- the San José library, then -- since 2003 --

 

So, how does all of this work? And how well does it work together: in Clermont-Ferrand? or in San José?

Are there fundamental cultural and political and institutional differences between the two examples, French and American? Yes.

A "bibliothèque municipale" in France and the "public library" of an American city are very different, in fundamental respects -- just as a French "bibliothèque universitaire" and an American "academic library" are very different -- historically, institutionally, culturally, financially.

But are there also bases for comparisons, and for each side learning tricks from the other, and for each avoiding costly mistakes which the other might already have made? Yes, as well.

For instance San José's "distance learning" projects might be of great interest to the people at Clermont-Ferrand... And the experience of over 100 years, at Clermont-Ferrand, in combining "general public" users with "students", might be reassuring -- or in some respects distressing, but at least for interesting and useful reasons -- to people in San José, and elsewhere, who might be trying the same sort of thing, now...

And, online, digital library developers might look at both situations -- both the French and the American "academic/public" library combinations -- before trying too nimbly and glibly to offer simply a "one size fits all" digital solution, to some strange amalgam of Internet library users.

The idea is not new but old. And it has been carefully considered and even studied in depth: both by very new projects using the latest techniques, and by very old projects benefiting from the accumulated experience of a century or more. Mistakes might be avoided, and money saved, by considering the history.

 

Two references, then, to a literature on combining different sorts of "libraries" which is as fascinating as it is extensive:

-- for Clermont-Ferrand, and the French experience --

-- and, for San José and the US experience --

 

Note:

a) perhaps San José's library is an example, then, of Claudine Lieber's #2, in her 3-part typology (Le Saux in BBF, above),

-- not simply #1, in other words -- they used to be that --

-- but not yet #3, as perhaps the Clermont-Ferrand library is,

and,

b) it's about the money... And very often that is it, isn't it, the money... Ironic, that in a fabulously-wealthy place which invented the information revolution, like California, entire library systems are closing (the city of Salinas, this summer), and others are "combining", perhaps primarily to save on money...

 

But there are other reasons, too, and so money -- even if it is significant, as it always is -- at least is not the only one.

Saskia Sassen and others are pointing out now that our information revolution is producing Global Cities, which no longer decentralize but in some ways do the opposite. (See her précis, in the latest issue of the Michigan Journal of International Law, of her forthcoming book, Denationalization: Economy and Polity in a Global Digital Age, Princeton 2005).

And in these emerging Global Cities we need physical public institutions, to facilitate the "face-to-face" communication at last made possible by digital information's New Productivity...

So maybe that is what a central city "library" is going to be... perhaps what the new, combined, library at San José will be, and / or what the older one at Clermont-Ferrand will be....

 

--oOo--

 

--hjlm--

 

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Last update: July 16, 2008