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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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 --
"La Bibliothèque municipale et interuniversitaire"
The Municipal and Inter-University Library of Clermont-Ferrand
-- "a service-in-common of the City and of the University of Blaise Pascal [Clermont-Ferrand II, founded 1974, currently 16,000 students] and the University of the Auvergne [Clermont-Ferrand I, founded 1806, currently 13,000 students]."
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 --
-- "...bringing you the combined resources of San José Public Library System and San José State University..."
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 --
The BBF's Le Saux reports here on an Association des Bibliothécaires Français / ABF (Paris group) meeting, held at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France last October 14, on the general question of "the separation of 'bibliothèques universitaires' and 'bibliothèques de lecture publique'". She says that Brest, Strasbourg, and Clermont-Ferrand were offered as examples of different approaches.
Le Saux credits Claudine Lieber (Inspection générale des bibliothèques) for a typology of 3 results: 1) mere nearby-neighbors ("voisins de quartier") who complement but don't really combine, then, 2) next-door neighbors ("voisins de palier") who cooperate on mutual projects & economies, and finally, 3) true combinations ("fusion") -- they have all 3 in France -- perhaps we have all 3 in the US -- and perhaps we all need all 3, plus other approaches as well, for our upcoming digital libraries?
-- and, for San José and the US experience --
The writer here observes,
"A marriage of convenience?
"Both [city librarian] Light and [university librarian] Breivik agree it is not a merger. 'In merger,' says Light, 'one side or both lose their personality, their identity. In a marriage, they remain two different entities, and each brings different strengths and talents.'
"As Breivik points out, these two libraries, like so many publicly supported institutions in troubled California, have faced steady erosion of support, almost since the passage of Proposition 13, the infamous antitax measure of 1978. Both university and city needed larger, more technologically up-to-date libraries. Neither one had a ghost of a chance of getting a building anytime soon..."
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),
"next-door neighbors ('voisins de palier') who cooperate on mutual projects & economies"
-- not simply #1, in other words -- they used to be that --
"mere nearby-neighbors ('voisins de quartier') who complement but don't really combine"
-- but not yet #3, as perhaps the Clermont-Ferrand library is,
"true combinations ('fusion')"
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....
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