3.00 FYI France: Ejournal and archive

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

January 15, 2008 issue. This file presents an archive copy of the issue of the FYI France ejournal, ISSN 1071-5916, which was distributed via email on January 15, 2008.

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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. And you can pay via PayPal, on the FYI France homepage:


Please email suggestions for improvements to me at kessler@well.sf.ca.us




Cataloging in France, a recon recap


The French expression is "état des lieux"... that report to the landlord you make on the great care you gave the premises...

And recently the BnF rendered an état des lieux on their national "digital libraries" project to convert old library catalogs: with interesting results, including new search capacities --

The new access is online at,

-- which now reaches "le nouveau CCFr", the Catalogue collectif de France, the long-standing project to provide an online national union catalog, now equipped with a new interface.

In the left column there, then, click each of the following in turn,

That latter "Base Patrimoine" now contains over 2.5 million entries, from 63 regional bibliothèques municipale and specialized library catalogs. These are their fonds ancien records: originally items from prior to 1811, although that deadline later was pushed forward to include items up to 1914.

The libraries involved in this effort include an impressive list of bibliothèques municipales -- the largest "classée" institutions, several located very far from Paris -- plus special libraries such as those of the Facultés catholiques de Lyon, the Centre des sciences de la Terre of the université de Lyon I, the Ville de Paris, the Centre d'études supérieures de civilisation médiévale at Poitiers, the Société de Port-Royal, the Musée de la Marine at Rochefort (formerly the École de médecine navale).

Impressive, too, is the access now provided to the records: the service offers boolean searching on fields for title, author, publisher, keywords or full-phrase -- also subject, collection, place of publication, ISBN/ISSN -- and, usefully, keyword searching of entire entries. Search limits include document type, language, year, and also -- and particularly useful for France -- library, fonds, région, département, ville. And retrievals may be sorted, ascending or descending, on various criteria.

So, as the announcement proudly suggests, "One thus may obtain, easily and rapidly, the listing for works of Voltaire published before 1700 and available in libraries in Lyon" (Parisian needling alert!)... research convenience with a capital "C"...


CoteBibliothèqueNotes Exemplaire



CoteBibliothèqueNotes Exemplaire
CGALYON-BMReliure veau écaille XVIIIe,
tranches dorées


The Base Patrimoine inherits projects dating back to the original digital recon projects done by the Société Jouve during the early 1990s. At the time the battles to save card catalogs, or not, to integrate formats, or not, and various other birth pains of the digital era all were very much in operation. The idea of digitizing 2 million bibliographic records was truly revolutionary.

That early effort led to the database "Bibliothèques Municipales aux fonds Rétroconvertis / BMR" of the CCFR, which in the mid - 2000s relaunched the project, as part of a broad program of linking digitization efforts throughout France, the BnF's "pôles associés". By 2006, 27 linked recon projects were under way; the new cutoff date was 1914, enabling access to popular 19th century collections; and the national effort was firmly established.

And now, with the re-design of the webpages and the expanded searching, the database still is adding records: smaller regional collections are being included, as well -- hopefully the 21st century will see, for France, if not universal bibliography, at least bibliography which has been universalized.

Kudos to the catalogers of France, then... See,



One outstanding "digital library" undertaking, both because it is very much needed and because digital techniques do it so well, is the cataloging of cultural property, in which category ancient books certainly belong.

In France long traditions of cataloging and culture, plus a certain "Cartesian" love-of-lists -- the French "enumerate" everything, France must be the most opinion-polled place on earth -- have produced many fine inventories. Many of these are ancient: no medieval French library or archive or monastery or town hall was without its "inventaire".

But the challenge of universalizing anything is standardization, as any cataloger knows well: formats, rules, codes -- also the tremendous loss in local eccentricities caused by such standardization, and the tremendously delicate and sometimes painful politics of same.

The San Francisco Public Library assembled a "wall" of old catalog cards, to commemorate all this, both the substance and the process -- and while plasticated cards done as a mural to some extent simply remember the past, the old technique, to some extent too they recall the greater and even more "relevant" information which older techniques often supplied.

Just gazing at such a "wall", and thinking of today's online searching, one wonders how room again might be provided for the hand-scribbled entries and "notes" of dedicated librarians, so useful in the past: surely digital information one day can re-accommodate that? Maybe using iPhones... n.b. the generic of which now per Comdex is "Mobile Internet Devices / MIDS", altho not per MacWorld... iPhones travel to the stacks or the apple tree, more easily than even laptops do, and they may be "scribbled-in"...

As in all things, then, it is interesting to compare the French and US experiences at similar tasks. US librarians should consider: if they think their old 1950s-or-prior catalog cards contained useful if sometimes maddening local eccentricities, how much more weird and varied must French medieval "inventaires" have been, and old classification systems, and cataloging rules.


And, speaking of modernization, both French and US librarians, and "information" folks of all stripes and everywhere, may be interested to read the just-announced results of a thoughtful project, initiated by the US Library of Congress' intrepid Deanna Marcum, to reformulate "bibliographic" concepts for a "digital" age:

-- although it is a report to the Library of Congress, which is an institution very different in important respects from "national" libraries, including the BnF, the report offers an excellent overview and framework for discussion from which nearly anyone handling information nowadays -- Google included... -- might benefit. The report covers,

-- both of which ought to sound familiar to anyone involved with or interested in modern "information" -- and the report addresses,

-- and even though LC is "different", much about it and its relationships with its own "pôles associés" will sound familiar to someone French.


Kudos, then, to the universalizers, French and non- : may their frustrations with "local eccentricities" never stamp that particular problem out entirely, but get us where we're going nevertheless...


Jack Kessler, kessler@well.com

Sent from my iPhone -- "The Revolution will be handheld..."






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Last update: January 29, 2008