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3.00 FYI France: Enewsletter and archive
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From: Jack Kessler
Subject: the Bib.de France -- bad news? Le Roy Ladurie speaks! Pt.1/2 (15 May 9 May 15, 1993 FYI France: the Bib.de France -- bad news? Le Roy Ladurie speaks! Pt.1/2 by: Jack Kessler email@example.com In case anyone thought that French politics -- including library politics -- were at all immune to the constant revisionism which plagues Washington and other capitals: the latest news, since the French national election, on the new Bibliothe`que de France -- it seems that there's a danger of their building simply the world's largest book warehouse, after all -- Le Roy Ladurie speaks! >From an interview in the April 15 edition of _L'Express_ (pp.80-83): "On the 15th or the 16th of July, 1988, a member of the cabinet of M. Jack Lang asked me, officially, to keep my opinions to myself. I agreed, basically, to keep quiet. The situation being different now, I am ready to give my opinion." Ex cathedra? The Voice from the Whirlwind? Not only that. Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie not only still occupies his stratospheric position as one of the leaders of France's adored historians' elite, he also remains administrateur of the Bibliothe`que Nationale, and has used the latter capacity to become historien engage', a -- some say _the_ -- leading candidate for the post, to be created, which will run both the BN and the BdFrance. The interviewer asks, "Would you like to be the 'Pope of the Transition'?". LRL's reply, "The comparison with John XXIII goes too far... I am not far from retirement... But I would like very much to work, as I already have, with the team of the BDF, who are my excellent friends." What this man has to say -- now, just a short time after the traumatic, policy-reversing, national election -- counts. Here is what he says: 1) He originally agreed with architecture critic Philip Leighton's views that the building design, a) shouldn't be so much below grade, dangerously near the river, particularly when the project site has so much above-river-level surface area available, and, b) imposes a dysfunctional space -- the central garden -- which will make all distances within the library too great, although LRL suggests that the garden space might not make a bad book stack later on. 2) He didn't like the height or narrowness of the four towers -- the Germans will put 18 million books into 3 floors, while the BdFrance will put half that many books into 44 floors, he says -- and he agreed with the Conseil Supe'rieur des Bibliothe`ques report which worried about the exterior glass walls, and about the furnace which they will create for the cardboard and paper inside. Despite these and other personal objections to the architecture, though, Le Roy Ladurie points out that to raise them now, with the external structure nearing completion, would be "unrealistic": "...the structure, at this point, is not to be de-railed, so I have become, for all practical purposes, its warm partisan, because we no longer have a choice." In addition, though: 3) What about leaving the Bibliothe`que Nationale's "Re'serve" of rare and precious books -- about 150,000 volumes -- at the old BN site on the Rue Richelieu, to become an important part there of a new "Bibliothe`que d'Art et de Patrimoine"?! The _L'Express_ interviewer jumped on this, with a "tell me more" question, to which Le Roy Ladurie eagerly replied, "...a National Library of the Arts at Richelieu or, perhaps, a National Library of the Ancient Book and of the Arts...the departments of Theater Arts, Maps and Plans, Prints, Manuscripts, Money and Medals, Music... the Bibliothe`que Doucet, the Central Library of National Museums, which is at the Louvre, and the library of the National School of Beaux-Arts... our oriental manuscripts... and the 15 million images of the department of Prints.."; "...they will function in synergy, without some being annexed by others...", he added. There's an idea! Not an entirely new one -- Michel Melot and various others have promoted the "Bibliothe`que des Arts" idea in Paris for some time -- but an idea perhaps "whose time has come" in the context of the BdFrance and the recent French elections, particularly if it can be shown to save some money. 4) Le Roy Ladurie also, however, declares himself a partisan of the "complete informatisation" of the BdFrance: completion of the grand project to bring the BN's catalog online -- which will form the "heart", he point outs, of the even more ambitious project to mount an online national union catalog -- and then some, including microfilming, inventory control, retrospective conversion, and access. This, unlike his support of the Bibliothe`que des Arts, perhaps is more overtly a political statement, aimed at one of the looming disasters confronting the BdFrance in this worst financial crisis for France since the war (of which see more below). 5) Finally, Le Roy Ladurie has raised wry smiles in France with a suggestion that a "university library" space and function be inserted into the BdFrance's already-crowded program: "...In my opinion, one could put the whole collection of the BN into the nice book-stacks down below, those of the basement, instead of putting it in the towers... One conceivable solution then would be to make, of the above-garden areas, an Inter-University Library..." "Always the academic," runs the response among some in Paris: that Professor Le Roy Ladurie merely is thinking nostalgically of his students and of his teaching days. As so he might, as French university libraries -- in dramatic contrast to their US and British counterparts -- are the most poverty-stricken libraries in the country. In addition, and very practically, the enormous Paris student population is bound to be one of the major, most voracious, and most difficult users of the BdFrance facilities: why not give them efficient treatment, oriented to their specific demands and needs -- at least, LRL suggests, an Inter-University Library at the BdFrance might relieve the engorged BPI library at the Centre Pompidou/Beaubourg, which is so needed by the non-student general public. Le Roy Ladurie had much more to say in the _L'Express_ interview. Perhaps his most significant practical comment on the BdFrance issue was his "it-had-better-be" response to the question of the consequences of any delay in the BdFrance's 1995 completion date: "For us, that would be a catastrophe, for Richelieu (the BN) will be full by 1995." Next: Jamet answers, Mme. Waysbord defends, and M. le Ministre Jack Kessler firstname.lastname@example.org *** FYI France: the Bib.de France -- bad news? Le Roy Ladurie speaks! Pt.2/2 In Part 1, Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie spoke -- in his various capacities as historien-engage'-extraordinaire, administrateur of the Bibliothe`que Nationale, and leading candidate to become head of the new BdFrance -- breaking his vow of silence, and presenting both his criticisms of the BdFrance and his plan for a new Bibliothe`que des Arts at the BN's old site. Jamet answers There is somewhat of a response to Le Roy Ladurie's comments in an interview with the head of the BdFrance, Dominique Jamet, which has appeared in _Livres Hebdo_ (No. 69, April 23, p.31). Jamet is in a difficult position. He once praised President Mitterrand strongly, in his writing, at a time when others were not doing so, and it is simply to this praise that Parisian wags attribute his appointment to his BdFrance position: journalist Jamet is not a librarian and is not known for supervising building projects, and his association with Mitterrand is not helping him now in a town which solidly is disenchanted with the essentially lame-duck French President. Nevertheless, Jamet has been an impassioned and effective advocate of whatever it takes to get the BdFrance built, which is the job which the President gave him to do. No book stacks in the central garden, first of all?: "...aesthetically aberrant and technically hazardous: Let's see a design!", responds Jamet. As for the idea of keeping the "Re'serve" at the BN: "I regret also that he (Le Roy Ladurie) is re-introducing a nostalgia for the cutting of the collection between the BN and the BdF... the researchers rejected the caesura, and this question has been dead for 3 1/2 years..."; although Jamet also says, "Personally, it wouldn't upset me to see the rare and precious books of the BN stay at the rue de Richelieu". The idea of an Inter-University Library at the BdFrance simply is proof, to Jamet, that Le Roy Ladurie, "...remains attached to his idea of the BN 'bis', and allergic to the idea of an opening to the general public". But when asked, carefully, the question who might become the "sole administrator" of the two sites, Jamet fairly although doggedly replies, "The first hypothesis is that the public works project (Jamet's own organization) become the manager and absorb the BN: that does not seem right. The second, inversely, which seems to have the favor of Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie, is that the public works project disappear and deliver the keys to the BdF into the hands of the BN, which would run it: this solution, by which the BN would absorb the BdF, presents a serious risk of de-railing the project, which could be detoured towards a BN 'bis'. I favor myself the creation of a new public works administration which would absorb the two: it would be better adapted to manage this new type of library." Jamet missed the point, apparently, of the new Bibliothe`que des Arts, Le Roy Ladurie's real intention behind his advocacy of the BN's retaining the "Re'serve". He grasped LRL's point about the garden fully and head-on, though, and the idea of an Inter-University Library appears to have evoked a sidestep. The main thrust of Jamet's comments appears to be the last: the question of who will run things once the thing is built. He seems quite optimistic, though, that the thing will be built as planned. Mme. Waysbord defends He'le`ne Waysbord, however -- she is "scientific delegate" to the BdFrance and a key member of Jamet's team -- felt called upon shortly after, in an op/ed piece published in _Le Monde_ (April 28, p. 19), to defend even the fundamental plan of the not-yet-completed BdFrance. Yes, as LRL said, opposing the structure, nearly complete, would at this point be "unrealistic"; but what about its contents? Waysbord defends the plan for the contents, in a posture which some might see as "Methinks she doth protest too much": "Criticism of the computerization program of the Bibliothe`que de France... calls for rectification and the following precise replies...", Waysbord insists. She then details the consultative and contracting processes, the achievments record and current on-schedule calendar, and the documentation and standardization efforts, all of which have been considerable tasks performed with great energy by the project team. The problem, however, is not whether efforts in the computer / information technology area have been made -- nor, sadly, whether they have been successful -- but whether their results will be implemented, in the new political and financial mood which now prevails in Paris. The _Le Monde_ writer Emmanuel de Roux, to whom Waysbord was responding, appears to realize this when he points out, in his rebuttal (same issue), "If the debate on the architecture of the Grande Bibliothe`que is closed... that over its informatisation remains largely open." This is the current nightmare, for those whom -- like Le Roy Ladurie, Jamet, Waysbord, and de Roux -- want to see the BdFrance, now under construction, open and function as a success: that the building will be built, but that all it will contain will be books. President Mitterrand's original mandate was a double one, both 1) to build a big library and, 2) to ensure access to its contents to a broad public: "This great library will cover all the fields of knowledge, will be at the disposition of all, will use the most modern technologies of the transmission of knowledge, and will be able to be consulted at a distance, and to enter into relations with the other European libraries." (Letter of Mission from the President of the Republic to the Prime Minister, August 1988.) Even if Mitterrand hadn't said it, there seems little question that access, not storage alone, would be a key concept to any modern library, and that electronic access -- online public access cataloging, dial-in access to same, cd-roms, networks, online fulltext, imaging, multimedia -- would be central to the project. There is a new government in Paris, however, and it has a new mandate: not so much to reject the ideas of President Mitterrand and the old government -- most reponsible leaders of The Right make favorable noises when asked whether they will or must continue with the Bibliothe`que de France, despite various critical comments made during the campaign -- as to face up to some financial realities which would make Washington decision-makers howl with pain. French unemployment is running over 11% and still climbing, and the rapport Reynaud, just released, has revealed that the French government is running an operating deficit of 4.8 % of the national product: this when the European Community's own maximum, imposed largely in the past by France herself, is 3%. This is not the time for free government spending in France, and the Bibliothe`que de France has been and continues to be one of the most visible and still in many minds most questionable of recent, flagrant, government expenditures. M. le Ministre The new Minister of Culture ("et de la Francophonie"), Jacques Toubon, thus far adroitly has launched discussions with everyone without committing himself to anyone. Le Roy Ladurie in his interview: "All of this of course demands much reflection and depends, in any case, on the ministers concerned" -- he is aware of the political realities of his program. Toubon is maire of the 13th arrondissement, home of the BdFrance, and is not unaware of the project's importance: its (current) projected annual operating cost of 1+ billion francs will represent 10% of his (current) ministerial budget. It would be, he has declared, "...illusory to interrupt a project planned to be carried inexorably to its completion, thereby losing the 4 billion francs already spent"(_Livres Hebdo_, no.66, April 2, p.44); but, "'For the time being, the call for tenders for the computer information system will not be put out on May 15 as was planned', The minister will consult with the Conseil Supe'rieure des Bibliothe`ques, 'during the next few days'." (_Le Monde_, May 11, p.20). It is not easy to halt or even to stall a building construction project: already-committed "pipeline" funds flow inexorably, particularly when there is a partially-completed tangible result -- bricks and mortar -- at which one can point. It is no easier financially, really, to halt a computerization project -- funds may be just as "already-committed" and just as much "in the pipeline" as might be funds for building projects: but computerization projects rarely have tangible results, which can be shown off to sponsors, the press and interested politicians, until they're entirely completed -- a dangerous political liability. Le Roy Ladurie has spoken, Jamet has responded, and some program changes may well be in store for the BdFrance. The real question which appears to be developing, though, from all the political and financial pressures now loose in Paris, is whether the building now rising inexorably at Tolbiac will become the world online electronic information center originally envisioned, or even just a modern library offering access to its books, or simply a somewhat over-large, too-cold-in-winter, too-hot-in-summer, book warehouse? ISSN 1071 - 5916 end XXX FYI France (sm)(tm) e - newsletter ISSN 1071 - 5916 * | FYI France (sm)(tm) is a monthly electronic newsletter, | published since 1992 as a small - scale, personal, | experiment, in the creation of large - scale | "information overload", by Jack Kessler. Any material / \ written by me which appears in FYI France may be ----- copied and used by anyone for any good purpose, so // \\ long as, a) they give me credit and show my e - mail --------- address and, b) it isn't going to make them money: if // \\ if it is going to make them money, they must get my permission in advance, and share some of the money which they get with me. Use of material written by others requires their permission. FYI France archives are at http://infolib.berkeley.edu (search for FYIFrance), or via gopher to infolib.berkeley.edu 72 (path: 3. Electronic Journals (Library-Oriented)/ 6. FYIFrance/ , or http://www.univ-rennes1.fr/LISTESemail@example.com/ (BIBLIO-FR econference archive), or via telnet to a.cni.org , login brsuser (PACS / PACS-L econference archive), or at http://www.fyifrance.com . Suggestions, reactions, criticisms, praise, and poison - pen letters all will be gratefully received at firstname.lastname@example.org . Copyright 1992- by Jack Kessler, all rights reserved.
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