3.00 FYI France: Ejournal and archive

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

January 15, 1998 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, 1998.

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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


"Digital Libraries" in France, the BnF's Gallica

-- "digital library" entre guillemets, because of the vagaries of this still - very - imprecise term: does it cover just "libraries which are digital", or "things digital which are libraries", or both, or neither?

The Bibliothèque nationale de France / "Gallica" solution to this leading Internet conundrum, now online via,

is not the only "digital library", but it is impressive and it is French. "Foreign" -- non - "anglo - saxon", non - "English / américain" -- Internet solutions no longer are unique, but they are comparatively rare, still. The online world swims now, and occasionally drowns, in "digital libraries" mounted in the US, Canada, the UK. The BnF's approach deserves attention, at least because it is "foreign".

In addition, though, the BnF has made a remarkable achievement in itself in Gallica. The achievement certainly stands on its own -- "foreign" or not -- against the many other projects currently labeled "digital libraries". Gallica is the beginning of a well - planned and ambitious effort, to document French culture by bringing a practical maximum of what is available in digital formats to general public users via the Internet. It is a remarkable culture, and a remarkable effort interesting both for being "foreign" and for its own sake.

The BnF Gallica site -- quick tour

At Gallica a user now can see, online, a large and growing selection of the digitized documents collections of the Bibliothèque nationale de France: "monographs, dictionaries, periodicals... from the simple page of poetry to collections containing over a thousand pages, from 16mo to quarto, from the popular press to bibliophiles' editions" -- it is the BnF's intention to make Gallica, "a laboratory for the evaluation of access to and distance consultation of digital documents".

The "collection" which may be reached online eventually is to include 100,000 digitized printed volumes -- containing 30 million pages, for now supplemented by extracts from 250 volumes in the "Frantext" database of the CNRS / INALF -- and 300,000 digital images. (Frantext -- http://www.ciril.fr/~mastina/FRANTEXT -- is the source for the ARTFL database -- http://humanities.uchicago.edu/ARTFL/ARTFL.html -- the two offer the same data but use different search command structures.)

The general subject - concentration of the current Gallica effort very interestingly -- see below, about "preservation" -- is the French 19th century. Introductory texts are provided for that era's "history", "politics", "law", "economics", "social science", "literature", "philosophy", "history of science", and for each of four special collections, "Eugène Atget", "Pierre Loti", "Ecole nationale des Ponts et Chaussées" and "livres illustrés". These introductory texts are excellent: they are erudite, brief, and interestingly illustrated, and they offer both internal links to materials found in Gallica itself and external links to the many sites listed in their footnotes.

Multiple search criteria are available in Gallica: author, title words, publisher, date, subject, and the fulltext of the catalog entries and image captions. A 19th century chronology has been mounted on the site: searching may be done directly from the chronology -- author name entries in the chronology are linked. A detailed "subject" list is available for searching, as well, offering 43 categories from which to choose (these do not, however, appear to correspond to the criteria used for the general search criteria mentioned above -- "histoire du monde ancien" finds 8 entries using the latter, only 4 using the former). Searching also may be done from online alphabetical authors' names and periodicals' names lists.

Gallica's digital images come half from the BnF's departments -- Estampes et Photographie, Manuscrits, Arts du spectacle, Monnaies et médailles, and others -- and half from other museums, libraries, and organizations such as La Documentation Française, l'Ecole nationale des Ponts et Chaussées, l'Institut Pasteur, l'Observatoire de Paris, Magnum, l'Agence France Presse.

The technical spec's for Gallica are impressive, as they are for the BnF generally. About 2500 non - OCR / image - only monograph and periodicals texts currently are loaded: these were digitized at either 300 or 400 dpi in TIFF and CCIT group 4 compressed. 300 Frantext texts are loaded, which can be searched using "Frantext" commands. 7000 photographs, at either 2000x3000 or 1000x1500 in video resolution -- these must have been slides? -- and JPEG 10 compression, now are online.

Gallica's server, supplied by Sequent, is the latter's new "NUMA-Q 2000" model ("Non-Uniform Memory Access" -- US $250,000, but the very latest thing in architectures -- parallel processing!, vs. "SMP" -- the approach which Sequent showed at Oracle OpenWorld in 1996), using a "System NTX2000" running 200 mhz Pentium Pro Quadra processors, Windows NT Server 4.0 and Information Server 3.0, and Oracle, with over 60 gig storage. This is all part of a general Sequent program to supply the BnF with 12 servers -- 2 of which are these high - end "NUMA-Q 2000's" -- for a total of over 100 processors and 1.4 terabytes of storage! (Someone please correct me if I have any of this wrong -- we're translating techspeak from French into English, here, and it's hard enough just in English -- but these are primarily the numbers which Sequent itself gives at the Gallica site and on its own site.)

Gallica as a "digital library" -- general questions

Several general questions can be asked of Gallica, then, as they might be asked of any project calling itself a "digital library":

1) Compromises. What compromises, of quality and quantity and selection, have been made -- as they inevitably must -- to achieve a "practical" solution, and how are criteria to be reviewed and changed periodically as techniques and circumstances evolve?

For example, the BnF has scanned in text here at low resolutions, without OCR, and already as been criticized heavily in the French library press for doing so. They also have faced the terrible questions of "selection", which to critics like Umberto Eco are so central to the digital decade and this century -- see FYI France ejournal issues of February and June 1993 -- and these BnF librarians have made their choices. And nevertheless -- unlike most of their critics -- they have produced a product and mounted a useful and attractive service. Gallica could serve at least as an object lesson in "the art of the possible" for digital libraries.

2) Teaching. Digital information just has entered the era of the "un - interested user": the user who is not stupid but does not have time to, or just does not, care about computers and software and systems. It is a giant learning situation now: for inventors, developers, promoters and users, certainly, but also increasingly now for everyone else. Does this particular "digital library" effort help? Is it designed deliberately to be a teaching tool, and does it do this well?

Remarkably, for a culture which has a reputation -- abroad certainly, but also among its own citizens -- for callousness with respect to the general public, this French "digital library" project greets users with an elaborate "feedback" page. Few other "digital library" projects elsewhere have thought to bother.

3) Scaling Up -- Statics. Technical criteria for "digital library" success seem easily satisfied by the BnF, if not entirely yet by Gallica.

(See my Internet Digital Libraries: the International Dimension, Boston & London : Artech House, 1996, ISBN 0-89006-875-5 -- Part III develops these "digital library" criteria.)

4) Scaling Up -- Dynamics. Gallica does not appear to have faced, yet, several of the most difficult problems which the rapid rate of change in the digital revolution will cause for it, however -- nor have other "digital libraries" projects, really, although a few of the best thinkers in the US NSF projects have worried greatly over them (Stanford's Terry Winograd -- see ref. supra ch. 14).

5) Books and bytes, bricks and digits -- does a "digital library" still need a "building"?

Gallica probably has been expensive. The BnF's new Bibliothèque François Mitterrand building at Tolbiac certainly has been. Do we need both? If a "digital library" like Gallica can exist out in the aether, in Cyberspace, and eventually can satisfy most of our "information" needs, do we still need to construct and maintain expensive buildings, like the BFM?

Predictions have been made of the death of books, of paper, of reading, and of libraries -- also of education, of culture, of intelligence -- all at the hands of the revolution in digital information: ask any parent, in France or the US or elsewhere, who worries today about online pornography and video games. The new techniques make many threats.

Such threats are not taken seriously by many in the US. But France -- unlike the US -- is a place which has known, and suffered, through many "transitions in media" and cultural and political upheavals, throughout its longer and more violent history, transitions and upheavals which have destroyed "documents". For all the riches in the current collections of the BnF and other repositories of the national "patrimoine culturel", there is much more that is missing from the French historical record.

This marks a fundamental difference between the perception of the risks involved in "transitions in media" as viewed in Omaha versus Lyon -- or foor that matter in any US location compared with Sarajevo, or Hiroshima, or Hanoi or Berlin or Moscow or anywhere else in the world which has both recent and longstanding memories of severe cultural loss -- outside the US, there is real and justifiable fear involved. The question of cultural loss from an accidental or purposeful loss of the BnF books is a very serious one in France: budgetary amounts for buildings or "digital library" projects there must be examined with this difference in mind.

Now leave aside for the moment, though, the question of whether "digital libraries" which replace the buildings can happen or should, and assume that they will -- would that even be a "Good Thing"?

There is a growing literature -- Arlie Hochschild et als. -- criticising or at least implying criticism of the "workaholic / yuppie" generation which has tried to mask neglect, of children and family life and to some degree sanity, behind labels such as "flextime" and "telecommuting" and "telework". Putting in longer hours "at the office" does not resolve the conflicts at home. Bringing work home -- via "telecommuting" and "telework" -- does no better, crowding "family life" nearly as much as "being away at the office" does.

Some sort of "neutral place" is needed -- for work, for the voracious appetite for hours exhibited by all of these new "digital information" techniques: not the old office, for that increasingly is too far away from home, in the Paris and San Francisco of the 2 - hour - commute - 1990s -- but not the home either, if sanity and family life are to be held together in the Age of the Internet.

So perhaps the local library? Perhaps a neutral, congenial, comfortable place, not at home but physically near it, a place in which to take up telework and telecommuting and Internet surfing of sites like Gallica, all without intruding on family time?

And why should that space not, on occasion, be magnificent and monumental, like the new BFM? Was monumentality any more necessary for printed books than it might be sometimes now for the Internet?

Perhaps the growing need for "neutral space" should be separated from questions of the monumental design of that space: we may or may not need the latter, but an information society of "digital libraries" like Gallica rapidly may be developing a tremendous and widespread need for the former.

-- something else to think about, anyway, as you tour the Gallica site.

(For more on this topic, see Michel Melot's introduction to Nouvelles Alexandries : les grands chantiers de bibliothèques dans le monde, Paris : Editions du Cercle de la Librairie, 1996, ISBN 2765406197; also my "The Bibliothèque Nationale de France", in Rational Space: Library Buildings for the 21st Century, T.D. Webb, editor, Jefferson, North Carolina : McFarland & Co., [1998 forthcoming -- book title is provisional]).

Samuel Beckett was a hopeful poet; and he wrote in French, in France. The future which he feared is portrayed in his plays: not too many libraries, or books, or information of any kind at all -- only a few lost and lonely people, with nothing to do and nowhere to go to do it.

Beckett's nightmares were filled with loss: the loss of definition, the loss of meaning, the loss of any "sense of place". His characters Hamm and Clove spend their lives, together and apart, with little else to do, looking and waiting for "Godot".

The French have recent and poignant memories of their own which match Beckett's nightmares, and a long history punctuated with the very disasters which he feared: "bouleverser" is a term which has much meaning in French political history, but is nearly un - translateable in the American context.

The BnF's sometimes - maligned new Bibliothèque François Mitterrand building, and now its even newer Gallica online "digital library" exhibit of French culture, perhaps are two of the latest and best attempts to provide France and the rest of the 21st century with something very worthwhile to do, and an interesting and impressive "place" in Paris in which to do it.


And... official ! (see Note1 below) -- French "Smileys", the definitive list:

:-)Smiley de base:#)Smiley a trop bu
:-#je ne peux rien dire=:-)Smiley est un punk
:-surtout ne dites rien,-)Smiley est content
%-)ne regardez pas la télé:-*Smiley fait un bisou
+:-)Smiley est un prêtre:-\Smiley est indécis
:-{}Smiley et son rouge à lèvres3:]grand-mère Smiley
|-(Smiley à mal à la têteO:-)Smiley est un saint
:8)Smiley est un cochon:-@cantatrice Smiley
*<:o)Smiley est un clown:-[Smiley est un vampire
X-(Smiley a très mal à la tête
:-)Smiley aime REM et UZ (my acronymic French fails me -- anyone?)
([ (Smiley est Robocop (Valenti & Co. penetrate the Hexagone!)
~~:-(j'ai si mal que ma tête fume
=:-(les vrais punks ne courent pas
@:-}Smiley a été chez le coiffeur
:-%Smiley les a là7:^]Smiley en Ronald Reagan
(-:Smiley est gaucher&-|j'en ai pleuré
:-/Smiley est septique|-oSmiley s'embête
:-}Smiley est géné8<:-)Smiley est un magicien
:-&motus et bouche...:-~)Smiley a le nez qui coule
:~|Smiley fume un peu:-VSmiley crie fort
(:-(le Smiley le plus triste:-)8la grande fille Smiley
:^)Smiley joue Cyrano:-?Smiley fume la pipe
:-(*)c'est à gerber!C=:-)Smiley sait cuisinier
:---}menteur comme PinocchioP-(Smiley est un pirate
:-'|Smiley a de la fièvre:-rSmiley tire la langue
:-#Smiley porte un appareil)O-)Smiley fait de la plongée
(:-)Smiley a la grosse tête8:-)vous aimez mes lunettes
:->Smiley sarcastique:-Xun gros bisou baveux
:-]allez Paris St. Germain8-Ooh! mon Dieu!
8:-)la petite fille Smiley:-OSmiley parle beaucoup
:-QSmiley fume beaucoup[:-)Smiley a un Walkman
:-"Smiley sait siffler?-(oeil au beurre noir
8(:-)Smiley aime Mickey:-{Smiley porte la moustache
:=|Smiley est un babouin (Georges Perec would have loved Smileys)

Note1: "official" -- these are from "Annexe 6" of the new Internet: Enjeux juridiques / Rapport au ministre délégué à la Poste, aux Télécommunications et à l'Espace et au ministre de la Culture / Mission Interministérielle sur l'Internet présidée par Isabelle Falque-Pierrotin (Paris : La documentation Française, 1997) Collection des rapports officiels. ISBN 2-11-003756-3 ISSN 0981-3764.

Note2: So don't blame me -- I just report these things -- and anyway this list is "officiel", so presumably you have to know about it...

Bonne année...


FYI France (sm)(tm) e-journal                   ISSN 1071 - 5916

      |           FYI France (sm)(tm) is a monthly electronic journal,
      |           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
fyifrance), or http://www.cru.fr/listes/biblio-fr@cru.fr/ (BIBLIO-FR
econference archive), or at http://www.fyifrance.com , or at
http://listserv.uh.edu/archives/pacs-l.html . Suggestions, reactions,
criticisms, praise, and poison-pen letters all will be gratefully received
at kessler@well.sf.ca.us .

        Copyright 1992- by Jack Kessler, all rights reserved.


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Last update: June 23, 1998.