June 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 June 15, 1998.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org
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 email@example.com
The following is an excerpt from an upcoming talk entitled,
"France: National Patrimony, 'Foreign' Digits"
to be delivered to a session at the American Library Association convention in Washington D.C. on June 29. I thought it might be of interest here, and I would be grateful for any comments. The general subject of the session is "Digitizing a Continent: National - Level Planning for Western European Libraries", and I myself will be describing the French: objectively I hope, dispassionately I hope not.
If any of you can attend: it will be the program of the ACRL / Association of College and Research Libraries, Western European Specialists' Section and the Arts Section -- Monday, June 29, 9:30-11:30 a.m. Loews L'Enfant Plaza - Grand Ballroom A,B --
For those who cannot be there in person, and for attendees as well, the talk will provide the structure for the new feature on the FYI France Online Service, "How to Digitize a Nation...": text plus references and notes and images and copious "links" -- some at least of the latter providing examples supporting the assertions made below -- all in a file which hopefully will grow, with time and reader protests and criticisms and debates and suggestions, to debut in July at http://www.fyifrance.com
by Jack Kessler, firstname.lastname@example.org
"Digitization" is a moving target, in France as it is elsewhere. The techniques and the people and the organizations and the projects involved -- and the standards and the goals and the aspirations -- all change, rapidly, on a nearly continuous basis.
The target in focus for my purposes here, however, at least is French. This may give some of what I will be describing here something in common.
Then again it may not. France has been famous for centuries for asserting its individuality. But if one believes half of what the "Europe of the Regions" people say and advocate, that French uniqueness today is under siege: there are people in Lyon now who say they have much in common with Frankfurt -- there are people in Grenoble and Sophia Antipolis today who feel they have more in common with Cupertino than they do with Paris.
This sort of thing has been said before, though. For a thousand years, French individuality has succeeded in asserting and occasionally in re - asserting itself, various pan - European trends and occasional cataclysmic events notwithstanding. French topography, culture and people are resolutely different: different from the rest of Europe, perhaps, but certainly and here importantly different from the Anglo - American cultures which have spawned the current "hi - tech" revolution.
So, even in these days of the "European Union" and the "Euro", the French approach may have something to say that is unique: particularly to a technological revolution like "Digitization", bound as it has been culturally to its Anglo - American and English - language origins, and interested as it is now in expanding its reach beyond those cultures.
In France today the people involved in digitization are drawn from a range comparable in breadth to the great variety found in similar efforts in the US and elsewhere.
Government has a role in digitization in France, at all levels, as do the private sector, the education sector, independent and quasi - independent organizations of many types, and numerous -- nearly countless, as elsewhere -- individuals. The only thing really lacking in France, as nearly everywhere except in the US, is the Venture Capital industry, which started off the whole revolution in the US in the first place and which sustains it there still today.
Government is involved in digitization in France now at every level, in nearly every political unit and venue in the country, no matter how tiny, remote, and removed from the central French governmental monolith at Paris.
Web sites for the smallest villages and the strangest French regional governmental entities can be found online now. Local, regional and national government financial and technical support can be obtained for nearly any conceivable project involving digital information, from mounting a Website for a school or a town to scanning a local archive to promoting "interactive poetry" and developing children's writing projects.
The recent explosion in French government support for "digital" activity is not so different from such support found elsewhere: schools in the US benefit from or at least are deluged by numerous government programs which supply them with computers -- the Internet in the US enjoyed government support in its beginnings, and may face government regulation and perhaps even government taxation in its future.
But government support in France for digitization exhibits at least two fundamental differences which make it unique, certainly as compared to government activity in the US:
1) Supra - National Government
As a part of "Europe" -- as an active, almost desperately aggressive promoter of the European Union -- France participates in vast numbers of EU - sponsored competitions to develop digitization techniques and applications. These EU competitions entail benefits and restrictions not involved in simply - national efforts: multilingual access is mandated, as are international collaboration and standardized procedures for devlopment and evaluation.
EU "calls for proposals" emerge with promising but sometimes alarming regularity from the corridors of "DGXII" and "DGXIII" and many of the other European "directorates". They pay for a great deal which looks very promising -- although one sometimes wonders where they went, as so many of them simply disappear once the competition is done.
There is no parallel for this supra - national government level in the digitization efforts of the US, or really of any other non - European country. "International aid" does not qualify: in "European" governmental digitization activities these are not poverty cases, or client - states accepting largesse, but relatively equal participants in the decision - making process which produces the projects -- if French decision - makers feel a necessity for digitization projects protecting their version of "cultural patrimony", they have a chance here of creating these themselves.
"Supra - national" EU government activity has been analyzed perhaps too much, and criticized for its complexity and bureaucracy as much as praised for the depth of its financial support and the breadth of its approach. But it certainly represents a unique aspect of the French digitization situation, one of which Americans operating in Europe ought at least to be aware.
2) 12+% national unemployment, and Industrial Policy
A second "uniquely - French" factor in digitization also emanates from a very general source. The US economy is booming, the French are flat on their backs -- this distinction makes a tremendous difference.
The US realizes that its national economics has made the transition from an agricultural to an industrial to a "service" economy. There is plenty of literature, and plenty of harsh economic reality, to attest to this change. US farmers have all but disappeared, US industrial unions have shrunk almost beyond recognition, the US workforce, once "redneck" and "blue collar", has become predominantly "white collar" -- one might almost say "pocket protector" -- and now is employed in "service industries".
These same economic changes and transitions have occurred in France, but more recently and at far greater economic and social and political cost. French agriculture has shifted from the broad national voting majority which it held in the last century to the small beleaguered society of vested interests which it is today. French villages have shrunk. French industrial unions are much - diminished in membership and, although they still are vocal -- like the remaining farmers -- the unions are much - diminished in political authority and popular support.
France in addition has persistent national unemployment of over 12%, and the rising social discontent and unrest which logically accompany this. The US figures never got this bad during the recent recessions, and now the US has recovered to achieve one of the best employment situations in its history.
France, however, appears to be getting worse. Fears and insecurity about job tenure and the reduction of the social welfare "safety net" -- and other arguably - necessary economic measures -- now are supplemented by the terrors of urban crime waves, and crippling strikes by a rising army of "the unemployed", and the rise of the country's first significant extremist right - wing party since the second World War.
Government in France perhaps naturally and understandably is searching for saviors -- critics would say panaceas -- and to some extent is finding these in "hi - tech".
This happens elsewhere, as well. In the US, the multiple problems of the education sector often get "computerization" and "the Internet" simply thrown at them, as though any one measure -- particularly a single technical innovation -- could solve a series of complex social problems, and do so overnight.
But this temptation is so much greater in France, where the economic problems currently are so much more severe.
Political figures -- from the national Prime Minister on down to local organizers -- are personally involved in the digitization effort in France. The politicians are involved in the US as well, of course, but in France the urgency is greater. The US is the world's major industrial and agricultural and political power, and France is not. The US can coast on its national debt and trade imbalance and current gross domestic product and unemployment figures for a considerable time if it needs to -- France cannot.
French national economic policy needs some quick solutions: the general "service economy" model -- and specifically "hi - tech" and the cutting edge of that, "digitization" -- in desperate times could be seen as, and could dangerously become, just such a "quick fix".
(excerpt -- full outline follows)
ALA / American Library Association Annual Conference, ACRL / Association of College and Research Libraries, Western European Specialists' Section and the Arts Section -- Monday, June 29, 9:30-11:30 a.m. Loews L'Enfant Plaza - Grand Ballroom A,B --
"France: National Patrimony, 'Foreign' Digits"
by Jack Kessler, email@example.com
("How to Digitize A Nation...", with notes,
references, images and links, will appear
beginning in July on http://www.fyifrance.com )
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://firstname.lastname@example.org/ (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 email@example.com . Copyright 1992- by Jack Kessler, all rights reserved.
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