3.00 FYI France: Ejournal and archive

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

September 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 September 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


FYI France: CSB reports news, on libraries in France

* announcement:

New on the FYI France Online Service, at www.fyifrance.com: City Resource Lists -- for the tourist... um, sabbatical...

Three lists thus far are mounted, to be updated periodically (suggestions always welcome), of new &or interesting "book-" / "librarianly-" / "Internet-" / "information-" related books and other resources, chiefly about Tours, Lyon, and Chartres:



* FYI France: CSB reports news, on libraries in France

The most convenient and authoritative source of news on libraries in France is the annual report of the Conseil Supérieur des Bibliothèques, available in print (address below) and online at,


The reports are interesting both for their news of events in France and for their broader insights into the overall scramble by "non - anglo - saxon" cultures -- still most of the "rest" of the world -- to try to keep up with the digital information / Internet juggernaut, in libraries as generally.

Considering the role played by the Internet in this past weekend's US presidential / non-presidential events -- taxi - drivers in Jordan obtained and read the Starr Report as fast as Orrin Hatch did -- we might give a little more thought to the international consequences of "scaling up" the Internet.


The latest of these reports from France is the "Rapport Pour Les Années 1996-7", approved by the CSB at their annual meeting in May. CSB president Jean - Claude Groshens identifies the most general problems [tr. JK]:

The report covers, specifically,

* The "Administrative" Approach -- a "loi sur les bibliothèques"

Friends of the French, and the French themselves, will smile wryly at the librarians' starting off with a consideration of "administration".

"Bureaucracy", "red tape", "channels", "procedures": if there is one thing which distinguishes the approach taken in France, to problems such as "new technologies", from the approach to same taken in the supposedly more free - wheeling US, it is this preoccupation with the "bureaucratic point of view" -- or at least such generally is the opinion held in the US.

The trouble is, the US is alone in this. The French, with their apparently - primary concern for "procedure" over "substance" -- with "what type of organization will provide which services", with "which ministry will govern what", and so on -- are far more typical of nations generally than the US is. Consider Russia, or Japan, or Malaysia, or China: in those cases, as well, the first question is not "what will be provided", but "who will provide it". We do well to study the French case rather than just the US one, if we want to understand those others.

The French solution here, interestingly, is a legalistic one. The CSB, and many others in France, recently have despaired at the increasing variety of "information" solutions under development in their country -- some private, some public, some commercial, some non-, all with shared interests in common problems such as copyright and free information and censorship and pornography.

This variety, to the French, is distressing. Their solution is a law -- moreover, a single law -- what continental legal scholars call an "organic" law, here a "loi sur les bibliothèques", prepared by the Ministry of Culture.

It may be good to mention, at this point, both the centralized / "dirigiste" tendency in French culture generally -- "all roads lead to Paris" -- and the statutory basis of French and most continental jurisprudence: no "common law", no "adversarial trials", great faith in the inquisitorial skills of judges, "all things permitted which are not prohibited" versus "all things prohibited which are not permitted", and so on.

It also may be useful to note one worry of the French themselves about government's role as an Information Society "initiator": the Kafkaesque problem, quoted by the CSB from a government report and very elegant in its original French -- "l'inadaptation chronique de l'Etat et des collectivités locales à des systèmes en évolution, où la décision doit être rapide, est source d'inquiétude..."

Even so, other countries, perhaps for other reasons perhaps not, show a similar liking for centralized, single - factor, legalistic solutions. China promulgated a new "Internet Rule" last year which prohibits anything which "propagates feudal superstition". It might be good to pay more attention to the "administrative and legalistic" Internet / information approach, which is taken as seriously in France and most other places on the planet as it is taken with a grain of salt in the US.

* "The State as Initiator"

France, again like most countries everywhere, relies heavily upon the national government to initiate programs -- as well, that is, as simply to assist in their initiation and to regulate them once initiated (on "partnering" and "regulation" see below).

In other words, even in the free - wheeling and capitalistic regulatory and industrial development environment currently prevailing in Europe -- 'twas not always thus, the EC's recent Bangemann Report notwithstanding -- the idea that the national government should be the motivating force in the first instance, in technical innovation as in many other things, still is very alive: generally outside of the US, in fact.

France has a good record here. This is the national government, after all, which pioneered the concept of access to digital information by the general public, with its Minitel system -- an idea to which the Internet gravitated only slowly and reluctantly.

The CSB report calls for this active national government role in promoting the giant national union catalog effort, the Catalogue Collectif de France / CCF, and a national "documentation" project encompassing the Catalogue Collectif National des Publications en Série / CCNPS, the Téléthèses and Pancatalogue databases, the Prêt Entre Bibliothèques / PEB system, and the RAMEAU authorities file. (The PICA consortium has been retained to develop the latter national documentation project: 330 different sites, to be launched by the summer of next year.)

* "The State as Partner"

The French see the national government as an indirect as well as a direct participant, as mentioned. This latest CSB report describes several of the many ways in which Paris incentivizes and subsidizes "informatisation" and information access at university and local libraries. Today over 60% of France's 2500 bibliothèques municipales have some form of "informatisation", the CSB says. By 1995 France had 38 library networks in operation -- networks linking different libraries, and museums and other institutions -- all projects qualifying for 40% subsidies from the national government.

The greatest specifically - "Internet" problem for libraries in France, according to the CSB, should sound familiar to librarians in the US and elsewhere. In France the national government pays generous subsidies for the capital equipment budget items -- hardware, peripherals, most software, cables, routers, etc. But connection charges go into the operating budget, where the library is subject to tighter local government or campus supervision or at best is tied to perenially - outdated budgeting targets.

The result is Internet surfing under time pressure -- which does not work, as US and other library users are discovering -- and, ultimately, unused computers: connectivity with no place to go. The dynamics of Castells' Information Economy [1] have not hit library budgeting and accounting procedures yet, in France any more than they have elsewhere.

One interesting advantage which the French have is mentioned at this stage in the CSB report. The librarians invoke the name of their national Prime Minister in support of their call for increased help with digitization projects: in the French system, as in parliamentary systems elsewhere, this is an appeal to legislators directly -- PM Jospin went on public record last year as favoring such programs, and he has the legislative ability to deliver on his promise when constituents such as these librarians call him on it, as they are doing here.

* "The State as Regulator"

An even more difficult role for national government than that of either "initiator" or "partner", in the US context, is that of "regulator". Internet regulation increasingly is being invoked in US debate -- in argument over issues ranging from ecommerce taxation to pornography to, now, appropriate and inappropriate use of the Internet as a "news" medium.

But in the US such debate is only residual, and minimalist: it is only after the idea that national government might be an "initiator" is rejected -- in spite of repeated reminders of the Department of Defense role in having "invented" the Internet in the first place -- and after even the "partner" role is questioned, that people in the US begin to accept grudgingly that "government" at least might need to do some minimal "regulating".

The French attitude is different. The regulatory role of national government there is additive, not residual: not only does Paris "initiate" information policy and actually "partner" its development, it clearly -- "also" -- has the major role in "regulating" information's use, in the French mind. Again, this is more the general view held outside the US than the US view is.

The CSB report calls specifically for government regulation on intellectual property issues. The French librarians also worry, as librarians do everywhere now, about regulation which might increase the cost of information access, and about the archiving of digital documents, and about the evolution of an "information poor" underclass.

But in France they call for the national government to enable the establishment of, or itself establish, the necessary mechanisms. In the US the federal authorities are practically the last resort to which one would look: Silicon Valley first, Washington last -- and this week and for the next few months and perhaps always Washington seems preoccupied with other things. Yet it is the French who represent the majority abroad on this: in China and even in free - enterprise India people see their own governments in a leading role, at least with respect to "regulation".

* "Information Access"

The CSB report enumerates French library achievements in CDROM, Internet, and digitization technologies -- and in providing user access to them -- without being uncritical about the amount of territory still to be covered. Paris' Bibliothèque Publique d'Information / BPI, for example, has determined from surveys that its Internet users still are 85% "well - educated males", the CSB says -- a developing problem found elsewhere as well.

Internet access by university students still has much to accomplish in France, the CSB says. While it praises the plans to "homogenize and normalize" university information systems and documentation, it points out that student access -- a different problem -- is an issue which needs to be addressed better, and one on which libraries can help.

[But libraries and other middlemen must note: The new "network computer" trend -- Apple's "IMac" or whatever -- should assist the French and others greatly with this. US students in fact do not use centralized facilities for information access -- library terminals, campus computers, overcrowded networks and busy ports -- so much as they use their own computers, and commercial services like "AOL", from their dormitory rooms or from home.

The much greater cost of hardware, in France and generally in less - competitive "overseas" markets, does not help in this. To the consumer, the "network computer" trend is simply the next step in the gradual reduction of terminal hardware costs -- the marketing angle of "Moore's Law", "under $1000" in the US context with similar reductions overseas -- the French student should be helped by this next Spring, as the US student already is being helped this Fall.]

The CSB gives prominent place to digitization in its report, praising current efforts and calling for more, yet warning of the need for greater supervision over the snowballing of digitization work being done on the Internet generally. "Internet fetishism" is to be avoided, they warn: "when your only tool is a hammer, everything looks like a nail", in US parlance -- although media do sometimes change messages, as Sebastian Gryphe and Etienne Dolet taught earlier generations in France as elsewhere.

The CSB raises the very interesting point that the possibility exists now that, "the entire corpus of French literature may become digitized by US organizations": might not a "world competition" be opening up, they muse, in an entirely new domain which they call "la valorisation du patrimoine" -- I leave it to others to translate this very un - American phrase precisely, suggesting only that its subject will be of great concern in India and China as well.

Sceptics in the US might consider the possibility of a W3 site appearing online one day -- and becoming popular among US students -- containing all of the "great works of US literature in fulltext", only / but originating from some place like Limoges... or from Bangalore, or perhaps Kabul, or Tripoli...

* "The Role of Libraries in the Information Society"

Distressingly, however, the CSB takes somewhat for granted the central role of "libraries" in the information - seeking - and - using behavior of an Information Society, much as the profession in the US does. It might be nice, it could be needed, but it is not necessary: an information world in which students dial in from home on "network computers" over commercial services to original - source data resources will not necessarily use a "library" -- it might not even use the intermediation of all of the services which "libraries" in the past have provided.

If these library services are to be available to help information users in the next generation, it is incumbent upon the CSB that they begin to distinguish between "libraries" and "library services" -- in an Information Society, the two do not necessarily go together.

* "Librarians: Professional Identity, Intellectual Reponsibility"

Likewise for "librarians": the CSB report warns these professionals, in the French context, not to lose sight of "the very heart and justification of their work", which they say is "the collections, and access to their contents". But one problem is that an age of digital information places into question the very concept of "collection", and to a great extent the idea of "access" as well. It begs questions to warn people to safeguard the very thing being changed, and to encourage them to provide the very thing in process of being reinvented.

The CSB report concentrates on "acquisitions", and on the development of better relations between library departments devoted to this and the print publishers. Some distinction is needed, however, between such concerns -- which certainly are vital to the continued use of print media and the conservation and preservation of same -- and librarians' roles in the world of digital media, where such concerns can be irrelevant and even "faux amis" for people wishing merely to plug old - media ideas into the new. "Acquisitions" makes diminishing sense in a decentralized "Internet" information world; the old print publishers produce less and less a percentage of the information now cascading down upon users, and librarians, online.

* "Professional Education"

The key for the library profession, as for anyone confronting the exigencies of the new digital information world, undoubtedly is education, both preparatory and continuing, and the CSB wisely makes this central.

The library profession, and this particular one in France, recognizes this need, in very interesting ways. The CSB says that "the evolution of the workplace" must be carefully observed and analyzed: both librarians and library users now are working in ways very different from those dealt with in the traditional training of both -- "knowing how to research and use information no matter what 'media' it comes in today constitutes a skill which every citizen must possess", the CSB points out.

Training people -- professionals as well as users -- for such a varied information world is a daunting task, one not yet undertaken in most educational institutions neither in the US and France nor in nearly any school elsewhere. There is no consensus as to how to do it -- there is not even a consensus yet as to what to do.

To their great credit, however, the French CSB at least recognizes the problem and accords it the central place in Information Society development which it deserves. Their report lists various efforts under way in France to grapple with the "information education / training" problem, and makes it clear that this problem must be addressed, before others which face libraries or the society at large even may be thought of.

* The Numbers

For those in love with numbers, the CSB reports are an invaluable source of statistics: "les chiffres" -- authoritatively assembled, carefully considered, and brutally honest -- showing the latest picture on French library failings and achievements, both on their own and by comparison to various European competitors and friends, insofar as these failings and achievements can be demonstrated by historical numbers.

In a time of change as chaotic as the current one, though -- a time of the unhappy and disruptive melding of traditional print and new digital media -- historical numbers are misleading. Who cares how many librarians, or how many books, a library or even a nation has if neither the librarians get used nor the books read?

In an online world, in which student time increasingly is devoted to video games and superficial Internet research, deepening that research -- and supplementing those video games or perhaps even stealing a few of their more successful techniques, for "research" interfaces -- is at least as important to libraries, and librarians, as is traditional print collection development.

"Acquisitions" and "the collection" must continue, at least for conservation and preservation of the printed word, and also because predictions of the latter's imminent death have been "greatly exaggerated" and will be so for some time still. But an "Information Society" has a "digital" component which simply cannot be treated with old solutions, or as simply an extension of old "collections" and "library" and "librarianship" problems.


The most remarkable revelation of this most recent CSB report is, as before, the great difference in "administrative" approach undertaken in France. In France the national government, apparently still, has a central role: "The State" is looked to, by the CSB and by the French generally, to provide both leadership and real assistance as "initiator" and "partner" in addition to simply "regulator" in the development of the new Information Society.

This "different" attitude and orientation are far more significant, in this new situation, than any historical numbers might be. That they might better represent the "attitude and orientation" outside of the "anglo - saxon world" generally, certainly than do those of the US, makes this CSB report important reading for anyone wishing to understand how the Internet, and digital information as a whole, may be about to "scale up" internationally.


Note: "Rapport Pour Les Années 1996-7", ISSN 1157-3600, is available online, at the W3 address noted above, and in printed form from the Conseil Supérieur des Bibliothèques, Palais Garnier, 8 rue Scribe, 75009 Paris (t., fx. This particular latest report includes an excellent overview presentation by Denis Pallier, and interesting appendices on documentation policy within France, and that and copyright approaches in several European countries.

[1] -- Return to text -- Castells' opus is:

Anyone wishing to discuss his thesis / theses as presented in the above will find a willing correspondent via email to kessler@well.sf.ca.us .


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

      |           FYI France (sm)(tm) is a monthly electronic journal,
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