3.00 FYI France: Ejournal and archive

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

October 15, 2000 issue. This file presents an archive copy of the issue of the FYI France ejournal, ISSN 1071-5916, which was distributed via email on October 15, 2000.

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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: the BNdF -- online library priorities, and a Sénat report...


Yes, the CCFR / Catalogue Collectif de FRance and in fact the entire BNdF / Bibliothèque Nationale de France have been down for several days now -- the Website, the online catalog, the building, the library (Tolbiac, I don't know about the other locations);

and No, I do not know when they will be back up;

and Yes, these things can be avoided or at least their impact reduced by running parallel on backup systems in remote locations;

and No, I do not know why the BNdF has not done this...


Some detail may be provided in the announcement which follows, which since Wednesday I have received from several people and seen posted in several places -- no original attribution [the message appeared on the BNdF website, at http://www.bnf.fr, on October 16, but then the site went down again] -- rumors are that the closure will continue for 10 days --

"En raison d'un incendie dans un souterrain proche de la BNF, celle-ci est fermée jusqu'à nouvel ordre. Les serveurs Web ainsi que le serveur d'email n'est plus accessible : tous les emails adressés aux membres de la BNF toute entière (Tolbiac ET Richelieu) ne passent plus..."

-- and some explanation might / might not? be provided in what follows next, a new report, available online both in HTML and for Acrobat downloading, by the Senate of France, entitled --


"La Bibliothèque nationale de France: un chantier inachevé"

* No. 451 -- Sénat -- session ordinaire de 1999-2000 -- annexe au procès verbal de la séance du 29 juin 2000
* Rapport d'Information -- Par MM. Philippe Nachbar et Philippe Richert -- Commission des affaires culturelles.
* URL: http://www.senat.fr/rap/r99-451/r99-451.html


This "Rapport" is a fascinating, remarkable document, capable of providing grist for many mills -- pro - BNdF and anti- and otherwise -- which might be concerned with libraries and / or digital information and / or the governance of large public projects and / or cultural politics, and all of the above in France but also elsewhere, and particularly remembering that it is the US and not France which is unique in the world in its approach to most of these things...

The French Senate -- yes, this is their national governmental body -- is a very different institution from the one which sits in the US capitol building in Washington D.C. In France, the Senate functions primarily in an advisory capacity to the government -- a capacity which can be both weaker and stronger than that of the Senate in the US. The French Assembly, not the Senate, does most of France's legislating.

But the elder statespersons (sorry, just had to) who sit in the French Senate are powerfully connected in French local politics -- moreso than are many US Senators, who these days spend so much more of their time in D.C. than they ever do "at home" -- and so much so that getting a thing dictated by the national government "done" at the local level often can depend on securing the good will of influential Senate members.

(For the original and perhaps more "politically correct" version on all of this I refer both sceptics and the merely curious to the Sénat's excellent website, at,


So a report by the Senate in France, such as this one on the BNdF, although it may not have the "legal" effect of a Senate document in the US, may have an even greater "practical" effect than a US Senate document might -- if and to the extent that the Senatorial names attached to it command great influence, in influence - sensitive France. The names "attached" to this document do. Some of you will recognise several. A French government bureaucrat who ignores any report bearing such names will do so very much at the peril of her / his success in getting other things done in the future, "locally" or otherwise.

Rather than trying to summarize or certainly interpret what the Senators are saying, in approving / releasing this "Rapport" on their BNdF -- that would be a mystical exercise at best, particularly in a situation so charged with politics and national pride, and particularly in Paris -- hopefully it will be enough here simply to show people the Rapport's provocatively - couched table of contents wording. Even in the titles, one finds plenty of ironies / much "double entendre" / grist for many mills.

So I have "taken a shot", in the following, at a few translations into English. These appear in square brackets: [ ]. Those of you with some general interest can get a sense, at least, of the take of the Senate of France on it by reading what follows -- those with detailed interest piqued by what you see here can click on the URL above and read the original.

Bonne chance on interpreting any of it, but it does make fascinating reading. Political hay is being made here, clearly. But I am not French, and I am no expert on their political affairs -- either generally or these in particular -- so I leave interpretation of what follows to those who are, and those who feel that they are:


"La Bibliothèque nationale de France: un chantier inachevé"



I. Le Tribut Du Passé ["A Tribute to the Past"]

II. Une Institution En Etat De Marche ["An Ongoing Institution"]

III. Un Projet Qui N'Est Pas Encore Achevé ["A Project Not Yet Achieved"]

-- that gives you some idea of the tone -- juicy titles / juicy reading. I hope that my American English translations convey the ironic / sarcastic / groping - for - "constructive" flavor of the French original without badly distorting its meaning -- my ideal in translating always has been the very - English Arthur Waley, who once rendered a line of classical Chinese as "Madly singing in the mountains"...

But I do think I have gotten the proper sense of the French in the original, here. The report's text actually begins -- no fooling, this is verbatim -- "Mesdames, Messieurs, Faut-il détruire les quatre tours de Tolbiac?" -- and then runs into a sort of French equivalent of, "but seriously, folks..."


The French Senate -- 5th Republic (1958) version but also the very much older general ideas which went into that -- is, to an American mind, sort of a combination of the House of Lords in Britain, both post- and pre - Blair in fact, and many of the original ideas which went into our own US Senate. A "council of elders" was wanted, in all three cases -- for wisdom, for sage advice, for "the long view", where "juniors" tend to be short on all three of these things -- presumably it was largely "elders", in all three cases, who pushed for this.

But nobody wanted to give the "council of elders" any, or much, real power to "take action", action being both more the specialty of juniors and better controlled by the people in a democracy than elders might be.

Each solution went its separate way, in practical application. The US Senate became both active and powerful -- more powerful and more active in fact, for many purposes, than its opposite house. The British House of Lords went from vastly powerful to relatively toothless, certainly now post - Blair's radical reform of it but even for many years before. And the French have a solution, now, which is somewhat in the middle: with the largely - elderly / honorary senators declaring and advising and sometimes being taken seriously and sometimes not -- still, BNdF librarians would entirely ignore such a report at their peril.


-- and some day, hopefully soon, organizations / institutions / individuals in the information arena will realize that their online / "virtual" presence finally is taking higher priority than "real" presence -- the hardworking BNdF online librarians deserve better -- i.e. even if the building closes, goes on strike, gets eaten by bugs, burns, whatever, in the Age of the Internet and any digital age the online presence,

-- it's so easy, all it takes is money...




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M. Eiffel

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Document maintained by: Jack Kessler, kessler@well.sf.ca.us
Last update: October 16, 2000