April 15, 2003 issue. This file presents an archive copy of the issue of the FYI France ejournal, ISSN 1071-5916, which was distributed via email on April 15, 2003.
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The latest issue of "Chroniques de la Bibliothèque de France" -- the beautifully - illustrated periodical sent to all members of the "Amis de la Bibliothèque" -- offers a poignant illustration of the good effects which international and trans - national library cooperation nowadays can provide.
"Bibliotheca Alexandrina et BnF: two great libraries of research and cooperation", the BnF publication proclaims...
The Egyptians, and the Muslim World, now have in Alexandria a fascinating building, of enormous size -- a huge main reading room containing 2000 readers' positions -- equipped with growing collections of printed works (goals of 8 million books and 50,000 manuscripts), regular exhibits and conferences, 580 employees, 450 computers, 30 databases, Internet Archive online access, "Touch and Turn" consultation of digitized manuscripts --
Remarkable. I remember the astonishment, and occasional derision, which greeted the earliest announcements of the dream of constructing this thing: all the foreign scepticism, all the suggestions back then of how Egypt might better employ its money, and all the raised eyebrows over the impossibilities for books and technology of Alexandrian climate and infrastructure... Well, they've done it.
The new Great Library of Alexandria and the Bibliothèque de France have had ties from the very beginning:
There are the long historical ties, of course. The story of de Lesseps and the Canal still is learned by every French and every Egyptian child, in school. The work of Champollion and other French Egyptologists on the ancient history and language still is relied upon and appreciated by scholars everywhere.
More recently, the new Great Library project has involved French library specialists from its earliest days. Since the early 1970s, when the idea of constructing a modern institution on or at least near the site of the ancient original first was broached, the project has attracted great interest from Paris.
Président Mitterrand -- a well-known fan of libraries -- on the Alexandria project, from a speech delivered at Aswan in 1990:
"Regarding the collective effort of governments, institutions, and peoples to assemble a means of constructing and giving life to the new Library of Alexandria: I bring you, from France, an offer of the cooperation of our libraries, of their laboratories and of their schools."
I personally remember early appeals made to the international community, back then, for development assistance for the new project -- by no less than Gérald Grunberg, who has worked in senior positions in French librarianship -- for four years, 1996-2000, Grunberg served as Conseiller Français at the project, in Alexandria --
From 1994 on, then, the BnF and other institutions in France consulted with the Bibliotheca Alexandrina on the building design, the development of information and audiovisual systems, the provision of multimedia and multilingual capacities.
Technical training was provided, gifts of books and catalogs and cd-roms were sent, meetings were held and contacts were established. Last year, in 2002, the BnF digital library, Gallica, provided 100 digital documents on Egyptian civilization, together with a copy of the sound recording of a Cairo conference on Arab Music hosted by King Fouad I in 1932.
So there is a great deal which digital libraries can do, now, besides digitizing: training, contacts, discussions, donations...
Now the permanent Conseil d'Administration of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina has French representation on it: Jacques Attali -- again of Paris librarianship fame -- it was Attali's impassioned conversations on digital library possibilities, with Président Mitterrand in the gardens at the Elysées, which reputedly led to the original Trés Grande Bibliothèque project, and its wonderful controversies, and eventually to giving Paris its new library and new librarianship approaches at Tolbiac...
Ties of Inclusion versus Exclusion
The depredations of war upon culture are in many minds these days.
The looting and destruction of the Baghdad Museum collections, which could have been saved by a single US tank, may prove to be one of Western Civilization's greatest cultural tragedies: the destruction of the most ancient of its history, precisely at a time when it is trying so hard to reinvent itself -- Western Civ., expiring upon the ruins of Western Civ. -- it seems that, pace Yeats, things really do swing "full circle" sometimes...
And no word still, as of this morning anyway, on the fate of Iraq's Nineveh, in the no doubt by now thoroughly - bombed and looted Mosul suburbs, site of Western Civ.'s earliest library...
If civilization is to continue at all upward, as it spirals -- "turning and turning, in the widening gyre" -- then purely technical work such as so often gets devoted to "digital libraries" can find, must find, a broader and deeper purpose.
To digitize documents and wire a particular library no doubt serves a fine cause. But among causes, nowadays, the international and the trans - national -- the latter across, and very often around and through, purely "national" boundaries -- would seem to enjoy greatest pride of place.
If digital media really can transcend distance -- if the Internet, and other digital techniques, really can if not make the Global Village at least make such a previously unthinkable idea now actually possible -- then perhaps that is the digital advantage most in need of development. A library in Paris -- or anywhere -- now via digital media and the Internet can extend itself and its resources and services to a library in Alexandria, or to one in Baghdad or Sarajevo or Maputo, and vice versa.
The extension can offer training, or resources, or donations, or simply contacts and discussion, or all of these. One corollary of the famous "On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog" -- the leveling of the playing field made possible by digital media -- is that discussion and contacts can be more mutual than they have been in the past. Any Paris library has something which it can learn from Maputo, just as Maputo doubtless has much that it can learn from Paris -- and this sort of mutual exchange seems more easily executed via email and the Web than it can be in person, as the latter communication too often gets saddled with the panoply of governments and their histories.
Even more generally, then, the involvement of the BnF here, with this Egyptian and Muslim World project, illustrates a politics of inclusion which can very usefully be contrasted now with the politics of exclusion practiced too often by others and on other occasions. Cultural contacts, exchanges, even trade -- all only so long as they are mutual -- give peoples strange to one another opportunities to become familiar, to discover what is similar and what is different, to work out common bases for mutual understanding, slowly and patiently.
War doesn't. Invasion doesn't. Aggressive and defensive posturings by national governments do not. One promising aspect of the dawning Era of The Successor to the Nation - State may be that, whatever does succeed it, in international governance, the possibilities -- indeed the necessities -- of trans - national contacts such as illustrated by the BnF <=> Bibliotheca Alexandrina cooperation now are in place as well.
In the meantime, and making all of this that much more necessary, the Old Order does seem to be self - destructing in so many ways now: from my news headlines yesterday morning --
Date: Mon, 14 Apr 2003 03:38:25 -0700 (PDT)
"The 11am BST (10 am GMT) BBC TV News reports that the
National Library is on fire. A three or four second film
of a burning building was shown, but there are no more
From: CulPropProtNet / MusSecNetwork
Subject: NATIONAL LIBRARY, BAGHDAD ON FIRE
"The 11am BST (10 am GMT) BBC TV News reports that the National Library is on fire. A three or four second film of a burning building was shown, but there are no more details..."
This sort of thing may increase. The nation - states which supported and protected cultural efforts in the past appear to be breaking down a bit, or at least they are shaking themselves up and redefining -- and eras of basic political change are notoriously hard on museum and library collections. Whatever it is that succeeds the nation - state, now, it does seem that we are going to have to reinvent its history. Digital libraries and librarians have an added emphasis to their mandate, then.
Oh well, at least we've gotten the Human Genome mapping done... everybody in the US remember to pay your taxes today...
Also, a stop - press ps.: Tony Judt's third of three wonderfully - provocative articles on France - US relations just has appeared in the latest New York Review of Books: this one very interestingly a review of seven recent books on the anti - American phenomenon as it is rearing its ugly head in France, all of which might be of very great interest to everyone here --
"Anti - Americans Abroad", By Tony Judt, The New York Review of Books, May 1, 2003,
-- a review of the following --
And Judt's own prose, in his article, is very well worth reading:
"If you want to understand how America appears to the world today, consider the sport - utility vehicle..."
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