by Jack Kessler, email@example.com
September 15, 2008 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, 2008.
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Every little place in France, it seems, has its library...
And increasingly most of these are "digital", in the sense that each now has its own computer(s) on-board, many are on their own local intranets, most are inter-connected nationally and globally via the Internet, now -- interestingly this last happens often before a local intranet does -- and in all cases much in the collections which once was printed text and images or sound or multimedia either has been digitized already, or the librarians now actively dream of doing this, and doing it soon.
One remarkable characteristic of the French case, however, is simply how tiny some of these "digital library" places are: for example,
* Bibliothèque Municipale, 137 boulevard Georges Pompidou, 05000 Gap
Population 36,000... Gap is a very old pre-Roman town, also Napoleon's stronghold to which he raced when he escaped from Elba to launch his "100 Days", now a launching spot for High Alps mountaineering expeditions. The BM Gap holds over 60,000 volumes, including 50 incunabula.
* Bibliothèque Municipale, place Jean Jaurès, 76700 Gonfreville l'Orcher
This small place, now of 10,000 inhabitants, once defended France against l'Albion perfide or anything else that might wish to sail up the Seine... then for a while it defended the English (Albionese?) against the French... Some exotic and famous old names exist in France: some have weathered the slings and arrows of fortune and time better than have others, but nevertheless today each has its library.
* Bibliothèque Municipale, Cité Familistère, 02120 Guise
Now a place of 6,000 souls, a town name both famous and sinister in French history, with a library location famous from a more recent period, the Utopian Socialism of the 19th century and Fourier's "phalanstères".
* Bibliothèque Municipale, Maison de Lavelanet, place Henri Dunant, 09300 Lavelanet
Only 6,800 people here, Lavelanétiens et Lavelanétiennes, deep in the Cathar South, the Occitan Midi-Pyrénées of France, perched upon one of the more dramatic synclines of the geological planet -- and not far from the "Montaillou : the promised land of error" of E. Le Roy Ladurie... nowadays notable for being a stage of the Tour de France... Well, Lavelanet too has its library.
Then there is Lisieux, in the Calvados:
* La Médiathèque, Place de la République, 14107 Lisieux
A town not much larger than the others -- 23,000 inhabitants -- but one doing remarkable "digital" things with their in-France-inevitable, apparently, local library collections.
-- and, online, some of the leading "digital library" offerings emanating from Lisieux --
La bibliothèque électronique de Lisieux: http://www.bmlisieux.com/
Livres en ligne: http://www.numilog.com/bibliotheque/bmlisieux/
Bibliothèque multimédia: http://www.itheque.net/lisieux/
And there is Lodève,
* Bibliothèque Municipale, Square Georges Auric, 34700 Lodève
An ancient place of only 7,000 inhabitants now, up in the hills above Montpellier and Béziers, yet boasting a local library of "21,000 volumes including 3,000 rare works, 1,300 sound documents, 62 periodicals titles".
So, a note:
My point being generally, here, that digital information and the Internet have the capacity to empower small places -- Tom Friedman's "The World is Flat", brought down from his global level to Tip O'Neill's "All politics is local", perhaps -- these tiny towns, in France, have their libraries, and most are doing remarkable things-digital with them now...
Both are surprises, in a sense, in many other social contexts. Other nations besides France have tiny towns. But for
myriad historical and cultural reasons those towns may not possess "libraries": treasure troves of ancient printed texts
do not turn up so readily in places with climates more damp than that of France, or with cultural priorities
significantly different, or with histories pockmarked differently -- when Hulagu's Mongols looted the Baghdad Library in
1258, the Tigris turned color from the inks of all the books they dumped into it, it was said...
So India's many villages may not possess books, and China's numerous small towns may not possess libraries -- despite the rich cultural and textual histories of both places.
Plenty was written down, perhaps, it just was not kept "local", out in the villages. Centralization, and political control, have had different histories in different places. But small places have other things to offer, many of which may be shared and enhanced via digital techniques. It is Friedman's "flat" world, now: we will be seeing Urumchi soon, on the Internet -- also Nagercoil -- just as the French now already are seeing Dakar...
* Bibliothèque des Archives du Sénégal, Building administratif, Avenue Léopold Sédar Senghor, Dakar
A nagging question, however... Years of doing this have taught me that things change, on the Internet, very rapidly and completely and often without leaving a trace. So you wonder if things really are "there" in the first place, sometimes. Reliability, verifiability... On the Internet nobody knows you are a dog, or were a dog... When Google, even, looks to list a new Website they ask for you to install something they've made on "your" site, so they can go there themselves and see it, just to be sure that "you" are "you", and that "it" is "yours".
So when I see a website in Senegal, is the site really there? Is "Senegal" really there? Without getting on a plane and visiting "there" myself, how do I know this, nowadays?
Julian Barnes* taught many of us that "there" isn't necessarily what we see when we de-plane: it may be the Isle of Man, instead, made up to look like "Britain", because Britain has become unlivable or much-changed or simply no longer is there -- and this was somewhat confirmed by Peter Jackson, when he decided that the "British" bits of his Lord of the Rings movie* had to be filmed in New Zealand.
One gets Peter Jackson's and Julian Barnes' vertiginous sense, of there being no "there" really "there", best while soaring over the planet via GoogleEarth or Wikimapia, searching out smalltown French libraries: all those tiny towns below, each with its little library, all of them inextricably linked now in a much-enriched and giant toile which we call Le Ouebbe -- perhaps trapping us, however, in a surreal sense of library virtual reality, one bearing little resemblance to the reality down there on the ground.
We must continue to travel, then. We must kick the tires: see the buildings, touch and feel and leaf through the "books".
Because what if one day we ask for a volume from Lodève -- of an e-book we've been reading at their excellent online e-library site, but for which we cannot quite read a word at the bottom of page 29, or where the page 29 in that Lodève e-book volume does not quite look like the page 29 on the Guise e-library site -- but then we discover that the volume once in Lodève long ago has disappeared, into an HVAC-controlled facility in suburban Marseille, where they had a mysterious fire some years back... "After all," writes the librarian, "we thought you enjoyed the e-library so much, and nobody had asked for the old printed versions in many years... and they were insured..."
What is it that we have left, from some of the very oldest libraries? Not the books, but the library catalogs... clay tablets hard-fired in city burnings... rough lists scrawled on parchment scraps, in a hurry...
Or, what if one day we were to de-train at Montpellier and travel up to Lodève and discover a giant "parc animalier" there instead? Only 7,000 aging folks are up there, now, fighting their smalltown fights for funding etc. against our gigantesque / Gargantua-style new Global City trends... "After all," says the gardien, "we thought virtual reality attracted you, and someone said we needed a parc animalier out here more, so that is what we did, and few people miss the old place, as they have imagery of most of it online now... le son et la lumière... and the old folks went to a nice Home..."
Like Peter Jackson's New Zealand / Britain, or like Julian Barnes' miniature UK Isle of Man -- or like the horrendous Second Life*, perhaps a much "better" place than the real globe, the latter being something Tom Friedman says now is growing "Hot, Flat and Crowded"* -- well, virtual reality has its risks, in addition to and in spite of its obvious attractions...
One more interesting smalltown in France, then, Hérouville:
It's a tiny place, a village-in-the-Val-d'Oise --
"Hérouville is a village and a commune in the Val-d'Oise département, in the French region of Île-de-France. As of the census of 1999, the population was 598. The estimate for 2004 was 559."
-- and nevertheless / despite its diminutivity, Hérouville is a place boasting "commune" status, a mairie, its very own website, http://www.herouville-en-vexin.net/ -- and its very own,
* Bibliothèque Municipale, Mairie, rue Bout d'en Bas, 95300 Hérouville (Val d'Oise)
-- plus, remarkably / incredibly,
"Honky Chateau -- The village of Herouville is home to the 'Honky Chateau' recording studios, the George Sands studio of the Chateau d'Herouville. Elton John recorded his famous album of the same name here in 1972. Other significant albums recorded at Honky Chateau: Obscured By Clouds by Pink Floyd, 1972; Pinups by David Bowie, 1973; Dangerous Age by Bad Company, 1976; Mirage by Fleetwood Mac, 1982..."
Now, without the Internet & Wikipedia & Wikimapia, how would I ever have found out any of that?
I just hope it's true... I hope "Hérouville" really is "there". It does appear to be a remarkable spot: from-the-air and digitally, anyway.
Jack Kessler, firstname.lastname@example.org
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 email address, and, b) it // \\ isn't going to make them money: 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 may be found at http://email@example.com/ (BIBLIO-FR archive), or http://listserv.uh.edu/archives/pacs-l.html (PACS-L archive), or http://www.lib.berkeley.edu/Collections/FYIFrance/ or http://www.fyifrance.com . Suggestions, reactions, criticisms, praise, and poison-pen letters all gratefully received at firstname.lastname@example.org . Copyright 1992- , by Jack Kessler, all rights reserved except as indicated above.
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