FYI France

File 3: Ejournal and archive

by Jack Kessler,

November 15, 2009 issue. This file presents an archive copy of the issue of the FYI France ejournal, ISSN 1071-5916, which was distributed via email on November 15, 2009.

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3.00 FYI France: Ejournal and archive

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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:

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. And you can pay via PayPal, on the FYI France homepage:

Please email suggestions for improvements to me at




A library in the Vaucluse...


So many people, French and foreign, travel to some place in France -- from Paris, from Oxford, from Des Moines, from Hanoi or Beijing or Dakar -- and then spend time hunting for a library... for the kids, or the significant other, or simply to relax during the sabbatical, even occasionally to approfondir ses recherches.

And the "place", in France, may not always be well-defined: at times a major city, but other times -- particularly relaxation times, those always in need of a good "read" -- a region, preferably one replete with villages & orchards & country roads.

Where there, then, to find a library? There's always one close-by: for instance --

-- and henceforth you'll be able to retrieve the regional entries above, on FYI France, by tapping "Vaucluse" into the Search Engine box at -- and, eventually, if & as I find the time & energy, this will become possible for other Départements as well.





Now though comes the perennial or at least recently-very-common question, about whether these libraries are "digital"...

Well, I believe that they all are "digital", now. 'Time was, early 1990s, that database-looking things were considered "digital" libraries, and places containing cardboard-and-paper "books" were not. Since then, however, Media Convergence -- many cites... -- has ensured that such early distinctions now have disappeared, as the information-functions performed by institutions have converged, and ultimately merged.

Back then, in the 90s, we had Data Centers, and Libraries, and never the twain were permitted to meet: in fact each assiduously avoided the other -- on-campus or in the law firm or down the corridors of governmental power -- and when forced by some well-meaning or clueless manager to mingle, they would circle one another suspiciously, prowling turf-tigers ready to pounce.

Caricatures abounded: the librarians elderly & distinguished - looking, silver hair & tweeds & sensible shoes & spectacles -- the "computer people" both appearing to be and in fact being very young, be-sneakered & be-denim'ed, & armed with pocket protectors and lots of "attitude".

But that was then... The "computer people" have aged a great deal, since: all that was nearly 20 years ago, now -- nearly "a generation", those early geeks now are in their 40s -- and some have become librarians, and many librarians vice versa.

Also, the thing-in-question has become data, no longer the form or format in which that data gets presented. That once was a veiled threat, emanating from the Data Center: that the sacred worlds of text & printed books & phonograph record music and so on all would be reduced to meaningless strings of numbers -- amenable to interpretation only by the initiated, crowed some, and thus the former "containers" would be neglected and eventually lost, warned others.

But that has both happened and not --

Since the 1990s, most texts-in-active-use have been reduced to numbers, as direly predicted -- operating manuals, workflow documents, business & personal correspondence, banks & their "tellers", securities firms & their "brokers", classroom lectures & notes & readings & discussions, meetings & their minutes, all now "digitized" -- music & images & printed texts among them -- a global project not yet entirely achieved, but gratia Google and pace the US courts one well on its way now to completion.

Also since the 1990s, however, the mavens of data-mining have discovered how very difficult users are, and how intractable digital search & retrieval sometimes can be. And they have improved their techniques, greatly: anyone criticizing today's "algorithms" must try at least to remember how "look-up" used to proceed, back in the era of card-catalogs -- for the users, not for the librarians -- librarians knew their way around, and through, the bibliographic mazes those cards wove, back then, but as Eco and Borges and many others pointed out, such mysteries were far beyond the reach of average users.

Now all this has been democratized: for better or for worse, nowadays average users are finding and using data far more easily and inexpensively than they ever did before.

All these libraries -- great and small, in tiny French villages as well as the towns and cities there -- now boast email addresses, and web sites, and many / most now have or share online public access catalogs of some sort, and all offer "links" to the great online Matrix -- and, as always before, the librarians are more skilled at all this than are the average users.

So they're all "digital", now, and useful to users, in a digital information-seeking era, just as they were in the non-digital information-seeking eras before this one.

And a good number of these libraries, in France, large and small, also are mounting fascinating "local" digitization projects -- along with everyone else, it seems -- little libraries too now have scanners and OCR. And in France, from their Revolution, it's often the local libraries en province which hold the valuable and unique collections: fonds anciens, fonds regionals, fonds devoted to all sorts of fascinating things.

So if your research isn't "local", in France, well maybe it ought to be / could be made to be: local libraries there can help, now, more and more, with that. So call them "digital": that's what they have become, now, along with the rest of us.


Jack Kessler,







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