3.00 FYI France: Enewsletter and archive

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May 15, 1993 issue. This file presents an archive copy of the issue of the FYI France ejournal, ISSN 1071-5916, which was distributed via email on May 15, 1993. This particular issue originally was distributed in two parts, as indicated below.
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From: Jack Kessler 
Subject: the Bib.de France -- bad news? Le Roy Ladurie speaks! Pt.1/2 (15 May 9

May 15, 1993

FYI France: the Bib.de France -- bad news? Le Roy Ladurie speaks! Pt.1/2

by:	Jack Kessler

In case anyone thought that French politics -- including library
politics -- were at all immune to the constant revisionism which
plagues Washington and other capitals: the latest news, since the
French national election, on the new Bibliothe`que de France -- it
seems that there's a danger of their building simply the world's
largest book warehouse, after all --

Le Roy Ladurie speaks!

>From an interview in the April 15 edition of _L'Express_ (pp.80-83):

"On the 15th or the 16th of July, 1988, a member of the cabinet of M.
Jack Lang asked me, officially, to keep my opinions to myself.  I
agreed, basically, to keep quiet. The situation being different now, I
am ready to give my opinion."

Ex cathedra? The Voice from the Whirlwind? Not only that. Emmanuel Le
Roy Ladurie not only still occupies his stratospheric position as one
of the leaders of France's adored historians' elite, he also remains
administrateur of the Bibliothe`que Nationale, and has used the latter
capacity to become historien engage', a -- some say _the_ -- leading
candidate for the post, to be created, which will run both the BN and
the BdFrance.

The interviewer asks, "Would you like to be the 'Pope of the
Transition'?". LRL's reply, "The comparison with John XXIII goes too
far... I am not far from retirement... But I would like very much to
work, as I already have, with the team of the BDF, who are my excellent

What this man has to say -- now, just a short time after the traumatic,
policy-reversing, national election -- counts. Here is what he says:

1) He originally agreed with architecture critic Philip Leighton's
views that the building design, a) shouldn't be so much below grade,
dangerously near the river, particularly when the project site has so
much above-river-level surface area available, and, b) imposes a
dysfunctional space -- the central garden -- which will make all
distances within the library too great, although LRL suggests that the
garden space might not make a bad book stack later on.

2) He didn't like the height or narrowness of the four towers -- the
Germans will put 18 million books into 3 floors, while the BdFrance
will put half that many books into 44 floors, he says -- and he agreed
with the Conseil Supe'rieur des Bibliothe`ques report which worried
about the exterior glass walls, and about the furnace which they will
create for the cardboard and paper inside.

Despite these and other personal objections to the architecture,
though, Le Roy Ladurie points out that to raise them now, with the
external structure nearing completion, would be "unrealistic":  "...the
structure, at this point, is not to be de-railed, so I have become, for
all practical purposes, its warm partisan, because we no longer have a
choice." In addition, though:

3) What about leaving the Bibliothe`que Nationale's "Re'serve" of rare
and precious books -- about 150,000 volumes -- at the old BN site on
the Rue Richelieu, to become an important part there of a new
"Bibliothe`que d'Art et de Patrimoine"?!

The _L'Express_ interviewer jumped on this, with a "tell me more"
question, to which Le Roy Ladurie eagerly replied,

"...a National Library of the Arts at Richelieu or, perhaps, a National
Library of the Ancient Book and of the Arts...the departments of
Theater Arts, Maps and Plans, Prints, Manuscripts, Money and Medals,
Music... the Bibliothe`que Doucet, the Central Library of National
Museums, which is at the Louvre, and the library of the National School
of Beaux-Arts... our oriental manuscripts... and the 15 million images
of the department of Prints.."; "...they will function in synergy,
without some being annexed by others...", he added.

There's an idea! Not an entirely new one -- Michel Melot and various
others have promoted the "Bibliothe`que des Arts" idea in Paris for
some time -- but an idea perhaps "whose time has come" in the context
of the BdFrance and the recent French elections, particularly if it can
be shown to save some money.

4) Le Roy Ladurie also, however, declares himself a partisan of the
"complete informatisation" of the BdFrance: completion of the grand
project to bring the BN's catalog online --  which will form the
"heart", he point outs, of the even more ambitious project to mount an
online national union catalog -- and then some, including microfilming,
inventory control, retrospective conversion, and access. This, unlike
his support of the Bibliothe`que des Arts, perhaps is more overtly a
political statement, aimed at one of the looming disasters confronting
the BdFrance in this worst financial crisis for France since the war
(of which see more below).

5) Finally, Le Roy Ladurie has raised wry smiles in France with a
suggestion that a "university library" space and function be inserted
into the BdFrance's already-crowded program:

"...In my opinion, one could put the whole collection of the BN into
the nice book-stacks down below, those of the basement, instead of
putting it in the towers... One conceivable solution then would be to
make, of the above-garden areas, an Inter-University Library..."

"Always the academic," runs the response among some in Paris: that
Professor Le Roy Ladurie merely is thinking nostalgically of his
students and of his teaching days. As so he might, as French university
libraries -- in dramatic contrast to their US and British counterparts
-- are the most poverty-stricken libraries in the country. In addition,
and very practically, the enormous Paris student population is bound to
be one of the major, most voracious, and most difficult users of the
BdFrance facilities: why not give them efficient treatment, oriented to
their specific demands and needs -- at least, LRL suggests, an
Inter-University Library at the BdFrance might relieve the engorged BPI
library at the Centre Pompidou/Beaubourg, which is so needed by the
non-student general public.

Le Roy Ladurie had much more to say in the _L'Express_ interview.
Perhaps his most significant practical comment on the BdFrance issue
was his "it-had-better-be" response to the question of the consequences
of any delay in the BdFrance's 1995 completion date:  "For us, that
would be a catastrophe, for Richelieu (the BN) will be full by 1995."

Next: Jamet answers, Mme. Waysbord defends, and M. le Ministre

Jack Kessler



FYI France: the Bib.de France -- bad news? Le Roy Ladurie speaks! Pt.2/2

In Part 1, Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie spoke -- in his various capacities
as historien-engage'-extraordinaire, administrateur of the
Bibliothe`que Nationale, and leading candidate to become head of the new
BdFrance -- breaking his vow of silence, and presenting both his
criticisms of the BdFrance and his plan for a new Bibliothe`que des
Arts at the BN's old site.

Jamet answers

There is somewhat of a response to Le Roy Ladurie's comments in an
interview with the head of the BdFrance, Dominique Jamet, which has
appeared in _Livres Hebdo_ (No. 69, April 23, p.31). Jamet is in a
difficult position. He once praised President Mitterrand strongly, in
his writing, at a time when others were not doing so, and it is simply
to this praise that Parisian wags attribute his appointment to his
BdFrance position: journalist Jamet is not a librarian and is not known
for supervising building projects, and his association with Mitterrand
is not helping him now in a town which solidly is disenchanted with the
essentially lame-duck French President.  Nevertheless, Jamet has been
an impassioned and effective advocate of whatever it takes to get the
BdFrance built, which is the job which the President gave him to do.

No book stacks in the central garden, first of all?:  "...aesthetically
aberrant and technically hazardous: Let's see a design!", responds
Jamet. As for the idea of keeping the "Re'serve" at the BN: "I regret
also that he (Le Roy Ladurie) is re-introducing a nostalgia for the
cutting of the collection between the BN and the BdF... the researchers
rejected the caesura, and this question has been dead for 3 1/2
years..."; although Jamet also says, "Personally, it wouldn't upset me
to see the rare and precious books of the BN stay at the rue de
Richelieu".  The idea of an Inter-University Library at the BdFrance
simply is proof, to Jamet, that Le Roy Ladurie, "...remains attached to
his idea of the BN 'bis', and allergic to the idea of an opening to the
general public". But when asked, carefully, the question who might
become the "sole administrator" of the two sites, Jamet fairly although
doggedly replies,

"The first hypothesis is that the public works project (Jamet's own
organization) become the manager and absorb the BN: that does not seem
right. The second, inversely, which seems to have the favor of Emmanuel
Le Roy Ladurie, is that the public works project disappear and deliver
the keys to the BdF into the hands of the BN, which would run it: this
solution, by which the BN would absorb the BdF, presents a serious risk
of de-railing the project, which could be detoured towards a BN 'bis'.
I favor myself the creation of a new public works administration which
would absorb the two: it would be better adapted to manage this new
type of library."

Jamet missed the point, apparently, of the new Bibliothe`que des Arts,
Le Roy Ladurie's real intention behind his advocacy of the BN's
retaining the "Re'serve". He grasped LRL's point about the garden fully
and head-on, though, and the idea of an Inter-University Library
appears to have evoked a sidestep. The main thrust of Jamet's comments
appears to be the last: the question of who will run things once the
thing is built. He seems quite optimistic, though, that the thing will
be built as planned.

Mme. Waysbord defends

He'le`ne Waysbord, however -- she is "scientific delegate" to the
BdFrance and a key member of Jamet's team -- felt called upon shortly
after, in an op/ed piece published in _Le Monde_ (April 28, p. 19), to
defend even the fundamental plan of the not-yet-completed BdFrance.
Yes, as LRL said, opposing the structure, nearly complete, would at
this point be "unrealistic"; but what about its contents? Waysbord
defends the plan for the contents, in a posture which some might see as
"Methinks she doth protest too much": "Criticism of the computerization
program of the Bibliothe`que de France... calls for rectification and
the following precise replies...", Waysbord insists. She then details
the consultative and contracting processes, the achievments record and
current on-schedule calendar, and the documentation and standardization
efforts, all of which have been considerable tasks performed with great
energy by the project team.

The problem, however, is not whether efforts in the computer /
information technology area have been made -- nor, sadly, whether they
have been successful -- but whether their results will be implemented,
in the new political and financial mood which now prevails in Paris.
The _Le Monde_ writer Emmanuel de Roux, to whom Waysbord was
responding, appears to realize this when he points out, in his rebuttal
(same issue), "If the debate on the architecture of the Grande
Bibliothe`que is closed... that over its informatisation remains
largely open."

This is the current nightmare, for those whom -- like Le Roy Ladurie,
Jamet, Waysbord, and de Roux -- want to see the BdFrance, now under
construction, open and function as a success: that the building will be
built, but that all it will contain will be books.  President
Mitterrand's original mandate was a double one, both 1) to build a big
library and, 2) to ensure access to its contents to a broad public:
"This great library will cover all the fields of knowledge, will be at
the disposition of all, will use the most modern technologies of the
transmission of knowledge, and will be able to be consulted at a
distance, and to enter into relations with the other European
libraries." (Letter of Mission from the President of the Republic to
the Prime Minister, August 1988.)

Even if Mitterrand hadn't said it, there seems little question that
access, not storage alone, would be a key concept to any modern
library, and that electronic access -- online public access cataloging,
dial-in access to same, cd-roms, networks, online fulltext, imaging,
multimedia -- would be central to the project.  There is a new
government in Paris, however, and it has a new mandate: not so much to
reject the ideas of President Mitterrand and the old government -- most
reponsible leaders of The Right make favorable noises when asked
whether they will or must continue with the Bibliothe`que de France,
despite various critical comments made during the campaign -- as to
face up to some financial realities which would make Washington
decision-makers howl with pain. French unemployment is running over 11%
and still climbing, and the rapport Reynaud, just released, has
revealed that the French government is running an operating deficit of
4.8 % of the national product: this when the European Community's own
maximum, imposed largely in the past by France herself, is 3%. This is
not the time for free government spending in France, and the
Bibliothe`que de France has been and continues to be one of the most
visible and still in many minds most questionable of recent, flagrant,
government expenditures.

M. le Ministre

The new Minister of Culture ("et de la Francophonie"), Jacques Toubon,
thus far adroitly has launched discussions with everyone without
committing himself to anyone. Le Roy Ladurie in his interview: "All of
this of course demands much reflection and depends, in any case, on the
ministers concerned" -- he is aware of the political realities of his
program. Toubon is maire of the 13th arrondissement, home of the
BdFrance, and is not unaware of the project's importance: its (current)
projected annual operating cost of 1+ billion francs will represent 10%
of his (current) ministerial budget. It would be, he has declared,
"...illusory to interrupt a project planned to be carried inexorably to
its completion, thereby losing the 4 billion francs already
spent"(_Livres Hebdo_, no.66, April 2, p.44); but, "'For the time
being, the call for tenders for the computer information system will
not be put out on May 15 as was planned', The minister will consult
with the Conseil Supe'rieure des Bibliothe`ques, 'during the next few
days'." (_Le Monde_, May 11, p.20).

It is not easy to halt or even to stall a building construction
project: already-committed "pipeline" funds flow inexorably,
particularly when there is a partially-completed tangible result --
bricks and mortar -- at which one can point. It is no easier
financially, really, to halt a computerization project -- funds may be
just as "already-committed" and just as much "in the pipeline" as might
be funds for building projects: but computerization projects rarely
have tangible results, which can be shown off to sponsors, the press
and interested politicians, until they're entirely completed -- a
dangerous political liability.

Le Roy Ladurie has spoken, Jamet has responded, and some program
changes may well be in store for the BdFrance. The real question which
appears to be developing, though, from all the political and financial
pressures now loose in Paris, is whether the building now rising
inexorably at Tolbiac will become the world online electronic
information center originally envisioned, or even just a modern library
offering access to its books, or simply a somewhat over-large,
too-cold-in-winter, too-hot-in-summer, book warehouse?

ISSN 1071 - 5916



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

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