3.00 FYI France: Enewsletter and archive

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

Apr 15, 1997 issue. This file presents an archive copy of the issue of the FYI France enewsletter, ISSN 1071-5916, which was distributed via email on April 15, 1997.
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Versions of the following have appeared online regularly, since 1992, as a feature of the FYI France enewsletter, ISSN 1071-5916, which is distributed for free via email every month except August. Enewsletter 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 .

***

From kessler@well.com Wed Apr 16 04:34:52 1997

Date: Tue, 15 Apr 1997 21:11:55 -0700 (PDT)

FYI France: If you think "information wants to be free"...

The Front National -- a right - wing extremist party which advocates anti - immigration policies, among other disturbing things -- recently won mayoral races in four southern towns in France: Marignane, Orange, Toulon and Vitrolles. Shortly thereafter, left - wing publications, such as Libération, began disappearing from those towns' library shelves.

There has been a national outcry in France. A national "loi des bibliothèques" is under consideration -- central government versus local, Paris versus the provinces, "Paris et le désert..." -- and the debates online and off have been protracted and bitter. But the problem seems only to be growing worse.

What follows is an open letter, just published online (April 10, to the French librarians' BIBLIO-FR econference) apparently by a group of librarians at the Bibliothèque Municipale de Strasbourg -- a famous library in France, with a magnificent collection and a long and distinguished history of coping with political threats and chaos -- protesting against these Front National developments.

France is in some danger nowadays: persistent 12+% unemployment, major national strikes in all sectors -- hospital interns, bus services, public employees, airline personnel (no this is not "the usual", it is worse) -- the European Unity that isn't, the Russians, Algeria and Bosnia, and now this growing Front National cancer. Your average French citizen is like any other -- basically wants a quiet life, but also has a temper -- and France is beginning to rock back and forth politically, from reaction to reaction between the various extremes. Those who have said "it couldn't ever happen in France" have been wrong before.

Everyone ought to read what these Strasbourg librarians have to say here -- brave, in their context as public employees and individuals and French and European citizens -- and consider how much we all take for granted when we say that "information wants to be free". Countries which enjoy such freedoms are exceptions, not the rule: Internet developers should remember this, and they usually forget it. Freedom has to be purchased and maintained, sometimes at a high price, and it seems that the price may be climbing now in France: [translation is by JK] --

"On the occasion of a meeting of the Front National held at

Strasbourg at the end of March, 1997..."

"We ask that you take the time to read the text which follows. It describes not a fantasy but something which actually takes place when the City Halls of the Front National put their mark on the Bibliothèques Municipales.

It presents one of the reasons why we feel we must express publicly, notably to the users of our libraries, our irreducible opposition to all that the Front National represents, to its ideas and to its political practices, and our solidarity with our colleagues of the bibliothèques municipales of Marignane, Orange, Toulon and Vitrolles.

Dominique ANTHONY - Maria ARION - Cathie ARNOUX - Chantal BASTIAN - Nicole BENTABET - Paul BLEILE - Michèle BOEHLER - Alexia BOUTEVIN - Ute BREINING - Laurence BURNICHON - Anne CHOURAQUI - Jean-Michel CORDIER - Maggy DUNOYER - Véronique EYDMANN - Hamid FALLAHI - Claudine GAILLARD - Gabrielle GAINES - Xavier GALAUP - Farid GATER - Sophie GENTZBOURGER - Claudine GLORIA-SALEN - Jacques GOORMA - Dominique GROS-JEAN - Jeanne GUERLIN - Francine HAEGEL - Yves HECHT - Astrid HEYER - Sandra JOLY - Véronique JULKE - Michel JUNG - Chantal KAHN - Amid KHALA - Catherine KLEIN - Marie Jo KLEIN - Véronique LARMET - Marie France LE QUESNE - Yves LIEHR - Brigitte LONGECHAL - Sabine MATTER - Corinne METZGER - Christiane MEYER - Anne MULLER - Pierrette MUTZIG - Marie-Rose NUSS - Muriel ORY-KERN - Arsène OTT - Catherine PFEIFFER - Salvatore RANDOLFI - Viviane RICHARD - Danièle RICOU - Sandrine ROJAS-SANCHEZ - Francine SCHNITZLER - Nathalie STAUDINGER - Stéphanie STENGER - Bernard SUCHECKY - Francine THOMAS - Chantal VUILLOD - Valérie WILD,

-- members of the staff of the Bibliothèque Municipale de Strasbourg, acting in their personal capacities.

Libraries Losing Their Reason

First question:

What to do when certain elected officials put pressure on the library, intruding on its normal activities?

This is the same question posed as when we ask:

What to do when certain elected officials of the Front National put pressure on the library, intruding on its normal activities?

But this little nuance makes a difference.

Pressures, interference, resorts to force, distractions, orders, obligations and responsibilities: we, as librarians, know that these things exist -- we all have dealt with them in our professional lives.

The difference is the work of the Front National.

Since June 1995, over the course of months, of weeks, of days (when the interference became daily), the situation deteriorated so badly at the Bibliothèque d'Orange, with so much implied violence, contempt and ignorance, that it would be best to admit that the basic principles of operation -- good sense, experience, know - how -- professionalism, in short -- could not continue to function.

With these politicians, there is no dialog. It is neither possible, nor desirable. There is no dialog, no exchange, no listening, no respect. Their attitude, their managerial approach, administratively and personally provoke a gradual degradation, a fatigue caused by incessant irritation...

To be a librarian in a city of the Front National is impossible; for -- simply -- libraries, as we all know, are tools of pluralism, of toleration, places for the exchange of ideas, basically open, providing free access, and multi - cultural.

All of these terms: pluralism, toleration, exchange of ideas, openness, liberty, accessibility, and diversity of cultures, have been defined away or denied by these politicians.

It is enough to examine the lists of authors and titles with which the personnel of the Front National have tried to "regulate" the Bibliothèques municipales of numerous towns... It is evident that for them the library is essentially political, a means of distributing ideology.

In such a situation, it is useless to hope to resist, to continue the job, to create a sort of enclave of liberty at the heart of the FN operation. The experience of our colleagues in Orange proves this: the sole solution is departure, to be labeled "on probation", or "resigned".

One must leave "in order to leave" and to create a vacancy. This choice, these decisions, are dramatic to consider, and to take: they signify the loss of reason of the library, its closing (under consideration at Orange), a considerable setback, and -- for a number of years -- the removal of an essential public service (by those who appreciate this well). But I say again, very clearly: it is impossible to exercise the profession of librarian in a city of the Front National.

Very many of our distant colleagues, living in regions less affected by all this politically, have had, and still have, difficulties in understanding the gravity of the situation and its oppressive nature -- in taking this type of discussion seriously. The experience of Orange, a laboratory - city for the FN, demonstrates the seriousness. To think that the situation might evolve differently is an illusion.

And moreover the unrest grows, as the cities of the south have been picked off: Orange, Toulon, Marignane, but also Nice, almost... and the Front National is advancing and taking over territory, more and more often "in disguise", insidiously, sneaking in at times.

The most terrible thing is to hear the politicians of other parties taking on their positions: certain words, certain phrases... Recently the mayor of a commune of the Bouches - du - Rhône, a mayor who is not Front National, demanded that his librarian cancel the library's subscriptions to Le Point and Le Nouvel Observateur because, from reading those periodicals, people might change their political views.

It is evident that if we do not make some response all together to these excesses, we as professionals, like all of those involved in Culture and Communication -- I think particularly of journalists, of the popular press -- will not be able any longer to express ourselves, to exercise our functions.

It is evident that we have an essential role, and that our libraries are alarmed, troubled, unable to bear this further: they are too strong, too forward - looking, too effective, for those who represent reaction, mistrust, who practice insult and contempt.

So if some libraries must, for a time, close, let us be sure that other libraries defend their missions and their users, continuing to give reason and content to the collections which we assemble. Let us not be content with making libraries banal and ordinary. Let us make them shining, creative, active, indispensable and joyous places.

On the Librarians of the South of France,

March, 1997."

XXX

Note that the signatures appear at the beginning -- they want you to know -- signing things can be a dangerous practice in politics in Europe, and in most countries outside North America and one or two other places.

And that phrase, "une ville du Front National"... one tries to imagine this sort of language said of a "Labour" city by a "Tory", in the UK, or of a "Republican" town by a "Democrat", in the US. Even making liberal allowance for Gallic emotion and over - statement -- and remember that these appear to be responsible professional librarians of a respected institution speaking here, and not some wild - eyed political crazies -- things seem to be getting bad in France.

Is there any reason to think -- to assume -- that the same might not happen elsewhere? It seems myopic, self - delusional, even arrogant, simply to assume that library freedoms or any other sort of information - related liberties somehow mystically will be guaranteed anywhere, and yet much of what the Internet so far is about blandly makes this assumption.

The next time someone tells me that "information wants to be free", I will have them read this.

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

XXX

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

      *
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        Copyright 1992- by Jack Kessler, all rights reserved.

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