10.2006a FYI France Essay :

 

50 Years of Libraries in France: a view from afar

by Jack Kessler, kessler@well.com

(For the Bulletin des Bibliothèques de France,
published in their special Anniversary Edition of May, 2006,
Regards sur un demi-siècle : cinquantenaire du BBF,
numéro hors série, 25 euros port inclus, en vente à l'adresse
http://bbf.enssib.fr/bon_de_commande.pdf,
in an excellent translation into French done by Oristelle Bonis,
"La France et ses bibliothèques... vues de loin" TOC below.)

 

What follows here is merely a personal view. Just as there are no "average" French people there are no average Americans, each of us representing different degrees of normal in both of our complicated societies. I cannot presume, either, to represent a broader generality: foreigners, including Americans, all view France and its libraries differently.

Within the vast groups of foreigners who have looked towards France, however, and have visited and used its libraries, one can find some common threads, of interest, of concern, of delight and occasionally of confusion. A few of these themes are indicated here. Not all of us foreigners are as perplexed by France as some: a few of us have visited, made friends, studied her, more than others have -- nearly all of us are fascinated. What follows, then, are recollections from a personal fascination, one which has extended over nearly fifty years itself: thoughts of France and its libraries, which are shared by many of us outside of the Hexagone.

 
Contents
1) Postwar Prelude, & The Turbulent 1960s-70s: something "foreign"
2) The Sabbatical Year 1980s-90s: something "familiar"
3) The Digital Access 2000s: something perhaps too "similar"
4) Going forward now: the need for something "different" -- vive la différence
* "We see through a glass, darkly"
* Varieties of access, to the past and to the future
* Summary: 50 years of visiting French libraries, both "real" & "virtual" -- the virtues of difference
(Footnotes)

 

 

1) Postwar Prelude, & The Turbulent 1960s-70s: something "foreign"

-- Janet Flanner (Genêt), January 30, 19461

 

To a 1940s-50s American, "France" was all about the Second World War, and De Gaulle, and a sort of vague sensation of grand history, and great institutions, and glory. Many of us in the US had studied the French language, and most of us knew something about France -- or at least more than we did about places in, say, Africa or Asia or Latin America. But few of us ever had been to Europe, or if we had seen it at all we had seen only the asperities and other special circumstances of wartime. Beauty being in the eye of the beholder, to post-WWII Americans France was indeed beautiful, but for most of us it was a strange and very "foreign" splendor, still.

Above all, there was that strange and very "foreign" language. French was taught broadly, in the US, during the 1940s-50s: all universities and colleges of any sort of reputation offered it, secondary schools if they offered foreign languages at all offered French, even the tonier private US elementary schools provided French language instruction to their little pupils.

And a Grand Tour of Europe still was considered an important or at least inevitable part of any upper-crust young person's education, in mid-20th century America, although the American era for same really had peaked during the Golden Age 1890s, just as the similar British Grand Tour era had peaked a century before that. But France, and some real experience with its language, definitely still was the center of any such Grand Tour for any young American with social or cultural pretensions -- or any young American with a mother with social or cultural pretensions -- what one recent commentator labels, "the upper- and upper-middle-class from the urban Northeast" of the US 2.

So 1950s Americans, when they thought of any sort of "travel abroad", still thought of "France": at any rate they did not think, yet, of Asia or Latin America or Africa. France still, at mid-century, was the exotic and exciting and quintessentially "foreign" travel destination.

When The New Yorker magazine sent Janet Flanner to post-war Paris to report, then, they knew she would have many US readers. There was much interest in France and the French in the US, at the time, but not much real experience, and very little true familiarity. And things viewed from afar, particularly if placed on pedestals and worshipped, as so much of French culture was during the 1950s, develop distance: it is 9000 kilometers from the far side of the US to the far side of France, nearly a quarter of the way around the globe, as far as from France to Hong Kong -- a physical distance accentuated by language and cultural differences.

Rather than see France for its individual people and small places and normal daily events, then, 1950s Americans viewing it from so far away generalized, instead. France was known, but known more for its great monuments and institutions and events, than for its particulars. Since Tocqueville and before, American knowledge of the French has been about great historical moments and trends, and during the 1950s above all about the French political scene, which had caused so many headlines during the then-still-recent wartime suffering. Many in the 1950s US knew of the French cathedrals, but most knew very little about them, really, and very few actually had visited.

The French institutions of which 1950s Americans knew included the great libraries. When Flanner, writing in 1946, referred to the "Bibliothèque Nationale", she knew that some at least among her readers would nod, either knowingly or wishing that they were. The war had brought many European scholars to US university faculties: men and women who were very familiar with the immense resources, and high standards, of institutions such as the bibliothèques Nationale and Sainte Geneviève and Arsenal, and the bibliothèques municipales -- and outstanding American scholars had been making the trans-Atlantic trip for many years.

Still, though, there was that distance. Printed catalogs of the great French library collections were expensive, and so were possessed by only the greatest of the US libraries -- and, even if a US researcher found a citation in them, there always was the generally-insuperable difficulty of obtaining the corresponding text itself. To most US researchers in the 1950s the bibliothèques Nationale and Sainte Geneviève and Arsenal and the bibliothèques municipales remained grand institutions only: bibliographic dreams, like the famous libraries of Borges and Umberto Eco, in which all might be obtained if only access to the institutions themselves were attainable. For the few US scholars who won a coveted summer or sabbatical to Paris, during those postwar times, there were very many more who stayed at home in the American heartland and simply dreamed of doing so.

Real access to France, for many who had studied it from afar, came with the 1960s-70s. The demographics of the student revolution, which exploded in both France and the US at that time -- the postwar BabyBoomers, coming of age -- sent an avalanche of US students overseas, to actually visit and study in the France which their parents largely had known only secondhand. One difficulty with young students being, however, their propensity to smash idols -- things placed on pedestals and worshipped, by the previous generation, put under fire and tested anew -- as both the US and France noisily discovered, in the 1960s-70s period --

-- plus the following, for those charged with traditional and traditionalist and conservative institutions, such as libraries tend to be --

The gathering-point for revolution and change, for 1960s-70s students in the US itself, was the university's campus library: but not inside the building, only outside of it -- usually on the majestic library steps, which in the US grace the noble facades of these monumental central-campus structures. French and other European readers must remember that US colleges and even major universities are designed physically around "the campus", the centerpiece and true temple of learning of which is "the library" -- so much so that philosophy's classical definition of category mistake, offered by Gilbert Ryle, runs, "A foreigner visiting Oxford or Cambridge for the first time is shown a number of colleges, libraries, playing fields, museums, scientific departments and administrative offices. He then asks, 'But where is the University?'"4

The degree of removal from their own societies, of US students in the 1960s-70s, never was appreciated or understood by their peers in Paris or in other European cities. The student experience in the US was in many ways far more "ivory tower", taking place as it did so often in isolated "college towns"5, within "campus" precincts which at the time still often were gated and locked early in the evenings -- while students in Europe more often were in large cities, scattered among various buildings, jostling on their way to class with other commuters who might be en route to factories or offices or other very non-academic activities. A visit to France, for a US student of the time, was an eye-opener in so many ways, and a strange experience.

The general iconoclasm of the time, too, was refreshing to the visitor. For example one of the grand sights of the 1960s-70s, to any American student visiting Paris, was the Bibliothèque Sainte Geneviève: the great vault of the distinguished-looking 19th c. edifice, with its beautiful windows and sumptuous light, was evocative of the monumental "central campus academic library" structures with which the US student was familiar from "back home".

Never-mind, in other words, that across Paris, buried amid the lanes and alleys of the Right Bank, lurked the massive and wonderful Bibliothèque Nationale -- or that right next door, within the Sorbonne, lay the library of one of the great historical student centers of the western world. In the 1960s-70s, with the revolution brewing and all the world changing -- or so those then in their 20s imagined -- the Sorbonne was more a place to sample new slogans, amid the turmoil out in the exciting Cour d'Honneur, not trudge inside to read the slogans of previous revolutions, in the books in the old library. And the BN was just another irrelevant province of the older generation Establishment, in need of "change". The Bibliothèque Sainte Geneviève, on the other hand, stood out: it was familiar, clearly a "library" -- just like the ones back home, that is, impressive and imposing -- and dramatically symbolic of the old order which supposedly was being overthrown or at least changed for the better.

Things at which to throw stones, then, both figuratively and literally: the institutions of the old order, among them certainly their libraries, were targets, in the 1960s-70s. Such institutions were thought to behave in certain predictable ways, and they had to be altered by following prescribed and universalized methodologies, recognizable according to known and populist-democratically-acknowledged criteria. Never-mind, again, that sometimes the aim was off...

As with Janet Flanner, then, trying in 1946 to understand why French librarians would extend special privileges to an out-of-office politician, US visitors to France during the 1960s-70s were aware of but not really familiar with French libraries. And if a library simply appeared from the outside like something they knew from back home, they acknowledged it, but if it did not then they did not. Tourists normally expend minimal effort at what they do: not that the effort of being a tourist is not in fact exhausting -- but to conserve energy the casual or hasty tourist tends to be superficial. "If it's Tuesday this must be Belgium," goes the saying; similarly, the US student hordes which descended upon France during the 1960s-70s were fascinated, but not so well-informed -- they still saw the country in large institutional shapes, and sometimes they failed to recognize which shape was which.

 

2) The Sabbatical Year 1980s-90s: something "familiar"

-- Adam Gopnick, writing in Paris in the 1990s6

 

By the 1980s-90s, the "foreign" view of France had shifted a little closer. What changed, again, was not so much France as the foreigners.

The US student "backpackers" -- the postwar BabyBoomers who had ventured over to France as casual tourists, during the turbulent 1960s-70s -- returned to France during the 1980s-90s; but this time they arrived with families in tow... The 1980s-90s not only was the period during which America's largest demographic surge of the last century came to maturity, it also was the era in which they obtained their first real career jobs: by the 1980s they were young college professors, many of them, also young business-people, politicians, financiers, and doctors and lawyers and other professionals -- it no longer was the era of the student-hostel backpacking tour, then, it had become the era of The Sabbatical Year.

The economics, of taking a family to Europe, are very different from the financing and planning involved in "flying over with just a backpack". More money is involved, for one thing -- more time, as well. The sheer logistics, too, of managing such a move with both spouse and small children included, can become very complicated: there can be four or sometimes even more mouths to feed, plus four or more often-very-different sets of interests to satisfy, rather than just one as there was before. And there are schools to be arranged, and second-careers to be propped up temporarily, and bank accounts to be opened, and many strange foreign bureaucratic forms to be completed, in triplicate, and submitted after standing in long waiting-lines.

Most of all, there is housing: people who have not moved their families overseas cannot appreciate the immense complexities of foreign "housing" -- of finding it, then satisfying three or more other highly-opinionated family members as to the immense benefits of a particular choice, then securing a foreign tenancy legally and financially, finally moving in, figuring out how local plumbing and electricity operate, discovering that none of the appliances brought from home will work, and that washer-driers must be purchased anew unless someone is prepared to spend a significant amount of French-sabbatical-year time inside strange foreign laundromats.

So the investment is great, and the time to be spent in France extends out further and further -- to cover the full "school year for the children", at least -- and the previous 2-week-tourist-tramp-to-France now has become the year-long sabbatical life-experience.

The difference all this meant for French libraries being, that the visiting US family, lodged in France for a full year during the 1980s-90s, had far more need of going inside and actually using the library -- more need, anyway, than had the young and carefree US students who in prior decades merely had camped-out on library doorsteps, singing Bob Dylan songs in their own language and chanting revolutionary slogans in that of their new-found French friends, perhaps admiring libraries' architecture and supposed cultural significance, but really just using them as city reference points. Young student tourists move rapidly and superficially. Travel-with-family, on the other hand, is a much slower and far more deliberate thing: the children's room at the local library becomes less a one-stop tourist monument and more a repeat-visit family homework and entertainment resource.

No longer just the Bibliothèque Sainte Geneviève, then, in the 1980s-90s: except perhaps for the visiting US spouse who would be completing his dissertation research there, prior to picking up the children after their daily Paris schooling, while his significant other was off fighting her way up the corporate ladder at her firm's Neuilly succursal offices daily... The Bibliothèque Nationale became fair game for dissertation research, too, at that point in the career-oriented 1980s-90s -- and the entire family might spend rainy Paris winter afternoons together over at the new BPI. Eventually the even-newer BnF structure at Tolbiac would receive US family visits, as well: to the exhibits and other events, by the late 1990s, as by then the children of the previously-young US BabyBoomers (born 1950) had become teenagers (born 1975) themselves. En province, in addition: 1980s-90s sabbatical-year Americans discovered the treasures of the bibliothèques municipales, and their children the delights of the bibliothèques "annexes" and "des quartiers" -- the French provinces can be in many ways more inviting than Paris, and they always are less expensive, to a visiting Sabbatical Year family -- the previous 1960s-70s youth-generation had only seen Paris, really, and only the biggest monuments there.

Again, none of this library behavior would have occurred, among the teenaged US BabyBoomer students who had wandered across 1960s-70s France. But hard-pressed and longer-term resident US families-with-children do become more involved with French libraries in the traditional sense.

And so it all became more "familiar" as a result: per another New Yorker writer, then -- Adam Gopnick, as quoted above -- he at the time himself was young, and professional, and accompanied by spouse and young child in Paris. The American visitor in this situation sees France in greater detail, as he points out, and France comes to seem a bit more like America: more familiar, although still strange enough to be exciting -- "by showing us how things can look different in a different light", as Gopnick puts it.

There were other 1980s-90s changes, not necessarily French or American, which contributed to the alteration in perceptions from "something foreign" to "something familiar". The sudden grand finale of the Cold War, an entirely-unanticipated event, which rocked so much in the Western World, lowered barriers which had preserved fascinating if forbidden differences. The eerie alienation of a 1960s student trip across "Communist East Germany" to "Divided Berlin" no longer would be possible. Impassioned polemical debates in the youth hostel late at night, as well, with "real Communists" -- one delight and inspiration of a 1960s trip to Europe, for any US student -- now had dimmed.

"Europe", too, was a new idea, to anyone visiting from the US, during the 1980s-90s, just as it was to Europeans. Those of us in the US interested in these things were very curious to see how unified a united Europe really might be. And in business and academia the push for European unity did indeed seem very evident -- new faces at the conference table, strange accents at the podium -- and again more of a feeling to the foreigner that things were familiar, or at least less foreign and forbidding than they had been during the Cold War chills of the 1960s.

Most of all, though, for any US former-student who had become involved in libraries and information work professionally, there were the new Minitel and the Internet: the first a precursor of the second -- for how fascinating it was, in the 1980s and early 1990s, to depart from the restrictive US Internet world of "acceptable use policies" and "no commercial use" and "no public access", and arrive in Europe to find the then-comparatively wide-open Minitel world, of general public access and even online advertising and (to us puritanical Americans) crass commercial use. And images: it is hard to remember now that until the inventions of the people at CERN7 and Illinois8 were developed into the WorldWideWeb, in 1992-3, the only graphics the Matrix entertained at all well were those to be found on the French Minitel.

And libraries... The idea that French library bibliographic catalogs might be available online to local households, let alone to researchers located nearly ¼ of a world away in the US, was a very new and nearly unthinkable notion, at the beginning of the 1980s-90s. Yet by the end of those decades it was taken for granted that soon not just citations but fulltext and images all would be available globally, and to everyone.

The first view many of us had, of such library applications in the new "networked information universe", came courtesy of the Minitel, in France and via the earliest hookups which made this available inside the US as well:

3614 BMLYONBib.Municipale de Lyon
3614 BIBBib.Municipale de Grenoble
3615 BPIBibliothe`que Publique d'Information (Centre Pompidou, Paris)
22.97.11.11Amiens, Bibliothe`que d'
90.49.38.88Arles, Bibliothe`que Municipale d'
31.86.14.14Caen, Bibliothe`que Municipale de
16.1.42.77.19.16IRCAM (Centre de Recherche Musicale, Centre Pompidou, Paris)
......

-- links which still work, in many cases, although now most are supplemented or have been replaced by Internet TCP/IP links -- but this was the first time it was thought that the general public might be interested, from their homes and offices and in fact everywhere on the planet, in online text and images from libraries. As well as from Minitel Rose, and from the retail merchandise catalogs of Les Trois Suisses...

The above list, which I first compiled during that era and still maintain, can illustrate: only 18 entries, as of October 15 1992, for "French Online OPACs", all at that point available only via Minitel9 -- by the end of the decade nearly 500 entries, most of them offering Internet access10 -- and today there are over 1300, although little Minitel connectivity remains11.

As 1980s-90s library participation in the new digital technologies grew, in France, it was fascinating to follow the very different developments which often took place there, and to compare those to the path taken simultaneously in the US. Regional groupings of libraries, for example, were formed in both places, to economize on the substantial capital outlay needed back then to get started in digital information. Moore's Law12 -- that computer chip capacities would grow exponentially -- and its corollaries that memory capacities would do so as well, and that both would become much cheaper -- eventually doomed much of this early collaboration.

The PC Revolution, too, meant de-centralization, of much in France which previously would have been centralized. And many early economies of scale turned out to be un-economical. The Brave New World of digital information contained surprises for all of us, and it was reassuring and informative to watch the French grapple with their versions of these surprises, as we in the US grappled with our own. By the end of the 1980s-90s decades the fundamentals of a new thing, "digital librarianship", were in place on both sides of the Atlantic, even though each side had approached it from different perspectives.

The 1980s-90s laid the groundwork, then, for the broader fascination with online information and "all things digital", which during the next era was to break upon a grand public far larger than just professionals and just libraries. By the end of the 1990s decade, it seemed that everyone -- not just students and not just the French or the Americans, but really everyone -- had become enamored of the Internet. "Is this a good thing?", would be the common question, asked increasingly, on both sides of the Atlantic.

 

3) The Digital Access 2000s: something perhaps too "similar"

          "...there once was, and perhaps there still is, a library in a village in this region, whose name people have never wanted to mention. This library, filled entirely with adventurous romances, was a library with no way out. Indeed, the wonderful story of Don Quixote begins at precisely the moment when our hero decides to leave the site of his bookish fantasies to venture out into life. He does so essentially because he is convinced that he has found truth, in those books, so that all he needs to do is to imitate them, and reproduce their feats.

          "Three hundred fifty years later, Borges would tell us the story of a library with no way out, where the search for the true word is endless and utterly hopeless.

          "There is a profound analogy between these two libraries: Don Quixote tried to find in the world the facts, adventures, and damsels his library had promised him, and consequently he wanted to believe and did believe that the universe was like his library. Borges, less of an idealist, decided that his library was like the universe -- and one understands then why he never felt the need to leave it. Just as one cannot say, 'Stop the world, I want to get off', likewise one cannot escape from the Library."

                  -- Umberto Eco, speaking in La Mancha in 1997, but publishing in the 2000s13. Eco always is a little ahead of the rest of us, in these things...

 

By the 2000s, the foreign view of France not only had moved a little closer, and become familiar, for Americans, the Internet and other factors even had brought it into our offices and homes, and onto our desks and even into our little flipfones. Libraries in France which once had been "over there", in the famous words of the Great War song, and then had become more and more similar to our own, at last were "here": smiling up at us from little screens, along with our own local US libraries, and along with libraries everywhere else in the world.

All of which might seem very convenient... They say, though, that "familiarity breeds contempt": the very exoticism of the foreign makes that seem special, or even forbidding, but at least worthy of attention -- once a thing becomes familiar, however, it begins to be taken for granted. This is a new problem, which the Digital 2000s perhaps is posing now, to French libraries as it is to others, in this era of digital information: it all is beginning to look the same.

The lurking nightmare underlying universal bibliography, which long has been the dream of so many, is "too much information". It was toward this end, of organizing the steadily increasing amounts of information so that it could be "searched and retrieved" quickly, that 19th and 20th century scholarship and professional practice constructed vast classification and indexing and cataloging and information science schemes. The dream of union cataloging, pursued assiduously in projects on both sides of the Atlantic throughout the last century -- as for centuries prior by the great Chinese encyclopedia-compilers and catalogers, as well -- was to provide "access", the ultimate nightmare back then being that some day we might indeed have mountains of information, but no practical means of finding within them whatever it was we really needed.

But the admirable project appears very nearly to have failed: increasingly, toward the close of the 20th century, the cry "information overload" was heard --

          Too much information running through my brain
          Too much information driving me insane.

          I've seen the whole world six times over
          Sea of Japan to the Cliffs of Dover
          Overkill
          Overview
          Over my dead body

          14

And the digital revolution was bringing us, by then, a new distinction: between "information", which is a useful thing, and mere "data" -- the latter being just the bits and the bytes without the added intelligence which makes data really useful. And today in the 2000s the world, or at least too many digital information system users in it, seems at times to be awash in un-meaningful and confusing "data" -- the need appears to have arisen for someone to,

          Organize the world's [all of it] information [all of it]
          so it will be universally [to everyone]
          accessible [via all 'devices']
          and useful..."

          15

-- this is a horse which very much might better have come before the cart, as it might have made more sense, and certainly more sense to any librarian, to have had the "classification" and "search and retrieval" systems in place before the mountains of data were loaded in.

But then this is not the way library systems evolved historically, either. The books came first in those cases too, to those tiny early collections assembled high in the Louvre tower, and in the towers and closets and armaria of other medieval castles and abbeys and cathedrals. Librarians and their systems were called in only later, to arrange collections so that real information might be found within them, amid the mere data scattered among all of those miscellaneous books. So perhaps it is inevitable although illogical, now, that digital libraries too so often develop their data first, and only afterwards really figure out how to organize and use it. But this traditional reverse approach does create headaches and expenses for many, and massive opportunities for some; the above quote being the 2005 mission statement of no less than Google Inc., with emphasis added.

Two general approaches have been taken to the development of search & retrieval since 2000, then: since a little before that time, in fact -- the early 1990s -- although the benefits and disadvantages of both are being felt belatedly, as general public access and the globalization of the practices really are taking place only now.

Centralization, and government control, and standardization, and even secrecy, characterize the first of these approaches, and initially anyway it was very much the approach adopted in France. "Le Colbertisme high-tech", Élie Cohen famously labeled it :

          "Le despotisme éclairé -- Le voluntarisme mimétique -- L'État instituteur du marché. Les grands projets techno-industriels français: scène primitive qui met en situation de conflit les valeureux soldats de la technologie française arêtes dans leur tentative de créer une défense ou une industrie nationale par les puissances hégémoniques du moment, tour à tour les Allemands, les Américains."
          16

-- the TGV, Ariane, Concorde, the Minitel: of these the last most directly associated with French libraries, but all of them symptomatic. Cohen's point was that all had been in great part inspired, designed, implemented, and even were being administered by the national government, in France, in a centralized and hierarchical and standardized way.

The Minitel -- initial offering of, among many other services, French library online access -- began popping up all over the country, during the 1990s. By the 2000s the Minitel was omnipresent: even once the Internet began arriving, late in the 1990s, the little Minitel boîte retained pride-of-place -- on the kitchen counter, on the office desk, at the hotel concierge station -- thanks to its simplicity and ease of use, plus government-supplied directories of public services and telephone listings, so the newer and fancier Internet terminals did not supplant it.

Despite criticisms, by Cohen and others, the centrally-controlled and rigorously-maintained Minitel service met real needs of French users, and so their use of it simultaneously satisfied them and earned money for their government. Minitel startup costs were great, but the usage income -- from the "general public access" and "commercial applications", which at the time were forbidden to the US "academic testbed" Internet -- was even greater.

But in France the development model was Colbertisme, perhaps: paternalism, in a sense -- state control of much of the enterprise, for the benefit of all, although with attendant bureaucracy.

By contrast, the US over the same period is said to have developed "open systems": de-centralization, and a lack or at least a diminishing degree of government control, and remarkably-free sharing of industrial techniques and secrets and other information, in the development of their new Internet.

How all of this latter "open-ness" came together, to create something so disciplined as a commercial industry, a thing traditionally characterized everywhere by ferocious competition and jealous secrecy, still is imperfectly understood. The foundation of the current understanding -- that a unique "SiliconValley-style" resulted from the symbiosis among various component parts, including major universities and very bright and often international students and a freewheeling lifestyle and a virtually-bottomless and unregulated "venture capital" industry -- has been laid out by several generations of careful writers, now, beginning with AnnaLee Saxenian:

          "Regional Advantage concludes that nothing less than an opening of the boundaries among technology businesses and between these firms and surrounding financial, educational and public sector institutions will enable [a] region to compete effectively with Silicon Valley."
          17

What developed, in the little valley stretching south from Stanford University to San José and a bit beyond, was imitated many times and in many places on the planet, including France, but the model never really caught on outside of California. Venture capitalists in other places either simply were nonexistent or they ran afoul of local financial regulation; universities elsewhere were too traditional or not traditional enough; lifestyles in other places were not "open" enough to permit the sharing of information which had built the SiliconValley-style -- or perhaps simply it was the local weather, too cold or too wet or too hot to permit the backyard barbecues and casual hamburger-encounters which had contributed so much to Silicon Valley "cross-fertilization" information-sharing and growth.

Or the basic mindset was different elsewhere, perhaps. The US in the 1990s developed a very conservative and business-minded philosophy, which promoted "market economics" in all things. In addition to "open-ness", 1990s California offered a commitment to "deregulated" and virtually-unrestricted free market capitalism, a thing good for some purposes although not so good for others. In France at the time, though, the philosophy was different.

In the 1990s French corporations still had labor representatives on their boards of directors, and extensive labor laws which in the US were entirely absent or simply were ignored. French banking and securities regulation imposed severe penalties upon any capitalist who "ventured" far from long-established procedures. French labor unions still were strong, and militant. In 1990s France the ancient universities, still in their long recovery from their 1960s traumas and reorganizations, were very resistant to further government intrusion, and were entirely resistant to the commercial sector -- the idea of hands-on corporate sponsorship of academic research, so central to US higher education, was anathema in the Hexagone. Lifetime employment still was the goal of most French graduates, who saw little more than instability and insecurity in the idea of striking out on their own in some hitech startup, accepting hollow stock option promises in lieu of wages, as American students were doing in Silicon Valley.

The question for some purposes is which approach worked better for the short-term initial development of hitech. For other purposes, though, the question is which approach better-represented the "outside world", for the longer-term scaling-up of that US development to international applications. The suggestion here is that the French approach did, and that for worse or maybe for better it still does: most systems in Europe, and even more elsewhere, are better-characterized by precisely the sort of barriers offered in France -- including but not limited to centralization and standardization and government involvement / interference, sometimes very deliberate lack of California-style open-ness, local unavailability of risky "venture capital" and extreme suspicion of foreign sources of same -- than anything at all resembling US-style "market economics". Why? One wonders -- one needs to consider -- why the differences? And of course the rest of the world might change, or be changed; but the more likely scenario -- already confronting potential market-entrants to the enormously lucrative and tempting Chinese economy -- is that hitech itself will change, to accommodate local cultural barriers there18.

The French experience offers a good laboratory, then, for examining "the rest of the world". Some study of what happened in France and why, in 1980s-90s hitech and even now, might be more easily conducted and absorbed, than undertaking this so expensively from scratch in far more alien and complex China. But sometimes we learn from our mistakes, and sometimes we don't.

As, for instance, and even longer-term, the tale of Borges and Don Quixote suggests, perhaps we are in danger now of building Eco's two great libraries with no way out. We need to test any such possibility against different examples. Some of us still cling to that example of La Mancha, the library which represents the universe, insisting that the answers to all questions lie within; but already our children are deserting that model, as Don Quixote himself ultimately did, telling us that there is a brave and new and enormous world of digital information outside which they prefer to explore instead.

Others among us wander bewildered through the world of Borges, where the library indeed has become the universe, only belatedly we realized by the end of the 1990s that the information overload of our new digital universe was beginning to look distressingly banal, everything similar to everything else, no longer information really but just an unmanageable flood of bits and bytes.

There is a need for differentiation: "product differentiation" is a primary tool of both marketing and democracy -- just as a consumer needs different products, to make buying judgments, a voter needs different proposals to make political decisions. The ongoing development of our digital information flood, too, needs differentiation: we need to remember that for some of us the iPod now is the best instrument while for others the cello may be, that the Apple or the Wintel system may be the choice for some but that printed book or inked entry or even image-decorated cathedral facade may be that for others -- that SiliconValley-style may work better for some people in some places for some purposes, while maybe a little Colbertisme will work better in other cases.

Now, in the 2000s, we can see "all of it", on our Internet screens, or we imagine that we can: the Bibliothèque nationale de France, the National Library of China, the great libraries of Harvard and Yale, the British Library, the sleek new "digital libraries" popping up seemingly everywhere now -- each merely a tiny "favorites" icon, or a little window, on our personal system screen, and all increasingly looking alike. But perhaps it's all too much.

 

4) Going forward now: the need for something "different" -- vive la différence.

          "The characteristic of Alexandrian art, literary and other, is the highly polished miniature. The content is no matter. One needs but to compare one of the so-called Homeric Hymns with a hymn of Callimachus, to realize that the one is genuine religious utterance and the other an ingenious literary exercise.

          "Callimachus himself was probably not aware of the difference, but thought that he was doing with more recondite materials and greater sophistication precisely what the older poets were doing naively and with obvious materials.

          "The walls of the Alexandrian Library seem actually to have closed off the view of the larger world without. That is what Timon, called the Misanthrope, meant when he called the Library 'the birdcage of the Muses'."

--Moses Hadas (writing about Hellenistic Culture)19

 

* "We see through a glass, darkly."20

Since McLuhan, and even before, much has been said about "the image": "Ceci tuera cela", observed Victor Hugo's Dom Claude Frollo, in 183121 or perhaps in 148222, gesturing first at the written book and then at the image-based cathedral. The immense power of visual images and music, to instruct and evoke and even compel -- far better, or at least far more broadly, "than mere words ever can" -- has been commented upon by many.

The Enlightenment enshrined the printed word as our sole monument to and even repository of knowledge23. Now, though, in our subsequent age of television and digital information and the iPod, other long-forgotten media are enjoying a resurgence. It may be that auditory and even olfactory stimuli now will rejoin the visual -- the iPod has no sense of smell, yet, but Apple probably is working on that too -- to recreate the immensity of the multimedia experience once enjoyed by French peasants, visiting Frollo's cathedral on a medieval feast-day. (Travelers to India can sample this richness on a modern feast-day there: bright and noisy festivals at modern Madurai correspond to medieval festivals at Notre Dame de Paris more closely, in many respects, than any events held in Paris now.) The Western aesthetic experience since its Middle Ages has become more tame, and perhaps has lost something in the process.

Another question, though, is whether these changes in mere "media" in fact will alter the "messages" they convey. The concern is for content: that perennial concern of all of us who have suspicions about communications media and its tools, from its type fonts and gilding and illustration and illumination, to its modern advertising and marketing tricks. Now "content has become king", or is said to have become so, in our current 2000s era. The 1980s-90s digital "age of incunabula", which first developed the tools, is over, and the systems now are well-known, and widespread, and are said to be ready to focus less on technique and more now on content.

It was not until the 2000s that digital information techniques at last broke through to achieve the omnipresence and invisibility which earlier XeroxPARC24 futurists had specified would be the secrets to its permanence and success. Like the telephone, they said, the Internet had to be everywhere and had to be taken for granted -- so easy to use and inexpensive and innocuous as to be commonplace -- before it truly would be accepted and used broadly by cultures. But by 2005, at last, nearly 75% of US households are said to use the Internet regularly25, and well over 50% in France. Nowadays both riots and police responses to them are organized using digital telephones26; urbanologists even hypothesize fundamental changes in "global cities", and other social structures, based precisely upon the Internet and the other inter-connectedness of modern societies27.

Or perhaps all this will not be so. Perhaps things are going in other directions and, as many too have warned, we simply see the future "through a glass, darkly". It also is possible that we are not, globally, headed in a more inter-connected direction, but in one which will see more and more of us left isolated -- imprisoned, in lonely old-age homes, and in wealthy gated-community ghettos, and in riot-prone suburban high-rise housing tenements -- and divided, into communities of the very rich and the very poor, both within and among our current societies, between the affluent North and the impoverished South and also between the information-rich and the information-poor.

The Brave New Digital World, now surging toward 19th century dreams of "universal access" to information, may in fact become one more impoverished than even that 19th century of social upheavals was: certainly so, if the rich-versus-poor divisions in our modern world become as great, generally, as they already are in Brazil, and in the US28.

For all of this -- for predicting it, assessing it, understanding it, doing something about it -- more than one viewpoint is needed. Any single approach, no matter how brilliant or flexible or well-funded or otherwise advantageous, is inadequate on its own, and in fact would benefit itself from having competitors.

The great economic and political and legal and social model of the 2000s has become, after all, "competition" -- "free markets" -- in the formerly-socialist states of Western Europe, now, as in formerly-communist states there and in Asia as well, in addition to avowedly-capitalist states in both places and elsewhere. So it would be at the very least ironic, if only one approach were to be taken, in any significant policy arena nowadays: whether that arena might concern "information technology" or "industrial development" or "natural resources management" or "international relations". If "free market competition" truly is to be the watchword of all of us, going forward, then we at least need many viewpoints -- many "competitors" -- to keep our efforts energetic, and up-to-date, and keen in competition29.

 

* Varieties of access, to the past and to the future

Libraries, "digital" and other, have an immense opportunity and perhaps a responsibility, then. As repositories of some of the best evidence of the cultures of our past, libraries continue their ancient responsibility to make that evidence accessible -- so that as whatever great changes face us now in fact occur, we will face them armed with some of the experience, at least, of what has gone before.

Nowadays, for example, we all face "empire": not just its history but the pressing question of whether the US or others are or ought to be embarked on such a course today30 -- our news journals are filled with the term, discussions of it take place nowadays in every policy arena. Libraries contain plenty that is relevant to "empire", as that is not a new idea but in fact a very old one, and much has been thought and written about it before. And, as the aphorism warns, "those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it": those accounts of older "empires" now really must be read.

Libraries in France, particularly, have a unique opportunity and responsibility now, in the 2000s. The greatest 1980s-90s attraction of a trip to France, for an American foreigner interested in "digital information", was to see how that then-very-new phenomenon might scale up in the non-Anglophone world. France in the 1980s-90s was in the unique position of being both very much like the anglophone countries and yet still unlike them as well. The Minitel as well as French Internet development were among the leaders in the digital revolution, during those decades, outside of the US and UK. France Telecom was active, national high-speed networks were put into place. French libraries were embarked upon catalog conversion, Minitel and Internet access implementation, user training, preservation, cataloging and communications norms development, and many other "digital" projects.

And yet France still was different, from the anglophones, at the very least in not using the English language. Not that English is not known and used, inside the Hexagone; but it is not, as is said, the "language of choice", there. And there is English and there is English: as is true of French and all other languages, the English of fiction-writing and poetry, learned in school, so often bears little resemblance to the English of bureaucratic pronouncements, or legalese, or particularly techno-speak -- and as everyone in the world discovered, in the 1980s-90s, the English of computer manuals is indecipherable, even to those of us who thought we spoke English as our native language.

So during the 1980s-90s France was a perfect place to test whether and to what extent the American-born techniques, of the Internet and of much of general digital information, in fact would scale-up well to applications in the rest of the very non-anglophone world. The better to understand this process in its later application in India and China and elsewhere now, then, if we are able to understand how it applied to a close and friendly and well-known romance-language-using neighbor, in France...

And it scaled-up imperfectly, we all discovered. Initially there were the obvious, if superficial, faux pas of language itself: hurried and very approximate translations of computer instruction manuals into French were cobbled together, then came the discovery that French people in fact wanted their diacritical marks used in their spelling conventions and would not settle for ASCII -- indeed there was the discovery, on the part of some, that the French insisted on speaking and reading French, whereas various Internet developers simply had assumed that, "well, everyone over there really does speak English, don't they?" -- and then the volatility and even sense of humor, of the new online chat and email applications, so central to Internet success, had to be adjusted to accommodate "foreign" language abilities and demands, and "different" senses of humor.

By the 2000s all of this is not yet out of the woods and in reliable operation. Assembly and instruction manuals still are unreadable, although this is a problem in English as well as in other languages. Diacriticals, too, still are difficult: text "copied in" to email, from the immense variety of word processors and word processor "settings" now in use, still presents problems to email systems, and presents gobbledygook output to users at the reading end -- this despite decades of development in extensions of the original ASCII character set, to "Microsoft ASCII" and "IBM ASCII", and the "character set alphabet soup" of ISO and other standards31, and even the more comprehensive UNICODE effort which now is becoming an alphabet soup of its own32.

And nowadays in the 2000s there are entire new languages to be accommodated. The 1960s-70s saw initial accommodation of "foreigners" in the reluctant development of those ASCII "extensions" to accommodate, among other things, the few diacriticals of Latin-based French33. Since then, though, even the French have insisted on the inclusion of more and more punctuation and other special marks, important to their printing culture. And now we come to Arabic, and Russian, and Chinese... The digital world should have taken the warning more seriously, back then, about the problems of "scaling-up", from the earlier and easier French example.

No "standard" works well until all users are using it, in all applications, and the global Internet has grown too fast: it represents just too many users and applications, for any single standard to succeed very well -- this is the old problem of "legacy data and systems and users", that until all users and systems and data work the exact same way, they won't interoperate seamlessly, and even if engineers get the data and systems interlaced satisfactorily there always are those stubborn legacy users who refuse to change. Besides, once they get things inter-operating ok, then somebody changes the standard: just a little, but 'tis enough, 'twill serve...

And now, in the 2000s, the French do indeed still insist on speaking and reading French! "Foreign" Internet developers, and others, who wish to test the many dire predictions made in the 1980s-90s that digital information would cause the cultures of the world to converge, need only to travel to France, or to travel to "virtual" France online, to test their thesis: the great French presence online serves to illustrate that "foreign" languages are not so easily extinguished -- French libraries and other sites are plentiful, online in the 2000s, and with them as a test-case it seems safe to predict that other language and cultural groupings, in up-coming India and China and elsewhere, will not simply converge and submerge and will have to be accommodated on their own terms, too.

And sense of humor, as well: the "baseball analogies" of American chat groups do not dominate, and are not even understood, on now-enormous French online applications such as biblio-fr34 -- currently 14,000 subscribers -- there, beneath the initial linguistic difference, an American reader can find significant cultural differences of a very basic kind, as well, from differences in literary allusions used, to stylistic approaches, to the handling of group contre-temps and editorial responsibilities, to even the cracking of an occasional joke. Language is a supple medium. But National Lampoon and The Comedy Channel do not translate well into French, as neither Le Canard Enchainé nor Les Guignols de l'Info translate well into English -- for that matter even the British English of Private Eye does not translate too well into American English, either -- so what will the supposedly-"converging" media of the US and UK and French Internets do, when it comes to incorporating something like humor from India, or from China?35

For language is just another of the superficial differences which complicate the emerging world of digital information: convergent though it may be, it still is going to be difficult. The 1960s-70s saw the first recognition that there might be a larger world out there besides the anglophone -- and the 1980s-90s saw the first real attempts to deal with that, using tools like Unicode -- but pace many linguists, and perhaps even per the semiotics work of people such as Umberto Eco, there are much more serious differences out there than just language.

The Amazon and Ebay corporations have discovered a few: the sale of Nazi memorabilia online, and of certain books, has revealed attitudes in Europe toward that sort of activity which have proven to be very different from those held by Americans. Dressed up in whatever elegant legal language the American firms involved could muster, the blasé commercial activity in which they believed they were involved turned out, in European eyes, to be highly inflammatory.

Privacy, as well, is approached very differently, in a Europe with such great varieties in its cultures, and so recent a memory of severe government abuses in the privacy arena from the 1930s-40s, as well as long before. Again, American attitudes simply are different: and up against strong European reactions, to what Americans believed were innocuous marketing-based measures, fundamental cultural gaps have emerged indicating just how different a basic notion such as "privacy" can be.

And, most recently, another supposedly-innocuous American digital information innovation, naïvely if sincerely proposed simply as a library preservation and access measure, met an unanticipated and explosive European reaction. To the Google corporation's suggestion that they shoulder the burden of digitizing major world library collections -- long the dream of "universal bibliography" held by many of the world's librarians, from Gabriel Naudé to Melvyl Dewey to the present day -- the current président of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France suddenly replied,

      "I remember very well my experience at the 'Bicentenaire de la Révolution", in 1989, when I was in charge of the celebrations. It was unfortunate and very damaging for our nation, for both its image to others and that which we have it ourselves, of its past, its events glorious or sad, that we had to search in databases which then were only English or American and so found interpretations which were biased in numerous ways: 'The Scarlet Pimpernel' crushing ''93', the valiant British aristocrats triumphing over the bloodthirsty Jacobins -- the guillotine, obscuring the Rights of Man and the wonderful insights of the Convention." [tr. JK]

-- the original French conveys the passion of his appeal --

      "Je garde en mémoire l'expérience du Bicentenaire de la Révolution, en 1989, quand j'en dirigeais les manifestations. Il eût été délétère et détestable pour l'équilibre de la nation, pour l'image et la connaissance qu'elle avait d'elle-même, de son passé, des événements, luminueux ou sombres, qu'il nous revenait de commémorer, d'aller chercher dans les seules bases de données anglaises ou américaines un récit et une interpretation qui y étaient biaisés de multiples façons: 'Le Mouron rouge' écrasant 'Quatre-vingt-treize', les vaillants aristocrates britanniques triomphant des Jacobins sanguinaires, la guillotine occultant les droits de l'homme et les intuitions fulgurantes de la Convention."36

-- "national pride meets naïveté", from one perspective -- or "technical sophistication meets jingoism", from another -- the point of both extracted here, however, being that France offers great opportunity for friendly criticism, the supposedly much-valued "feedback" so crucial to "failure analysis", of technical marvels before they are floated to the rest of the world.

If the French are worried about the digital erasure of their Revolution, by The Scarlet Pimpernel and other cultural biases of the anglophone world, how much more worried might the Vietnamese be, or people in the Philippines or in India, about anglophone approaches to the organization and dissemination of their particular histories -- or people in China, where "The Opium Wars" were the very foundation of the entire historical anglophone presence there? When a search on "The Opium Wars" is conducted, in databases of the future, which item will float to the top of the enormous retrieval heap first: the best-seller anglophile novel Tai-Pan37 -- or the so-far little-known Communist-era Chinese movie Commissioner Lin?38 The two offer very different versions of the same events and ideas, basic to the foundations of both the British Empire and modern China.

These are worries which demand satisfaction, and it makes little sense to respond to them with the protest, "but these are commercial trade secrets.": these protests come from the users, of these new technologies, and in American terms "the customer is king", after all. As the globalization of these technologies proceeds, such demands arising out of cultural difference only will become more complex, and more shrill: different cultures have different attitudes, towards history and society and politics and law, and literature and music and "images" -- as well as simply toward more superficial things such as their different senses of humor and their different languages.

In the European case, these reactions have been led by the French. Their Enlightenment was our own, in the US as well39, but perhaps the attitudes they drew from it have not been entirely the same40 -- France, although it offers congenial similarities, offers interesting differences, too. It would be best to continue to consult with them, before the more explosive and ferocious reactions come in from cultures less friendly and understanding: and, even if the latter can be handled, that will be expensive -- the French advice to the Americans this time, like so much of the aid they gave the US in its beginnings for its own Revolution, so far has been freely-offered, and given in good faithp.s.1.

 

* Summary: 50 years of visiting French libraries, both "real" & "virtual" -- the virtues of difference

For the past 50 years, France has become more and more familiar, to US visitors. From its eminently-"foreign" status, which it represented for the adventurous backpacking US students of the 1960s-70s, to the more familiar era of the US sabbatical BabyBoomers' visits to the Hexagone of the 1980s-90s, something has been lost perhaps -- so much so that now, in the 2000s, the cultural differences which once loomed so large today are somewhat "taken for granted", and even ignored.

But nowadays it really does still matter, if someone "foreign" sees a common problem differently, and solves it differently. It still is important, that people from a foreign country or culture dress in a special way or eat food that seems strange, or use funny accented characters -- or do not do so -- in a language which looks familiar but sounds and very often means something different: simply overlooking or minimizing these differences, in a 2000s Globalization age of "media convergence" as the current era so often is labeled, denies this importance.

This not only hurts foreign relations, it also hurts the effort itself. If indeed we have a competitive model, now, then we need competitors. Any information system designed by the French, such as the Minitel, needs an American information system, such as the Internet, to show it how improvements might be made, and also vice versa, the Americans need the French. The one without the other is not sufficient, and never will be. And a Chinese or Indian or other system will offer something different from either of these two: which will be a good thing, not bad, for both the Americans and the French. There is no "perfect language"41.

One alternative to "free market competition", if it must be looked at that way, or at least to having multiple alternatives, is the nightmare offered by Moses Hadas in his analysis of the Hellenic Greeks: "The birdcage of the Muses", he labeled the Great Library of Alexandria -- a place to imprison knowledge, not to provide access to it...

In the modern world we have a notion, of knowledge and information, in which we truly believe: one which, since the Enlightenment at least, has relied upon a certain democracy of input and discussion, a liberal opening to many ideas instead of just one -- a free market competition, perhaps, in which each person's different idea is used to hone and improve those of all the others. We know the imperfections of this notion, but we cling to it nevertheless -- it has served us better than any other we have had so far.

Is it a religion? Hadas suggests that the Homeric Hymns might have been. Modern Western liberalism has been called a religion by some, and an unsatisfactory substitute for religion by others. One point of Hadas' story being perhaps that, religion or not, our notions of knowledge and information are seriously held.

On the other hand perhaps the point Hadas makes is more that nowadays we are only "doing with more recondite materials and greater sophistication precisely what the older poets were doing naively and with obvious materials", as he puts it: our current digital universe, information-overloaded as it has become, perhaps contains nothing really very new, is the same old wine simply decanted into a shiny new "digital" bottle. Or, worse, perhaps we now are focusing too much on just the bits and bytes, on just the "data" instead of truly the "information".

The greatest danger, to which Hadas said the Hellenes succumbed, would be to reduce what we do to merely "an ingenious literary exercise": that would yield a library engaged in preservation of the past, and the already-known, without any true understanding of any of it -- and an information effort, so-called, which will have "closed off the view of the larger world without". If and to the extent so, then maybe we are constructing the library "with no way out", of Eco and Borges and the Don from La Mancha.

The easiest and perhaps the only method of truly assessing and understanding what we have, and what we face in the future, is to consider the honest opinion of someone else: preferably someone who does not already agree with us but whose opinions we value -- a friendly critic. For several centuries, now, Americans and the French have performed this service for one another: two societies close enough to communicate, but just strange enough from one another to offer objectivity -- to see one another only imperfectly "through a glass", perhaps, but more clearly rather than darkly. Taking this invaluable service for granted, or ignoring, deprives each side. Taking advantage of it always has improved mutual knowledge and insight. Now, in the 2000s as before, and despite a few rough spots recently in the relationship, American visitors -- even just beaming in "virtually" from the Internet -- have much they can learn from the "different" approaches taken, to questions faced in-common, by the French.

 

Jack Kessler, kessler@well.com

 

_________________________________

 

(Footnotes :)

1^ Janet Flanner (Genêt), Paris Journal 1944-1965, ed. William Shawn (New York : Atheneum, 1965) p. 53.

2^ Christopher Endy, reviewing Harvey Levenstein, We'll Always Have Paris: American Tourists in France since 1930 (Chicago : University of Chicago, 2004) ISBN 0226473783, review in H-France at, http://h-france.net/vol5reviews/endy.html

3^ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/May_1968#Slogans_and_graffiti ; http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mai_1968#Quelques_slogans

4^ Gilbert Ryle, The Concept of Mind (New York : Barnes & Noble, 1967, c1949) p. 16 ; Gilbert Ryle, La notion d'esprit : pour une critique des concepts mentaux (Paris : Éd. Payot & Rivages, impr. 2005) tr. de l'anglais par Suzanne Stern-Gillet de The concept of mind, ISBN 2-228-90025-7.

5^ Some towns in the US were founded expressly to provide homes for colleges, and retain the evidence in their town names: for example "State College, Pennsylvania", or "College Station, Texas".

6^ Adam Gopnick, Paris to the Moon (New York : Random House, c2000) ISBN 0679444920, p. 12 & 14 ; De Paris à la lune (Paris : Nil éd., 2003) tr. de l'américain par Jean Lefèvre de From Paris to the Moon, ISBN 2-84111-260-8.

7^ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tim_Berners-Lee ; http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tim_Berners-Lee

8^ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mosaic_web_browser ; http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mosaic

9^ FYI France ejournal (October 15, 1992) ISSN 1071-5916 ; fulltext available (subscription) at http://www.fyifrance.com/restricted/Fyarch/fy921015.htm

10^ http://web.archive.org/web/19990423205207/http://www.fyifrance.com/fyi1plib.htm

11^ http://www.fyifrance.com/fyi1plib.htm

12^ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moores_law ; http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loi_de_Moore

13^ Umberto Eco, "Between La Mancha and Babel", in his On Literature (New York : Harcourt, c2002, 2004) tr. from the Italian by Martin McLaughlin of Sulla Letteratura, ISBN 0151008124, pp. 104-5 ; Umberto Eco, De la littérature (Paris : Librairie générale française, 2005) tr. de l'italien par Myriem Bouzaher de Sulla letteratura, ISBN 2-253-10858-8.

14^ The Police (in French, The Police), on their 1981 Ghost in the Machine album ; The album title, also appropriate in this context, is from Gilbert Ryle as well (see note 4 above) by way of Arthur Koestler (in French, Arthur Koestler), see, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ghost_in_the_machine

15^ Google Inc. (in French, Google) CEO Eric Schmidt, at the firm's first shareholders' meeting, held May 12 2005. FYI France ejournal (May 15, 2005) ISSN 1071-5916 ; fulltext available (subscription) at http://www.fyifrance.com/restricted/Fyarch/fy050515.htm

16^ Élie Cohen, Le Colbertisme "high tech" : Économie des Telecom et du Grand Projet (Paris : Hachette, 1992) ISBN 2010193431; table of contents and page 25.

17^ AnnaLee Saxenian, Regional advantage : culture and competition in Silicon Valley and Route 128 (Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard University Press, 1994) ISBN 0674753399 ; The quotation is from the preface to the paperback edition: (Harvard University Press, 1996) ISBN 0674753402.

18^ A few recent examples, of hitech accommodating local conditions, rather than the other way around:

19^ Moses Hadas, Hellenistic Culture (New York : W.W. Norton, c1959, 1972) ISBN 393-00593-3, page 23.

20^ Bible (King James version): "we see through a glass, darkly" (I Corinthians 10 & 12) ; "nous voyons au moyen d'un miroir, d'une manière obscure" (première épître aux Corinthians).

21^ Victor Hugo (in French, Victor Hugo), Notre-Dame de Paris (Paris : Charles Gosselin, 1831) book V, chapter 1.

22^ Ibid, book I, chapter 1.

23^ A controversial thesis, but see the following for the best and earliest presentation of the ideas and controversy: Lucien Febvre (in French, Lucien Febvre) et Henri-Jean Martin, L'apparition du livre (Paris : Albin Michel, 1958); Elizabeth Eisenstein, La révolution de l'imprimé : à l'aube de l'Europe moderne (Paris : Hachette littératures, 2003) tr. par Maud Sissung et Marc Duchamp de The printing revolution in early modern Europe, ISBN 2-01-279112-3.

24^ http://www.parc.com/research/publications/results.php?author=944 -- see inter alia, M. D. Weiser, "Some computer science issues in ubiquitous computing", in D. Milojicic and F. Douglis and R. Wheeler eds., Mobility: Processes, Computers and Agents (New York : Association of Computing Machinery, 1999) p. 421-430, also (Reading, Ma. : Addison-Wesley, c1999) ISBN 0201379287. Excerpt:

    Ubiquitous computing enhances computer use by making many computers available throughout the physical environment, while making them effectively invisible to the user.

See also, M. Weiser, R. Gold, J. S. Brown, "Origins of ubiquitous computing research at PARC in the late 1980's", in IBM Systems Journal (Armonk, New York : International Business Machines Corp., 1999) volume 38, number 4, ISSN 0018-8670, 188-670, p. 693-696 ; and, Xerox PARC.

25^ Household usage statistics, obtained by commercial polling methods, are available now from hundreds of sites online: for instance, http://www.websiteoptimization.com/bw/0511/, and, http://66.102.7.104/search?q=cache:VmvPfp1dPO4J:www.cnn.com/2005/TECH/internet/10/28/census.intern et.ap/+internet+houshold+penetration+us+2005&hl=en . Most such sites make little distinction, however, regarding quality or intensity of usage, for example between simple occasional email versus intensive online video-gaming, although statistics showing increasing broadband installation do suggest the rapid development pace of more intensive use.

26^ Paul Simon (in French, Paul Simon) sang, in 1986, in "The Boy in the Bubble" on his Graceland album (1986),

    There was a bright light, a shattering of shop windows,
    the bomb in the baby carriage was wired to the radio.
    These are the days of miracle and wonder, this is the long distance call.

-- although he also then sang, in the next verse, and a bit more optimistically,

    It's a turn-around jump shot, it's everybody jump start,
    it's every generation throws a hero up the pop charts.
    Medicine is magical and magical is art, think of the
    boy in the bubble and the baby with the baboon heart
    and I believe these are the days of lasers in the jungle, lasers in the jungle somewhere.

27^ Saskia Sassen.

28^ Brazil's 1998 Gini index of income division between rich and poor was 60.7, one of the highest in the world; the US 2004 Gini index was 45, among the higher. The European Union figure in 2003 was 31.2; that for France in 1995 was 32.7. http://www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/

29^ See the many forceful works of Joseph Stiglitz (in French, Joseph Stiglitz), who won his 2001 Nobel Prize in economics (in French, Prix de la Banque de Suède en sciences économiques en mémoire d'Alfred Nobel) precisely for showing the contradiction to "free market theory" posed by "market imperfections": such as having too few competitors, and providing unequal access to and sharing of information : "information asymmetry" (in French, asymétrie d'information), economists call it...

30^ For example, Niall Ferguson, Empire :The Rise and Demise of the British World Order and the Lessons for Global Power (London : Allen Lane, 2002) ISBN 0713996153, 0465023282. See also, for instance, the following selections from just one school's recent discussions of the currently very popular topic, "American empire":

-- and most other major US schools are offering similar "empire" classes and symposia, nowadays -- as all should be, and as should schools outside of the US, as well -- and with all of it online, so that US students can consider what is being discussed overseas and vice versa -- which is the central point being made here, there being always more than one way to view a thing...

31^ See the very useful character-set website entitled, "The ISO 8859 Alphabet Soup" -- http://czyborra.com/charsets/iso8859.html

32^ http://www.unicode.org/ -- One UNICODE explanatory source offers, un-helpfully: "UTF-7, UTF-8, CESU-8, UTF-16/UCS-2, UTF-32/UCS-4, UTF-EBCDIC, SCSU, Punycode, GB18030..." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unicode, (in French, http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unicode).

33^ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ASCII#History, (in French, http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/ASCII).

34^ http://listes.cru.fr/sympa/info/biblio-fr

35^ See the new movie, Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World, "World premiere Dubai Film Festival, December 2005", http://www.albertbrooks.com/

36^ http://www.bnf.fr/pages/dernmin/pdf/articles/lemonde_2401.pdf -- and the BnF has assembled a useful website offering Jeanneney's articles in fulltext, and other materials in The Great GoogleDebate ("to Google or not to Google"... try saying that in French...), at, http://www.bnf.fr/pages/zNavigat/frame/dernmin.htm?ancre=com_google.htm -- or, http://www.bnf.fr/pages/dernmin/com%5Fgoogle.htm

37^ James Clavell, Tai-Pan; a novel of Hong Kong (New York : Atheneum, 1966); see also the equally-best-selling sequel, James Clavell, Noble house : a novel of contemporary Hong Kong (New York : Delacorte Press, c1981) ISBN 0440064562 -- many editions... plus perennially & globally-popular movies & TV mini-series & VHS & DVD "home video" versions, etc., of both.

38^ Commissioner Lin (in Chinese, Lin Zexu) (1959, Zheng Junli and Qin Shi) US & European movie release in Chinese with English language subtitles; Chinese versions: Lin Zexu / [Videorecording] / Shanghai Dian Ying Zhi Pian Chang She Zhi ; Dao Yan, Zheng Junli, Cen Fan. ([S.l.] : Qi lu yin xiang chu ban she ; [Guangzhou Shi] : Guangzhou qiao jia ren wen hua chuan bo you xian gong si zong jing xiao, [2004], 1958) 1 DVD : sd., b&w ; 4 3/4 in. ; Note : call number CHINESE DVD F LIN (San Francisco Public Library, Chinatown Branch) ; ISBN 7884082748; see also,

  • Hsin-pao Chang, Commissioner Lin and the Opium War (Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard University Press, 1964) Series : Harvard East Asian series #18;

  • Hsin-pao Chang, Commissioner Lin and the Opium War (New York : Norton, 1970, c1964);

  • Joyce A. Madancy, The troublesome legacy of Commissioner Lin : the opium trade and opium suppression in Fujian Province, 1820s to 1920s (Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard University Asia Center, Harvard University Press, 2003) Series : Harvard East Asian monographs #227;

-- plus many other works on "Lin, Zexu 1785-1850", or "Lin, Tse-hsü, 1785-1850"... most of them however written in Asian languages, not in English, and therefore little-known in Western databases, and so not available at all for digital "search and retrieval"... including Google's...

39^ Peter Gay, The Enlightenment, an interpretation (New York : Knopf, 1966-69) v. 1 The rise of modern paganism , v. 2 The science of freedom.

40^ "As the nineteenth century opened, painting was dominated by France (as it continued to be)." -- John Canaday, Mainstreams of Modern Art (New York : Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1959) frontispiece 1 caption; ISBN 0030050308.

41^ Umberto Eco, The search for the perfect language (Oxford, UK ; Cambridge, Mass., USA : Blackwell, 1995) tr. by James Fentress, ISBN 0631174656 ; Umberto Eco, La recherche de la langue parfaite dans la culture européenne (Paris : Éd. du Seuil, 1997) tr. de l'italien par Jean-Paul Manganaro de La ricerca della lingua perfetta nella cultura europea, ISBN 2-02-031468-1.

 

p.s.1^ William Pfaff makes a similar argument, about the role of the French as a precursor to the US in many of their recent innovations and travails -- suggesting too that we in the US might do well to consider them as such, rather than simply castigate them as clueless outcasts whereas the US, and others, may be due for the same problems soon ("immigration rights", "information 'haves' versus 'have-nots'", anti-Globalization protectionism and civil unrest, "two-class" societies pitting wealthy "stakeholders" against an impoverished "underclass") -- in his somewhat-explosive article on the 2006 "CPE" national labor-law demonstrations in France, tieing in their 2005 "crise des banlieus" nationwide car-torching riots:

      (-- from, "France: The Children's Hour", by William Pfaff, in The New York Review of Books, May 11 2006, pages 40-43 -- http://www.nybooks.com/articles/18978)

      "... France functions as the coal miner's canary of modern society, reacting to political and social forces before anyone else...

      "... the current unrest in France can be interpreted as a signal of wider popular resistance in Europe to the most important element in the new model of market economics, its undermining of the place of the employee in the corporate order, deliberately rendering the lives of employees precarious... The new capitalism's most important characteristic in the United States has been to transfer wealth to stockholders and managers, and (through corporate tax cuts) away from spending for public purposes and on employees (through depressing wages and eliminating employee benefits). A recent headline read: 'AT&T-BellSouth Deal Gets Wall St. Applause ; Merger Would Lead to 10,000 Job Cuts'...

      "... corporation managers are held responsible only for creating short-term 'value' for owners, as measured by market performance and dividends. The practical result is constant pressure to limit or reduce wages and worker benefits (leading in some cases to theft of pensions and other crimes), as well as political loggying and public campaignes to lower corporate tax contributions to the government and the public interest. In short, the business system in the advanced mrket economies has been rejigged since the 1970s to take wealth from workers and from the funding of government, and transfer it to stockholders and corporate executives...

      "... what in France seems a sterile popular defense of an obsolete social and economic order might instead be understood as a premonitory appeal for a humane successor to an economic model that considers labor a commodity and extends price competition for that commodity to the entire world. The apparently reactionary or even Luddite position inspired by French reactions might prove prophetic."

 

--oOo--

 

* Bulletin des Bibliothèques de France,
Regards sur un demi-siècle : cinquantenaire du BBF,
50th Anniversary Edition, May 2006, numéro hors série,
25 euros port inclus, en vente au presses@enssib.fr
--oOo--
Sommaire du numéro :
* Pascal Ory, La lettre volée
--oOo--
- Première partie : Les bibliothèques dans leur environnement
* Claude Jolly, Les bibliothèques dans l'Université
* Max Butlen, De la politique de la lecture publique aux politiques publiques de lecture
* Jean-Yves Mollier, Bibliothèques et édition : de l'entente cordiale au désamour
* Anne-Marie Chartier, Médiation ou transmission : les bibliothécaires et les enseignants devant la lecture des jeunes
--oOo--
- Seconde partie : Cinquante ans d'évolution
* Anne-Marie Bertrand, L'éternel retard
* Laurence Tarin, L'évolution du métier de bibliothécaire : une identité professionnelle à multiples facettes
* Hélène Weis, Les bibliothèques pour enfants en quête d'un nouveau modèle
* Dominique Arot, La bibliothèque, le livre et le lecteur
* Michel Melot, Le temps des médiathèques
* Jean-Claude Annezer, Petit exercice de discernement architectural
* Jack Kessler, La France et ses bibliothèques... vues de loin
--oOo--
* Martine Poulain, Les bibliothèques, 50 ans plus tard
* Agnès de Saxcé, Histoire du Bulletin des bibliothèques de France

 

--oOo--

 

          
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