10.2006c FYI France Essay :


Review: Offrir Internet...

by Jack Kessler, kessler@well.com

(For Libraries & Culture : a journal of library history,
published in volume 41, number 2, Spring 2006, page 290, ISSN 0894-8631 --
table of contents : http://www.utexas.edu/utpress/journals/jlc.html#412)


A review of, Offrir Internet en Bibliothèque publique. By Gaëlle Enjalbert. (Paris : Electre, 2002) 212 pp., euros 38 (paper). ISBN 2-7654-0844-0.


When the Internet's "true history" comes to be written, libraries will wish they knew how foreigners had learned it.

Any technique is culture-bound at its origins. Protests always are that a new technology is "value-free". Yet we all encountered exceptions, once the public Internet was launched in 1992-3. We grappled with great differences in receptivity to Internet charms: between users of different ages, socio-economic backgrounds, occupations, educations.

And the Internet quickly outpaced our local skepticisms. Within very few years it was international, and a new crew of users descended. Initial worries, over multilingual homepages and helpscreens and operating manuals, moved to system design, and cultural differences, and even legal differences on thorny areas like copyright, taxation, and alcohol and tobacco and Nazi memorabilia sales. What was good for Peoria was not necessarily good for America, we discovered, and what was good for America was not necessarily good for the entire globe.

Many study this international aspect of digital information, now. Development and marketing teams inside all software and hardware and systems firms puzzle over such problems. Multinational and trans-national solutions are sought from computer science programs on campuses everywhere. Policymakers, and legions of lawyers, try to tweak antiquated concepts like "intellectual property", to accommodate the limitless international digital information sphere.

It is most useful to view such questions direct, from the foreign user's point of view. This book presents, "Offering the Internet in a Public Library", far from the Internet's USA origins: in a non-anglophone linguistic and cultural setting, as most such settings and locations will be.

The book discusses how users and librarians function, inside French public libraries, and how they function in using the Internet. The role of public authorities, of great importance in French life, is presented. The software and hardware and systems and particularly the labor force all are explained. Youth unemployment is of great concern in France, now, as it is elsewhere in the non-US world: the book discusses "youth employees", an innovative source of enthusiastic Internet trainers.

The different Internet usages provided by a French public library are outlined. The Internet is a focal point, there, for conferences and exhibitions and other activities: "virtual" exhibits, workshops, collections including CDs and other digital items, all can grow from a library Internet investment. The "spinoff" and "add-on" aspects of the acquisition could interest people curious about financial differences overseas.

Website design, too, can be different. The book considers online cataloging, and its addition to a library website, subjects simply assumed now in any US setting. The book can suggest to a researcher that overseas such notions are not to be taken for granted.

And digital libraries: copyright and cultural patrimony are primary, in a French public library -- while US public librarians consider "access" to be the primary goal. So does this indicate deeper cultural differences separating the US from this one foreign culture? This book is raw material for such a study: an original resource, showing the researcher how one set of "foreigners" thinks about such things.

There is an extensive bibliography, here, and a useful lexicon: "DSL" in France is "ADSL", "security software" is "pare-feu", public-access catalogs there meet online systems via a "liaison dynamique". And a list of abbreviations: the French answer to American slang is acronyms -- just as US techspeak "hits a home run" too often, for foreign speakers, so the French say "the DLL decided the DRAC should adopt DSI for their ECM project at the ENSSIB..." -- to each culture its own linguistic weaknesses, then.

Schools of information, computer science, and librarianship all benefit from books like this: and any class involving the French, or the French language. Or any program in cross-cultural studies and the "scaling up", of civilizations, to our brave, new, fully-Globalized digital information world.

All these will need some understanding of how we moved from the little American English-only public Internet, born in the early 1990s USA, to the Global Matrix backbone of digital information enmeshing so much of the world by the 2000s. How did it get here? How did it develop non-English languages and cultural patterns? The view from overseas is key: that's where the foreign users are -- this book shows how they see it.


Jack Kessler, kessler@well.com






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