Wednesday, September 02, 2009

The Googlization of the BNF

Lunch yesterday with the former head of the bibliothèque nationale de France, Jean-Noël Jeanneney, was filled with the recent drama involving the entry of the long resistant French national library into negotiations with Google to digitize possibly tens of millions of volumes from its huge collection and to open up its cultural patrimony to the stewardship of the California search engine and targeted advertising company.

This kind of information culture story would likely get little column space in the United States, but in France the clash of personalities involving past and present incarnations of the national library and the Ministry of Culture has gotten considerable attention in major magazines and newspapers.

Many might say the brouhaha began with Jeanneney's critical piece in the center-right Le Figaro , "BNF et Google : l'insupportable tête-à-queue," in which he described his reaction to reading in La Tribune that the BNF had begun the deal-making process with Google and voiced his concerns that Minister Frédéric Mitterrand might be abandoning the publicly funded digital library Gallica and surrendering to the possible hegemony of Anglo-Saxon corporate interests. (Le Figaro had earlier compared Google's overtures to a "seduction," although the Times of London dismissed the French reaction as an excessive response to the brusing of 'Gallic Pride.") Soon the wire service AFP had also picked up Jeanneney's denunciation

Just before our lunch Alain-Gérard Slama had written "Google-BNF: le flacon et l'ivresse." (The title seems to refer to the French saying "What matters the jug, if drunkeness be within?") While acknowledging the benefits of increased access to the texts of the BNF, the author also notes the monopoly on indexing that Google would be able to exercise. By distinguishing between the European project of selective digitization for "pedagogical" and "patrimonial" ends and noting potential cost savings to the government, Le Figaro does present competing arguments.

Keeping with the alcohol metaphors, in an interview called "La BNF sauce Google" in, Jeanneney compared Google's policies toward its users as being like a "free" discotheque that charges exorbitant prices for drinks.

Meanwhile, a blogger at Le Monde attributed Jeanneney's antipathy to residual anger over his firing, but the writer also acknowledged that even Americans like historian Robert Darnton have expressed reservations about the legal and cultural ramifications for the reading public as a result of Google's digitization plans. The paper also detailed how Mitterand was responding to the controversy.

Labels: , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home