[Paleopsych] CHE: France Plans to Digitize Its 'Cultural Patrimony' and Defy Google's 'Domination'
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Sat Apr 16 22:17:47 UTC 2005
France Plans to Digitize Its 'Cultural Patrimony' and Defy Google's
News bulletin from the Chronicle of Higher Education, 5.3.21
President Jacques Chirac of France has asked the head of the country's
national library and the minister of culture and communication to plan
a French-led project that would make millions of European literary
works accessible on the Internet.
The move appears to be a response to a warning from Jean-Noël
Jeanneney, president of the National Library of France. In an essay in
the newspaper Le Monde in January, he said that plans by Google and
five leading academic institutions and libraries in the United States
and Britain to digitize and make available online the content of
millions of volumes posed a "risk of a crushing domination by America
in defining the idea that future generations will have of the world"
(The Chronicle, March 4).
Mr. Jeanneney and Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres, the culture minister,
met last week with Mr. Chirac, who told them to begin laying the
groundwork for a European endeavor similar to the Google project.
In a statement released by his office, Mr. Chirac said that he had
asked Mr. Jeanneney and Mr. Donnedieu de Vabres to "analyze the
conditions in which the wealth of the great libraries of France and
Europe could be made more widely and quickly accessible on the
Internet." Mr. Chirac said that because of their "exceptionally rich
cultural patrimony, France and Europe must take a determining role" in
such a project.
In an essay, "Google Is Not the End of History," that ran in Le Monde
the day after his meeting with President Chirac, Mr. Donnedieu de
Vabres described as "a clap of thunder in the numeric sky" the
December announcement "that a powerful, efficient, and popular
American search engine was going to digitize and put online 15 million
books from the patrimony conserved by some of the most prestigious
"The event comes in an intellectual and cultural climate in which the
digitization of documents and works seems to be the key to all
problems," Mr. Donnedieu de Vabres went on. He stressed that
facilitating online access to such resources is one of his priorities
as minister and cited existing projects to digitize artwork in French
museums and 19th-century magazines and newspapers in the national
"We probably have a lot to learn from Google, whose success comes
largely from the simplicity and ease of access it offers," Mr.
Donnedieu de Vabres acknowledged.
Yet French officials insist that their project should be seen not
merely as a reaction to Google, but in the context of existing French
and European efforts to make information available online.
"I really stress that it's not anti-American," said an official at the
Ministry of Culture and Communication, speaking on the condition of
anonymity. "It is not a reaction. The objective is to make more
material relevant to European patrimony available."
"Everybody is working on digitization projects," the official
continued. Google's announcement made a big splash, but it "has not
yet digitized one book, to my knowledge," he said. "The French
National Library was founded by Charles V in the 14th century. It
cannot compare itself with Google, which was founded in 1998. We don't
know whether [Google] will be there in five years."
But future cooperation between Google and the European project could
well occur, the official said. "The worst scenario we could achieve
would be that we had two big digital libraries that don't
communicate," he said. "The idea is not to do the same thing, so maybe
we could cooperate, I don't know. Frankly, I'm not sure they would be
interested in digitizing our patrimony. The idea is to bring something
that is complementary, to bring diversity. But this doesn't mean that
Google is an enemy of diversity."
A spokeswoman for Google responded to the French announcement by
saying that "we are supportive of any effort to make information
accessible to the world."
Sidney Verba, director of the Harvard University Library, one of
Google's collaborators, also welcomed the French project. "It's a fine
idea," he said. "The more of this sort of work that can be done around
the world, the better off everyone will be. And I certainly wish them
the best of luck."
The other institutions involved in Google's project are the New York
Public Library and the libraries of Stanford University, the
University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, and the University of Oxford, in
Mr. Jeanneney and Mr. Donnedieu de Vabres are expected to present a
preliminary proposal as early as May 2, when Paris will play host to a
European cultural summit, with representatives from the 25 European
Union countries. "This subject is one of the key issues in this
meeting," the ministry official said, "and there will be some
announcement at that point."
Background articles from The Chronicle:
* Google Library Project Is Culturally Biased, Says French
National Librarian (3/4/2005)
* Publishing Groups Say Google's Book-Scanning Effort May
Violate Copyrights (2/18/2005)
* Google Will Digitize and Search Millions of Books From 5 Top
Research Libraries (1/7/2005)
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