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18.5.07

New Leadership at the BNF

Eugène Atget, Bibliothèque nationale de France, 1902
Eugène Atget, Bibliothèque nationale de France, 1902
The Bibliothèque nationale de France has undergone a change of leadership, with Bruno Racine succeeding Jean-Noël Jeanneney as president of the institution. An article by Emmanuel de Roux (Les deux chantiers de Bruno Racine à la BNF, May 9) in Le Monde assessed the challenges of Racine's tenure (my translation):
The first concern is the modernization of the Richelieu buildings. It is in this historic cradle of the BNF that the engravings (some 15 million), photographs (5 million), as well as manuscripts, music, maps, charts, and medals are preserved. These buildings missed out on the renovation of the Mitterand years devoted to the construction of the Tolbiac building. Furthermore, the Institut national de l'histoire de l'art (INHA), part of which occupies the site, is "eating up" one-fourth of the space, notably the prestigious Salle Labrouste. So this old center must be modernized and put in order. A budget of 150 million € is planned for the work, which is supposed to begin in 2008 and be completed in 2014.

The other dossier, more complicated and of greater impact, is the establishment of a European digital library, one of the dreams of Jean-Noël Jeanneney, who was faced with the threat of the American search engine Google, which offered libraries around the world the possibility of scanning their holdings at no cost. If that project, which was approved by Jacques Chirac, is kept, it will not be easy to get on its feet. Even if many European libraries have planned to join the Europeana program. The BNF would have to pursue the digitalization of its holdings at the pace of 100,000 books per year.
The main problem the European digital library will face is the same that Google has had: how to get copyright holders of books not yet in the public domain to agree to the scanning.

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