non, merci 02.23.2005, 7:35 PM
posted by ben vershbow
Jean-Noel Jeanneney, the head of France's national library (BNF), has raised a "battle cry" (Le Figaro) against the cultural and linguistic imperialism of America. But this time, it's not about Big Macs and slang coming to massacre the French langauge. It's about Google and its plans to digitize libraries, which, Jeanneney says, will put a distinctly anglo stamp on the greater part of the world's knowledge (Reuters). Encouraging Europe to take part in this massive project seems like a good idea - for the sake of diversity, but more important, to offer a possible alternative to Google's approach, which was devised in the absence of any real competition. Google Print's interface is limited to a snapshot tour of a book, with minimal search capabilities. They're essentially doing for books what A9 is doing for streets, with souped-up scanners instead of trucks with camera mounts. It's a browsing tool and not much more.
Google's stock is soaring not only because it is a great engine, but also because it has pioneered a new kind of search-based advertising. There's been a lot of high-minded conjecture (e.g.) as to what Google Print might mean for humanity - rhapsodic allusions to Borges and the library of Alexandria. But the great global library of our dreams probably won't be created by Google. You could say that we are all creating it, that the web is that library. But without getting too breathless, think of the fact that with each passing year we move further and further into a paperless world. We will need well-designed electronic books in a well-designed electronic library, or matrix of libraries. So it's heartening that a serious institution like BNF wants to get in on the game. Maybe they can do better. A good indication that they could is their recently announced project (sorry, only French link) to build a free online archive of 130 years of French newspapers and periodicals - 29 publications in total, running from 1814 to 1944. But then again, perhaps they simply want to secure a place in Google's illustrious coalition of the willing: Harvard, Oxford, U. of Michigan, Stanford, and the New York Public Library.
Posted by ben vershbow on February 23, 2005 7:35 PM
tags: Libraries, Search and the Web
alex on February 23, 2005 8:50 PM:
One has to believe that the French mean well...it's that they care so much, that makes them so annoying to Modernista America.
ben vershbow on February 24, 2005 12:11 PM:
Agreed. I love how, before the euro, they had the Little Prince on their money (the 50 frank note was it?). It's interesting how post-imperialist France has become such a loving curator of its own culture. With dysfunctional Africa to its south, for whose woes France can take so much credit, it's no wonder that they try to stay focused on high-minded things. The same could be said for Germany, who has sublimated some of its post-war demons through the lavish funding of the arts. Perhaps in our post-neocon contrition, if or whenever that may come, we'll see something like that in the States.