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Libraries & Culture 39.1 (2004) 76-88

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The National Library of France:
A Patron Reflects

Robert L. Dawson

Daniel Renoult and Jacqueline Melet-Sanson, eds. La Bibliothèque nationale de France: Collections, services, publics [The National Library of France: Collections, services, publics]. Paris: Editions du Cercle de la Librairie, 2001. 238 pp. 35 €. ISBN 2-7654-0820-3.
Jean-Marc Mandosio. L'Effondrement de la très grande bibliothèque nationale de France, ses causes, ses conséquences [The collapse of the Very Big National Library of France, its causes and consequences]. Paris: Editions de l'Encyclopédie des Nuisances, 1999 (74 rue de Ménilmontant, 75020). 130 pp. ISBN 2-910386-10-4.

These two books are diametrically opposed as far as their goals are concerned. On the one hand, Renoult and Melet-Sanson wish to provide explanations about the current policies of the Bibliothèque nationale de France (BNF, also affectionately known as the TGB, for Très grande bibliothèque) and what directions their important institution plans to take now that a major portion of the collections has moved from the rue de Richelieu to the new center on the Left Bank (at Tolbiac). On the other, Mandosio wants to show the inner workings of what happened, what is happening, what went wrong, how, and why. The former book is factual, even if problems are glossed over, and the latter is polemical, but both are interesting, each in its own way.

First, the contents of the books, beginning with the more substantial one (Renoult and Melet-Sanson's). The main sections, after the preliminaries, are:

1. "Les Missions: Permanences et évolutions" (Missions: Traditions and Evolution) by B. Blasselle. This contains a brief history of the past, a more substantial one centered on the twentieth century, as well as an overview of the current situation.

2. "Les Collections" by Melet-Sanson. The various "departments" of the BNF are explained, those at Tolbiac (the new site on the Left [End Page 76] Bank) and then those at the old site (rue de Richelieu) as well as the Arsenal, the Opéra, and Avignon. Any scholar planning a trip to Paris will want to read this section carefully. It is an overview, and more documentation is available in situ or via the web ( There is, by the by, an English version of the web site, but it is incomplete. Cross-references guide the user to the appropriate section in the French version.

3. "Politique documentaire et dépôt légal" (Document Policies and the Legal Deposit) by V. Tesnière and I. Boudet. This section will particularly appeal to librarians and to those interested in collections development. Presented are the BNF's plans on how to cope with the future without sacrificing its missions.

4. "Catalogues et bibliographie" by M. Beaudiquez. This part will be of great interest to librarians and scholars alike. The author provides summary explanations about the different catalogs and what the BNF intends to do (and is doing) with respect to retro- conversion, access points, and so on.

5. "Classer, communiquer, conserver" by Renoult. This is another section of interest to librarians and scholars. Here they will find how the relatively far-flung "departments" of the BNF operate with respect to classification of materials, including the stacks (closed to the public), conservation, and maintenance, appropriately ending with "A New Challenge: The Preservation of Data."

6. "L'Apport des nouvelles technologies" (The Function of the New Technologies) by Renoult. Explanations are provided about the new technologies, their usefulness, and possibilities for the future.

7. "Les Publics de la Bibliothèque nationale de France" by S. Jouguelet. The different kinds of patrons are enumerated and discussed, with modalities of access, both in situ and off-site. There are also explanations about "subpublics," that is, those who are using and will be using the two main divisions of the new reading rooms at Tolbiac, the Rez-de-jardin (garden level) and the Haut-de-jardin (above garden level), places defined by virtue of their relationship to...


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