On August 1 the CCFR/Catalogue Collectif de France announced the availability, online, of one of the latest and greatest efforts to provide public access to a truly national union catalog:
-- the bibliographic record of nearly any book ever published in France, in nearly every library in that country, collected and provided in a single, uniform, and easily - used format... try it and see... the cataloger's nightmare, and the "universal bibliographer's" and the researcher's dream...
As of now the CCFR database contains 2.2 million records -- from
262 fonds anciens catalogs of 55 libraries in France, among these
the major bibliothe`ques municipales but also, and very
interestingly, minor libraries and little - known / little - used
collections of various types -- and more of the latter are
scheduled to be added as time goes on.
So a search for _Candide_ already turns up interesting copies in
interesting places like the Bibliothe`que Abbe' Gre'goire at
Blois, the Me'diathe`que Jean - Jacques Rousseau at Chambe'ry,
the Me'diathe`que Jean Le'vy at Lille, and the Me'diathe`que de
la Communaute' de Villes de l'Agglome'ration de La Rochelle --
bet _you_ wouldn't have thought of looking in those...
The fonds anciens catalogs in the current CCFR database include:
* Bibliothe`ques municipales: Aix-en-Provence, Alenc,on, Amiens,
Angers, Arles, Auxerre, Avignon, Bayeux, Beaune, Besanc,on,
Blois, Bourg en Bresse, Caen, Chalon sur Sao^ne, Chambe'ry,
Cherbourg, Clermont-Ferrand, Coutances, Dijon, Do^le, Grenoble,
La Rochelle, Lille, Limoges, Lyon, Ma^con, Marseille, Metz,
Montpellier, Nancy, Nantes, Nevers, Ni^mes, Niort, Orle'ans,
Poitiers, Rennes, Roanne, Rodez, Rouen, Saint-Etienne, Se'lestat,
Strasbourg, Toulouse, Troyes, Valognes, Versailles;
* Bibliothe`ques spe'cialise'es: des Faculte's catholiques de
Lyon, du Centre des sciences de la terre de l'Universite' de Lyon
, de la Ville de Paris (Bibliothe`que des Arts graphiques,
Marguerite Durand, Forney), Bibliothe`que des Arts de'coratifs,
du Centre d'e'tudes supe'rieures de civilisation me'die'vale de
This current CCFR offering is the result of a massive BnF /
Bibliothe`que nationale de France - organised "recon" cataloging
effort, begun as far back as 1992: "fonds anciens (books printed
before 1811)... the libraries were selected for the richness and
originality of their collections, for example the fonds ancien
Louis XVII at Poitiers, the fonds Jules Verne at Nantes, and the
fonds taurin at Toulouse... the collections are of diverse
origins [including] confiscations of the libraries of the
nobility and the clergy by bibliothe`ques municipales at the time
of the Revolution, gifts, acquisitions from individuals or for
local history collections, de'po^t le'gal / copyright deposits
from printers in the region".
The detailed description of this fonds anciens recon effort
sounds nightmarish: "The catalogs describing these collections
were held in a variety of formats (registers, printed catalogs,
'fiches manuscrites ou dactylographie'es')" -- imagine... -- "and
they followed different rules and standards according to the era
during which they were prepared".
What a mess all this must have been, to assemble and sort out.
And CCFR even admits, ominously, that "The converted digital
version of these catalogs reflects this diversity, which produced
a heterogeneous result". Caveats -- inevitable -- and hidden
problems: "The Catalogue Collectif de France does not offer
normalized / authority record access (several forms of the same
author name), or subject access. It therefore may be necessary to
make several searches to confirm the presence or absence of a
But in the final analysis -- as the kids now say, "whatever" --
kudos, and sympathies, to all who participated, willingly or
otherwise, in this enormous and undoubtedly difficult but
ultimately invaluable effort...
Once a record is selected, CCFR offers four options:
a) "mettre dans le panier" -- the "shopping basket" of ecommerce
fame and notoriety. Once again -- perhaps "as always", or at
least since the Middle Ages, the commercial sector is leading the
cultural -- culture follows commerce / the commodification of
culture / knowledge "bought and sold" -- along with MTV's
"refrigerators and color TVs and inbuilt microwave ovens"... the
way "books" and the rest all are inter - mingled now on
b) "emprunter les documents". Beginning in October -- if the oil
crisis is over by then? -- users will be able to use a seamless
interface to obtain / copy / reserve documents. Hope so...
c) "imprimer". Local printing! I am getting the nicest little
screen - dump printouts now of all sorts of fascinating CCRF
records: lists of multiple records, too -- you put them all in
your "panier", being sure to check the box for each, then just
click "imprimer" -- nicely formatted, with French accents intact.
These appear to be "short format" notices only, for now I guess
-- there is a "notice de'taille'e" feature, but that seems to be
restricted to single notice output only, and for now appears to
reach only the same "short format" found in the initial
list. Which poses another question: MARC format? -- it may be too
much to hope, that the CCFR one day might even offer MARC and
other tagged formats for printing and downloading and,
particularly, very useful manipulation in users' bibliographic
software packages... love to be able to reach all of this,
easily, "seamlessly", from my Endnote...
There even is a Z39.50 "profile" available on the CCFR site!:
-- available for viewing as an rtf file which pops up on your
browser when you click it, or for downloading as a Word file
(this doesn't seem to work at the moment), or for downloading as
a zip file. Someone better at figuring out Z39.50 implementations
than I am perhaps can tell me whether the presence of this
"profile" means that things in fact will get easier for users,
and exactly how they will get easier, and I will post whatever
they say here next month...
d) "exporter". Most usefully of all, the CCFR provides .txt files
for downloading -- "Being Digital", as M. Negroponte irritatingly
cautions all of us to be now -- these digital CCFR records
instantly and easily may be incorporated into bibliographies,
etc., through the magics of database management and word
processing... _and_ spreadsheets... Again, "short format" notices
only, it appears, and I do not know myself about any CCFR plans
to provide MARC -- or how they deal with different character sets
[I wonder if any of the CCFR records are in Arabic, or Cyrillic
characters, or Chinese?] -- but what _is_ being provided already
is considerable, and very, very useful.
Future CCFR directions will include expansion of the database to
over 8 million records, and linkage -- one hopes that this too
will be "seamless" -- to the catalogs of the Bibliothe`que
nationale de France plus 3900 other institutions scattered across
the country, these latter the members of the "RNBCD / Re'pertoire
national des bibliothe`ques et des centres de documentation" --
-- and to the French university libraries, 2900 institutions
which since April 3 already have been making union catalog
records for 3.5 million of their documents available online --
(re. SUDOC: "Le catalogue contient actuellement environ 3,5
millions de notices bibliographiques de monographies, the`ses,
publications en se'rie et divers types de documents localise's
dans les bibliothe`ques universitaires franc,aises ainsi que,
pour les publications en se'rie, dans 2900 e'tablissements
documentaires de tous types. Il permet la localisation des
documents et donne e'galement acce`s au Re'pertoire des centres
de ressources, c'est-a`-dire aux notices de bibliothe`ques.")
-- all this, together and coordinated, "seamless", and with
borrowing _and_ copying _and_ reservation service... and all by
The people who are doing CCFR include the French national
government's Ministry of Culture, and the Ministry of "Education
Nationale", and the Bibliothe`que nationale de France. CCFR has
been the dream of many for a long time -- at least of many
catalogers and researchers -- although the current effort
stipulated an official program only in 1995, issued a call for
proposals in January of 1996, chose Sema Group - Bull and GEAC in
December of that year, began work in July 1997 and will finish
the current phase in December 2000.
This entire, very impressive, CCFR project -- and particularly
that extraordinary bit about "future CCFR directions" -- prompts
three general, perhaps wishful, thoughts:
1) "National"... Is the best, or perhaps most practical, basis
for a large union catalog effort such as this one of the CCFR
really, in fact, "national"?
Could anyone else do it -- anyone smaller / anyone larger? The
rationales for slicing this corpus other than along "national"
lines are many -- by subject, by state of disrepair of the
volumes, by state of digitization, by language, by country of
origin. But, as with the famous "coupure" which the President of
France at the time declared should cut the initial BnF collection
at 1945, any time you start slicing you get into trouble. Could
the EU have done it? Or perhaps a province: Sao^ne et Rho^ne,
teaming up with Frankfurt? Some day, perhaps, but not yet. For
now if it is to be government it must be national: think of any
other country besides France and you'll see what I mean.
2) "Government", and particularly _national_ "Government"... Is
the entity best - equipped for sponsoring / enforcing such an
effort really, in fact, "Government", and _national_
"Government" at that?
Again, who else could do it? "The nation - state is dead", we
read: but a national union cataloging effort is as much a war --
of cooperative effort, and standards, and enforcement, and petty
politics and head - bashing -- as the shooting kind is, and
nation - states still are the preferred "enforcers" when it comes
to shooting wars -- not multinational corporations, yet, and not
associations, or professional groups, or international agencies,
not even IFLA or the IETF. Who else but a national government
minister could compel a rare books cataloger to abbreviate a
description... or to compromise a format... And again, think of
other places besides France: nearly any is much less centralized
/ even more likely to harbor local eccentricities / even more in
need of "incentives" and "enforcement".
3) And, finally, "Online Digital Fulltext"... When will we see
online digital fulltext attached to all of these so - far -
merely - bibliographic records?
-- very soon, I myself think. Just as library catalogs like this
CCFR now put books into "shopping carts" -- in obedience to the
law of the market which apparently dictates that ecommerce will
lead the way for eculture -- just so ebooks and commercial online
fulltext already are deluging the market for traditional paper
publishing products. Readers no longer have _time_ to read books
-- they are too busy reading etext and entertainment on their
computer screens. "Real.com" has beaten "the book" to the
ultimate goal, to readers' attention and eyes...
The print publishers are trying, at least and at last, to catch
up. In so many commercial and professional and even academic
publishing markets, now, "etext" in fact precedes "printed text":
text composed digitally at its origin by authors and editors is
published digitally to readers directly -- without any
intervening step involving the printing of paper. But the well -
defined - and - disciplined "ebook" is not truly with us yet,
much less a full epublishing product offering and market which
can supplant the printed book.
I spend hours myself each day reading online "news" and "email",
and even a little "entertainment", on computer screens: so much
so that initially I had less time than I ever had before left
over for reading "books" -- although recently this situation has
reversed itself, as my online efficiency / productivity has begun
freeing up more leisure time than I ever had before -- salutary
if very recent national trend here in the US, at last, according
to Alan Greenspan... Amazon.com may do even better, soon...
But until Mr. Greenspan's "productivity paradox reversal" hits
all of us, most users are going to be spending more and more time
trying to focus on the silly screen -- in _addition_ to tending
to the overflowing "paper" inbasket -- with diminishing amounts
of time left over for things like family, holidays, reading
books... "Work substitution" has been the idea -- for a long
time, at least since the "office automation" 1960s -- but we're
not there yet. So we need to telescope the workload down, to
bring the screen to the text and the text to the screen -- trying
to keep up with both takes the user too much time, now.
Linking such digital fulltexts to the references to them which
appear in a bibliographic database, like CCFR, is merely a matter
of plugging them in -- or at least conceptually so, and pace all
the brave CCFR catalogers who know that there is much more than
anything "mere" to the design and implementation of said "plug"
-- but it _is_ going to happen / _is_ happening already.
Epublishing already is taking over in business and professional
communication and entertainment -- epublishers will keep cutting
away at what print publishing remains until there is very little
of the latter left.
And then, too, there are all the brave "recon" efforts, of which
the CCFR also is a leading example. These may be the last and
best hope for the preservation of texts, in fact, as the
depredations of acid paper and the distractions of transitions in
media take their toll: again a matter of "plugging in" digitally
- captured texts -- into the bibliographic database which
currently only makes reference to them -- and again the French
are among the leaders here. (see _Bulletin des Bibliothe`ques de
France_ "Politiques de conservation", t. 45, no. 4, 2000 ISSN
0006-2006 -- digital fulltext version of this BBF issue online
hopefully soon at http://www.enssib.fr/bbf/). So the CCFR would
do well to plan for accommodating online digital fulltext, too.
Well, hey, stranger things have happened... Robt. Ballard
currently is looking, in the Black Sea, for the remains of Noah's
Ark!... and if _he_ can find _that_, then the rest of us should
be able to get at least some of those old books mounted as online
Fe'licitations, once again, to the able and persistent French on
their CCFR achievement. And happy rentre'e, everybody.
FYI France (sm)(tm) e-journal ISSN 1071 - 5916
| FYI France (sm)(tm) is a monthly electronic
| journal published since 1992 as a small-scale,
| personal experiment, in the creation of large-
| scale "information overload", by Jack Kessler.
/ \ Any material written by me which appears in
----- FYI France may be copied and used by anyone for
// \\ any good purpose, so long as, a) they give me
--------- credit and show my email address, and, b) it
// \\ isn't going to make them money: if it is going
to make them money, they must get my permission
in advance, and share some of the money which they get with me.
Use of material written by others requires their permission.
FYI France archives may be found at http://infolib.berkeley.edu
(search fyifrance), or http://email@example.com/
(BIBLIO-FR archive), or http://listserv.uh.edu/archives/pacs-l.html
(PACS-L archive) or http://www.fyifrance.com . Suggestions,
reactions, criticisms, praise, and poison-pen letters all will be
gratefully received at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Copyright 1992- , by Jack Kessler,
all rights reserved except as expressed above.