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An Introduction into French Libraries

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French Revolution

Although the organisation of French libraries takes its source in the French Revolution - the confiscation of Church and Nobility property that led to a redistribution of book “deposits” which then fed library collections - it is only at the beginning of the twentieth century that, under the influence of Eugène Morel, the concept of "public library" was born in France on the Anglo-Saxon model.

A French tradition of state participation in the life of libraries

French libraries are part of a complex and moving institutional environment. Long supervised by the State - as is still the case for the French National Library (BnF) and Bibliothèque publique d’information (BPI), both placed under the authority of the Ministry of Culture - University Libraries (133) and of other academic institutions (37 in 2012) saw their positioning change radically with the recent law introducing autonomy in universities (2011).

Regarding public libraries, 4213 municipal libraries (including 54 "listed" libraries with large heritage collections) and 97 “départementales” (county) libraries are now governed by local authorities as a result of the 1982 decentralisation laws. The 90s saw a real building fever with a new concept: the mediathèque (media library) and increased cooperation between local authorities.

Whatever their status or class, French librarians are civil servants. They are hired through competitive examinations and share the same vocational training at the French national school of library and information science: ENSSIB.

Diversity and convergence

Despite the diversity of the collections and the public they serve, French libraries are facing common problems in the digital era: what future for the print collections? How effectively renew mediation? Whether these issues are related to digitizing, catalogues, long term archiving or the ever increasing cost of electronic resources, the "digital revolution" demands more pooling, cooperation and decompartmentalisation between skills and institutions.

Christine Fleury

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