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61st IFLA General Conference - Conference Proceedings - August 20-25, 1995

The Audiovisual Programme of the National Library of France

Director of the audiovisual department
National Library of France


The audiovisual collections of national libraries, in general, are relatively undeveloped, the context being dominated for the greater part by collections of printed materials. We are, however, witnessing a rapid development in audiovisual materials and multimedia as evidenced recently by the passage of considerable national legislation concerning legal deposit. This now needs to be followed by a new kind of structure which will make sure that this heritage will become available in libraries.

From this point of view, the chance that the National Library of France benefits from in its construction of a new building is right on target ! It gives us a unique opportunity to completely re-think the audiovisual and multimedia collections as far as methods of conservation and acess to information are concerned. With 450 workstations provided for audiovisual and a system of consultation using the most modern methods, especially the digitization of documents, the National Library of France constitutes a significant step in the emergence of new multimedia national libraries and in the scholary use of audiovisual.


I. How the audiovisual project of the National Library of France began

In most national libraries, where there are audiovisual services, they are still in a rather marginal position for many historical and cultural reasons : the precedence and legitimacy of print, the e ver-changing and still largely non-standardized nature of audiovisual works when they are compared with those of printed publications, and the fact that in many fields of research audiovisual works a re not even considered. On this last point there is, perhaps, an explanation : until just recently, when techniques of computerization made it possible, audiovisuals were not readily available by way of the usual scholarly methodology, such as copying, comparing, annotating, etc.

However, this situation is rapidly changing : many national libraries are now involved in modernizing the means of access to their audiovisual collections. In several places a strong movement is taki ng place for the establishment of legal deposit of audiovisual documents and multimedia, and there are many research projects around the world for the perfection of workstations which will open up th e possibility of scholarly research through the use of audiovisual documents.

The project of the National Library of France is part of this movement, a large area being consacrated to audiovisual in the new building which has just been completed. There are three principal reas ons for this decision :

1) The project of a new library
The decision to build a new national library was a singular opportunity to include new media in a major library project. When President François Mitterrand stated in 1989 : "This major library will cover all fields of learning, it will be open to all, use the most modern technologies of the transmission of data, will be able to be consulted by remote access, ..." he opened the way to an extensi ve discussion about the role of the audiovisual in the new library.

2) The revision of the legal deposit law
This discussion is based, among other things, on an important up-dating of the idea of legal deposit which occurred in 1992, in the form of a new law which distributes authority for audiovisual among three institutions :

This last provision finally put the stamp of approval on the role of the national Library of France and brought that venerable institution into the era of multimedia.

3) Early collections and important archives
In fact this is not really new for the National Library, which already housed an important collection of sound and audiovisual archives, that was the basis of the Phonothèque nationale . The o rigin of the Phonothèque nationale goes back to 1911, when a famous linguist of the Sorbonne, Ferdinand Brunot, had the idea of creating and conserving a collection of the French heritage of sound recordings made during scientific missions in various regions of France. From 1938, the collections of the Phonothèque were routinely enriched with the establishment of the legal depos it of recordings, as well as through gifts and acquisitions. At the same time the Phonothèque followed a systematic policy of recording and interviewing "personalities", from literary, artis tic and political circles.

In 1975 the legal deposit was extended to include video documents, and the Phonothèque became a department of the National Library.

Hence the inheritance of the new audiovisual department today includes one of the oldest and richest audiovisual collection in the world :

This prestigious basic collection, which goes along with a collection of 400 original playback and recording apparatus, remains relatively unknown and little used. The "listening room" is small and m inimally equipped. It is impossible to bring documents there from another department. Consultation technique is limited essentially to direct dialog with the operator of the playback desk, installed directly in the listening room. Moreover, the availability and accessibility of the collections are poor : many documents have not been inventoried and the old catalog cards are inaccurate. Of course the department is known to spec ialists, mostly to historians of recordings and recording machines. It conducts important research concerning the conservation of materials, but it is not yet familiar among the resources commonly exploited by the National Library' s users.

This is what we are facing ; these are the problems we are working on in the new audiovisual department of our library.

II. The Audiovisual programme of the new library

To define this programme we have tried to characterize our potential users, to re-define and considerably enlarge our collections, to conceive and follow up on constructing and furnishing the spaces for them, and at last we have developped a consultation system which makes overt use of the most recent techniques.

1) Who are our users ?
There are very few studies, at least in France, on the use of audiovisual materials in libraries. Yet we do know how they are used in the multi-media public libraries, particularly the Bibliothè que publique d'information (BPI) in the Georges Pompidou Center. This is still essentially for entertainment, however with some exceptions, particulary for those interested in music. The re is, however, little information available on research use, and the use of audiovisual which is developing in several universities is still too recent. That is why we undertook a study in 1993 to try to understand the future users of the French National Library, particularly the scholary public. This study, conducted by Madeleine Akrich and Cécile Méadel, sociologists and researchers at the Centre de Sociologie de l'Innovation in the Ecole Nationale des Mines in Paris, enabl ed us to identify five types of use and users :

For all these users there are a certain number of basic services required for the use of materials, particularly copies for which there is a strong demand.

2) The collections :
Since the treasures of the heritage of the Phonothèque nationale have already been described it may seem surprising to return to them. our intention is not to question legal deposit, which is a fantastic concept for building an historical collection which has a built-in insurance that the collection will be complete. However, the l egal deposit alone does not assure that a collection will be scientifically balanced or coordinated with the encyclopedic documentary policies of the library. This is for at least three reasons :

It was therefore decided by 1990 that the creation of the new library will be complemented by a substantial programme of acquisitions allowing us to offer scholars as well as a greater public audiov isual documents which are presently inaccessible. It was at this time, as well, that it was decided to add still pictures to moving image and to sound documents in a computerized form (prints and p hotographs remaining in the Département des estampes et de la photographie). For the opening, this acquisition policicy will provide :

In most instances we acquire the rights relating to these documents and do the necessary technical work in order to get a copy for preservation and a copy for access . To this acquisition policy of o btaining unpublished documents from French historical collections, we also acquire foreign publications such as sound recordings, videotapes and electronic multimedia.

Our acquisition policy concerning these materials aims to include audiovisual in those collections in which the National Library of France excels : history, humanities, literature, history of sciences, etc. It is therefore a very determined proposition which, for a national library, obviously represents an important advance.

A word should be said about the technical means for evaluation and preservation of this material which has been carefully studied for the future library. We can say quite simply that these means wich depend primarily on the completely integrated information system of the library, comprise a continuous chain of operations containing three principal parts :

3) Spaces
Of 128 820 m2 set aside for library work space in the future library (57 000 m2 are stores), the audiovisual area is a little less than 10 per cent : 10 765 m2. That may seem small, however it is con siderable when compared to the 1 000 m2 in the present National Library.

As far as consultation space is concerned, the increase in number of places reserved for audiovisual for the opening date is even more spectacular : from 20 places today to 450 in the new building ( of a total of 3,022), as well as the fact that places in other departments may be equally equipped with audiovisual stations.

Before explaining how the space is arranged in the audiovisual department, we would do well to recall the situation of the department itself in the organization of the National Library. The Au diovisual department is part of the larger Direction de l'imprimé et de l'audiovisuel responsible for the entire range of departments in the new building, namely :

In addition, the library is arranged according to two levels of reading rooms and services :

The first question raised by audiovisual is whether to organise consultation within a special department or according to themes within each of the subject departments. This is a classic subject of di scussion which now becomes more acute as the technology develops. It is now theoretically possible to send the contents of any audiovisual document anywhere in the library. One can even imagine that soon there may be no more work stations specific to audiovisual, simply multimedia work stations giving access to the catalog and transmitting all types of documents. In any case, the National Li brary of France has been thus conceived, therefore in the future all the work areas may be equipped with multimedia work stations and the required networks have consequently been foreseen.

However, the choice of total integration of the audiovisual has not yet been adopted, and this is for several reasons :

Thus the audiovisual department, like the others, will have two specific reading rooms : one for the general public and one for scholars. It should be noted, however, that in the scholary study hall in the audiovisual department, the researchers will be able to receive at their places any book or periodical belonging to another subject department.

4) Necessary technical equipment
Let's remember that our audiovisual documents consist of :

  • in the library for the general public :

    Our guidelines for the conception of what we refer to as our audiovisual system (that is for all of the controls, cables and work stations needed to transmit the information in all of these media) we re five in number :

    Considering these guidelines, and following extensive study of their implications, the system adopted is a complex one which involves a double approach :

    Work stations
    The work station must answer several goals :

    To make this possible the work stations are equipped with a computer base, incorporating the means of consulting the catalog and a place for the software tools for manipulation of texts, sound and au diovisual content. This unique computer base as well as the design of the network will provide for multimedia access for all work stations in the future. This is not what we have chosen for the openi ng however. For budgetary reasons as well as for the need to observe patterns of use, the work stations will be specifically equipped for each media at the opening, except for a limited number ( fro m 5 to 10) equipped for scholary and multimedia consultation.

    Scholarly consultation is based on the creation of a personalized digital workbase, or corpus of documents selected by the user, then manipulated through the use of analysis and display software too ls provided by the work-station. We are currently working with scholarly groups and research centers to develop these tools. ( )

    At the opening in early 1997, 145 workstations will be put into operation. This number will increase to 283 over five years


    This presentation, at once too long, yet overly simplified, of the audiovisual and multimedia programme in the National Library of France has shown, I hope, what is the primary aim of this p roject : to open the era of national multimedia libraries and the scholarly use of audiovisual documents.