...Continued from page 1

Google's initial announcement last December was followed in February by reports that the BNF's head, Jean–Noel Jeanneney, expressed worry about world history and culture being represented by Google's private collection. Merely expressing a desire for multi–polarity, his remarks were sensationalized, as in, 'sparking a French war of words.'

Then Monsieur Jeanneney announced that the BNF would begin scanning French newspapers from the 19thphoto, l'obs, delors, ils vous mentent century to add to the consultable database. In mid–March Jacques Chirac was reported to give a 'go ahead' to the BNF, to close the 'scan–gap' with Google.

In face of the 'non,' Jacques Delors says 'they're lying.'

But this is not good enough, according to an American commentator. He expressed concern that the a state–run operation would somehow turn out to be less 'free' than the commercial offer from Google. Especially worrisome are restrictions imposed by France on taking photos in museums and fees charged to library users, such as the 10 cents charged for photocopies by Paris' public libraries. It would all be okay, he concluded, if France shared its archives with Google and, "Not just hold it for their own Web site."

Sometime in mid–April Le Monde had something to say about this, which the International Herald Tribune remembers today as making Google into a 'villain.' Added to this, the spat, in the mind of the IHT, is no less than 'the first culture war in cyberspace.'

The IHT writer attempted to explain this to the Paris paper's readers but becomes hopelessly entangled trying to explain Google's project and how it does not really constitute an attack against France's cultural identity, while pointing out that maybe half of some books Google intends to scan are not, in fact, in English.

For Google to reach its 'target' of digitally archiving '15 million books,' the writer claims, it will have to scan works in those American libraries that are written in German, Italian, Spanish and French. It's hard to tell if this writer is for or against Google's project, because he says the criteria of selection 'has not been spelled out.' Will Google opt for scholarship or commerce?

Google meanwhile, must be amused. The company has stated that the library project is one that its founders were working on when they invented Google – as a scholarship research tool – and their latest initiative is merely a return to their roots – but now with pockets deep enough to pull it off.

It is quite expensive and time consuming to digitalize sometimes fragile old documents and books without wrecking them. Unlike having clever software with its search formulas, copying books is very tedious and requires a certain amount of added scholarship for it to be worth anything. Commercial considerations aside, Google is engaged in a brave and long–winded venture.

Does any of this mean that France's Bibliothèque Nationale was on the verge of rolling over and playing dead?

To be sure France has been startled by the idea that a private company would willingly take on a massive task with the scale of Google's 'Library Project.' But France has been spending around two million euros a year since 1996 to digitalize everything in its cultural cupboard, and this of course includes the tons of books and other documents garaged at the Bibliothèque Nationale.

Europe is on the scene too, busy throwing up Web sites full of European culture, with spending foreseen to amount to 10 million euros per year.

It's something that a state can do if nobody else is willing to try and make a commercial deal out of it. Andphoto, parade, free florence aubenas given the 'social' bent of many European states, it is seen as a worthwhile effort – to put the European patrimony of culture online and have it freely accessible for everybody.

'Free Florence and Hussein' banner. See Café page for more.

This then is probably the problem. Both Google's project and France's desire to make its patrimony available online are equally incomprehensible to American news organizations, so they fall back on promoting old and shopworn cultural differences even when there are, in principle, none.

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