The Mitterand Library in context: the Bibliotheque Nationale de France and library provision in France.
Davies, Sylvie C.
Johnson, Ian M.
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On 17 December 1996, President Chirac inaugurated a public reference library situated in the largest, costliest and most debated building erected in Paris in modern times. This building is part of a wider project, launched in 1988 by the late President Mitterrand, to create a library of a ‘wholly new conception’ which should cover all aspects of knowledge, be accessible to all and be electronically linked to the rest of the European library network. This project subsequently included the modernisation of the Bibliothèque Nationale and became the project of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France. This review aims to clarify the purpose of the building in the context of the existing French national library and the pattern of information services in France. The paper reviews the contextual elements before focusing on the building itself. These elements include the concept of national libraries in the modern information environment; an overview of the French library scene; the history of the project highlighting the factors which influenced the planning strategy; the legacy of the old Bibliothèque Nationale as well as the associated programme towards the creation of an online library service. The new building is described from a structural and operational view point and is evaluated in terms of its functionality as a library and in terms of its place in the context of the French national library. The review emphasises that the construction of such a building had a political purpose and suggests that its substantial operating cost combined with the policies of strict austerity imposed by the current French government are likely to jeopardise not only the efficiency of the new library itself, but also the modernisation of French library services.
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