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The Role of Libraries
in the Information Society
France - Background Information


Updated: 04 NOV 98


In connection with research on the role of libraries in the information society , we have collected a fair amount of information on how the situation is evolving in different countries. This document provides background information on France.


Generic data

In 1993, France had 57.5 million inhabitants and an area of 551,500 sq. km., giving a population density of 104 inhabitants per square kilometre. In 1990, France spent 0.09 % of its GDP on libraries.

Higher education libraries

In 1998, there were 96 university libraries in France, distributed over 324 service points. In 1991, higher education libraries in France had 232 service points, 538 thousand volumes were added and there were 858,000 registered users. In 1990, there were 67 university libraries distributed over 200 services points.

Public libraries

In 1996, public libraries in France had 2486 service points serving 35,869,506 inhabitants. The number of volumes in book collections was 89,742,743. In 1994, public libraries had 2138 service points. In 1990, the number of volumes in book collections was 89 million, 4 million volumes were added and there were 4.6 million registered users.

Statistical data on libraries

The French National Bibliography gives the following:

Year Number of titles
1990
41982
1991
44530
1992
45576
1993
44064
1994
47486
1995
42304
1996
46306

The number of titles in books-in print in France is as follows:


Year Number of titles in books-in-print
1990
37780
1991
40142
1992
42007
1993
43757
1994
46676
1995
49080
1996
not available

In 1992, the Direction du livre et de la lecture had 19 libraries networks. In 1995, there were 38 networks. Most of these networks were based on a common catalogue or common access to different catalogues, on shared cataloguing, lending and acquisitions policies.

In 1995, 809 (38%) public libraries were automated and 132 (6%) were in the process of becoming so. Out of 809 automated libraries, only 401 used the acquisitions function, and not all functions in the housekeeping systems were used.

In 1995, 258 libraries catalogues were available on Minitel and users could access them at home. They could even book documents in 48 libraries by Minitel. Only 2 public libraries (Lyon and Saint-Etienne) had a Telnet connection to their catalogues. Another library (Montauban) was about to do so.

The French national bibliography since 1970 consists of 800 thousand records in UNIMARC format. There are records of books from the legal deposit (40 thousand titles a year).

Libraries and Internet

In 1995, 216 libraries out of 809 extracted records from the French national bibliography on CD-ROM which has been produced by the French national library since 1990 and from ELECTRE Biblio on CD-ROM, the catalogue of French books in print produced by the Cercle de la librairie, a private company.

In 1995, 13 libraries had an on-line service : they allowed their patrons to connect to on-line databases and most of the time, the connection is made by Minitel.

In October 1997, there were at least 12 public libraries with their own Website. The Bibliothèque Nationale de France also provides information over the Web.

In 1995, 82 libraries had a public CD-ROM player. In 1994, 43 libraries owned between 1 and 10 CD-ROM's, 12 libraries owned between 10 and 50 CD-ROM's, 8 had between 50 and 100 CD-ROM's and 7 had more than 100 CD-ROM's.

The problem is that statistics do not include the number of titles and the kind of CD-ROM held by libraries: one cannot make the difference between text databases and multimedia CD-ROM's.

Policy issues on libraries

According to a law passed on 22 July 1983, "public libraries are organised and financed by the local districts" . However, the State is responsible for the equal access of the citizens to culture. Governmental subsidies to public libraries for the construction of buildings or for automation are managed by the local directions for cultural affairs (Directions régionales des affaires culturelles or DRAC).

In 1993 the French government created special subsidies for public libraries. These subsidies are divided into three parts: "the first part finances running costs; the second part is an equipment grant for public libraries and the third part is an equipment grant for public libraries with regional extension". The second part finances "construction, enlargement, furnishing, first automation and renewal of the library system after five years and also networking". The government helps the local authority when buying hardware and software for the library. The prerequisites are that they purchase a multi-functional system for the library only and that the system supports the UNIMARC format. The grants are 25% of costs of purchase and installation and up to 40% if the library plans to join a network. In the future grants will include CD-ROM players, multimedia computers, scanners and digital cameras.

Calliope is a joint project between Inria Rhone -Alpes, Imag and Rank-Xerox Research Centre. It aims providing the researchers of these three laboratories with document image storing and retrieval facilities, together with a "scanning on demand" service, thus allowing them to share their document resources.

A major Information Society Action Plan launched in January 1998 by Prime Minister Jospin has chapters dealing with cultural heritage and with multimedia in which libraries are to play an important part. Among other things, there are plans to increase the digital collections of France's National Library and provide access to more than 50,000 non-copyrighted works on the Internet before the end of 1998. France will relaunch the "Universal Library" project, in partnership with UNESCO. Furthermore, multimedia equipment levels in public libraries will be improved and France's collective catalogue will be put on-line.

The French union catalogue ( Catalogue collectif de France ) is an interdepartmental project aiming at providing on-line access to the Catalogues of the French National Library, of the University System and to local or regional titles in the 51 public libraries and 31 university libraries. The CCFr will soon provide access on the web to the index of the French libraries and documentation centres. Next phases of the Collective Catalogue project will be the simultaneous access to the above mentioned catalogues, according to the ANSI-NISO Z39.50 rule, and the implementation of the library loan. Both the services will be available on the Internet.

A report on the lending right in France, committed by the French Minister of Culture and Communication, Mrs Trautmann, to Mr Jean-Marie Borzeix, is available on the web .

Additional background information

Additional information on the public libraries scene in France is available from the PUBLICA Web site .

Report on the situation of libraries, museums and archives prepared in April 1998 by the French National Focal Point for the European Commission's Libraries Sector.


European Commission

DG Information Society
Cultural Heritage Applications Unit Contact:Digicult
e-mail: (email removed)


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