How Google Threatens French Culture
With its collection of 13 million books, the library is a reassuring symbol of the durability of French literature and thought.
Yet Jeanneney is not one to lower his guard. He grew alarmed in December when he read that Google planned to scan millions of English-language books and make them available as digital files on the Web. In his view, the move would further strengthen American power to set a global cultural agenda.
"I am not anti-American, far from it," Jeanneney, 62, said in an interview in his office in the library's new headquarters overlooking the Seine river. "But what I don't want is everything reflected in an American mirror. When it comes to presenting digitized books on the Web, we want to make our choice with our own criteria."
So, when Google's initial announcement went unnoticed here, Jeanneney raised his voice. In a Jan. 23 article in the newspaper, Le Monde, entitled "When Google Challenges Europe," he warned of "the risk of a crushing domination by America in the definition of the idea that future generations will have of the world."
Europe, he said, should counterattack by converting its own books into digital files and by controlling the page rankings of responses to searches. His one-man campaign bore fruit. At a meeting on March 16, President Jacques Chirac of France asked Jeanneney and the culture minister, Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres, to study how French and European library collections could be rapidly made available on the Web.
But where there is a will, is there a way?