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France National Library Attacks Google Book Effort 899

Posted by Zonk
from the french-say-no-to-american-bits dept.
An anonymous reader writes "The National Library of France is not happy with Google's effort to scan and integrate millions of books into its Web search. Jean-Noel Jeanneney, President of the library, wrote in an editorial that he is concerned Google's initiative to digitalize volumes at five leading libraries will reflect a unipolar worldview dominated by the English language and American culture. Jeanneney is pushing for European libraries to follow in Google's footsteps. Google said it was surprised by Jeanneney's remarks and noted, 'This is a first step for us; we can't do everything at once.'"
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France National Library Attacks Google Book Effort

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  • Let's see if... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Denyer (717613) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @03:59PM (#11747879)
    ...they're prepared to scan books themselves and contribute them to the effort.
    • Re:Let's see if... (Score:5, Informative)

      by JohnGrahamCumming (684871) * <slashdot AT jgc DOT org> on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @04:02PM (#11747930) Homepage Journal
      http://gallica.bnf.fr/
    • Re:Let's see if... (Score:3, Insightful)

      by dfjghsk (850954)
      ... and contribute them to the effort.

      Why should a library donate its work to a for-profit corporation. If Google wants to work on this idea so they can sell more ads, then let them scan the books themselves.

    • Re:Let's see if... (Score:3, Insightful)

      by jdfekete (316697)
      Actually, the French National Library has already scanned a large collection of material: 70,000 documents, 80,000 images... mostly in French. They have been doing this for years and are distributing the documents from http://gallica.bnf.fr/

      They are stuggling for funding and are frustrated that given the huge number of books they have, they cannot compete with a commercial initiative.

      The European national libraries are full of treasures that noone can see, such as the manuscripts of famous European autho
    • by ianscot (591483) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @04:39PM (#11748453)
      Ahem. Reading the article -- leaving alone the editorial, which I can only stumble through en Francais:
      In the subsequent weeks after the editorial was published, Jeanneney has toned down his statements made in the French media,
      but remains the leading proponent for mobilizing funding for the digitalization of European libraries. A Google spokesperson told BetaNews that Jeanneney's remarks were a reflection of his fundraising efforts.
      (That's my emphasis.)

      The whole point of the guy's editorial was: if English language works are the only ones that become searchable this way, that's going to make those works more influential. He's trying to get funding to do exactly what you're talking about -- granted, not to give to Google gratis.

      I love how /. readers who didn't even bother reading the story are now accusing him of cultural bigotry, though. Very edifying -- though not in the way our posters intend. It's not like the guy is, oh, a librarian who actually considers what he's saying because he's trying to provoke a response in order to get funding, or anything. Must just be jealous of America. Yeah, that's it...

  • WHAT?! (Score:5, Funny)

    by Angafirith (825501) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @04:00PM (#11747903)
    You mean an english speaking company with english speaking employees is starting off with english literature?!
  • by SYFer (617415) <[syfer] [at] [syfer.net]> on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @04:00PM (#11747904) Homepage
    Jeanneney's remarks are indeed anti-American. I don't see what makes him think that Google's efforts will "reflect a unipolar worldview dominated by the English language and American culture" other than the fact that it's being done by Americans. Indeed, he seems to like the idea itself but resent that it's being done by a US company.

    Look, I know it's awfully trendy to be down on anything and everything American (and certainly there are things that legitimately cause concern), but frankly I'm more concerned that Jeanneney's anti-Americanism is affecting his scholarship than that Google's efforts (with the help of the libraries concerned and plan to be inclusive) is bad scholarship.
    • I agree. Google's effort is only "dominated by the English language and American culture" because Google is a US company which, because it is based and run in the US is almost certainly "dominated by the English language and American culture".

      They should LIKE this. This gives people all over the world in towns big and small access to books that they might otherwise never get to see for free (they'd have to buy the book). Google's effort will probably spawn others and that is where the French language/cultu

    • If google were to chronical only the american works and american literature , then label it as a world history or a total world collection of some sort, then i would agree he had a point .However google to my knowlidge are not doing this , they are just creating an international online library.We are all free to do this if we want (with non copyright material,well non copyright in our respective nations).
      It is the duty of the national librarys to preserve the literary history of the country , now what is
  • Yrgh (Score:5, Funny)

    by TheViciousOverWind (649139) <martin@siteloom.dk> on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @04:01PM (#11747910) Homepage
    "Google said it was surprised"

    Nooo, it can talk, and it's got emotions... Run away!
  • by booyah (28487) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @04:02PM (#11747935)
    where does it say, that an american corporation like google, has to promote all works by all nations?

    or another american corporation site (like slashdot) has to some how not be american centric?

    Me thinks the world has gotten a little too attached to our finger pointing. If you DONT like the way an established business is doing things, DO THEM YOURSELF! /rant
  • by mveloso (325617) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @04:03PM (#11747942)
    I think the editorial would have been much more powerful and effective if it was written and presented in a language that people actually read. /ducks
  • Jealous, I think (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Elranzer (851411) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @04:04PM (#11747955) Homepage
    Maybe Jeanneney wants it instead to be a unipolar worldview dominated by the French language and French culture. They still seem to think they're a world power for some reason.

    If his country came up with Google, then sure it's a case, but sorry they didn't. The best thing he can do is ignore it and not use it.

    Of course he cannot force France and the EU to stop using Google, as that would violate their rights of freedom, which is somewhat more flexible than the United State's Bill of Rights lately.
  • Hey! (Score:4, Funny)

    by TheDredd (529506) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @04:07PM (#11747998)
    No English translation of the editorial?
  • by American AC in Paris (230456) * on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @04:09PM (#11748032) Homepage
    "France National Library Attacks Google Book Effort"? What?

    If you'd have bothered to read the editorial, you'd find that "attack" is perhaps not the most appropriate word to use. Rather, M. Jeanneney calls on his own country to get its act together and do the same sort of thing as Google for the sake of keeping the Internet from becoming even more of a monoculture than it is today. What, exactly, is so bad about that?

    He's not attacking Google. His main point is "look at what Google is doing--we should be doing the same thing, for the sake of preserving our culture!"

    Can the inflammatory headline. It's designed to get a cheap rise out of simple-minded people, and it doesn't make Slashdot look good. There's nothing wrong with what this guy is saying--and if he's attacking anybody, it's his own countrymen, not Google.

  • by Entropius (188861) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @04:11PM (#11748076)
    While having a "unipolar" worldview is certainly a bad thing, this reaction seems silly. Google's indexing is, admittedly, of more benefit to Anglophones than Francophones, but it's detrimental to nobody. If the French government (or a French company) wants a similar index of French literature, they should make it themselves -- and I hope they do, since free access to information is never a bad thing. But to criticise Google for focusing on works in their native language located in libraries in their home country for a new project, however, is silly.

    However, it looks like he's mostly not criticising Google but calling for a parallel effort from non-English sources. This, of course, is laudable.

    (Side note: I'm generally on the side of the French in these little Franco-American spats. I saw a SUV that had a "Boycott France" bumper sticker today, and considered sticking a note under his wiper that said something to the effect of "Y'know, you have the French to thank for the philosophy of free speech that allows you to show that sticker without danger of your tires getting slashed...")
    • (Side note: I'm generally on the side of the French in these little Franco-American spats. I saw a SUV that had a "Boycott France" bumper sticker today, and considered sticking a note under his wiper that said something to the effect of "Y'know, you have the French to thank for the philosophy of free speech that allows you to show that sticker without danger of your tires getting slashed...")

      Now, had that SUV been riding on Michelin tires, you would have had such a wonderful opportunity...

      Actually, consi
  • Unipolar worldview? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by dsplat (73054) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @04:12PM (#11748079)
    This is interesting on so many levels. First of all, non-French-speaking people are as unlikely to read any French books online as non-English-speakers are to read English books. Secondly, I can't believe that English and French literature come from entirely disparate worldviews that always disagree. Third, I strongly suspect that some of the books Google will be putting online will be translations of French literature. Presumably, many of those are as faithful as possible to the original.
  • by bodrell (665409) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @04:12PM (#11748086) Journal
    However his words may appear, Jeanneney insists that his remarks were not intended to be anti-American, and went out of his way to commend the short-term effects of Google's work as a "Messianic dream" that would "profit" under-privileged populations.
    It sounds to me like more of a criticism of France's lack of effort of digitize French books than an attack on Google. It's a call-to-action for the French (or non-English) speakers to follow Google's lead if they don't want their languages to become irrelevant. It would be bad for everyone (those who speak English, French, or Swahili) to ignore non-English books, but I don't think Google plans to stop with digitizing American libraries.
  • Wrong translation (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @04:13PM (#11748102)
    I speak french and read the editorial. The guy basically says that if the french governement doesnt invest more cash digitizing old books, english literature will totaly dominate the future of the net, even in the francosphere. He doesnt biatch about google at all.
  • by John3 (85454) <(moc.sllenroc) (ta) (3nhoj)> on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @04:21PM (#11748196) Homepage Journal
    Wikipedia [wikipedia.org] has over 450,000 English entries, over 200,000 German articles, and over 100,000 Japanese articles. France is in fourth with over 83,000 articles.
  • by spectrokid (660550) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @04:28PM (#11748301) Homepage
    Yes the dude makes himself look ridiculous. But I would like to oppose the "english is dominant" view. It is not the English language which dominates this planet, but a small subset of it. "Communication English", spoken all over the world, contains only a fraction of vocabulary and grammar of "the real thing". And people who can show you the way in Bejing most probably have read neither Shakespare nor any of the more modern classics. So starting to digitise English litterature is really not as "normal" as you might think. I am not French, but I can speak it. And I can tell you this: the French language has song lyrics which make John Lennon look like a guy from "star for an evening". Yup the frenchkies should get their act together and start digitising themselves, no Shakespare does not rule the world.
  • by hsmith (818216) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @04:31PM (#11748345)
    No, France now STFU!

    On a serious note, this is no worse than the gutenburg project trying to digitize books, it should be an effort undertaken to make books more easiliy accessable. Not everyone can lug around 20 books, why not use a portable device to read! It is progression, you saw the church throwing a fit when Gutenburg invented the printing press because they couldn't control people anymore. Same deal, hundreds of years later.
  • Misleading summary (Score:4, Insightful)

    by quake74 (466627) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @04:43PM (#11748499)

    As much as I don't like defending France, the summary is misleading.

    Mr. Jeanneney is not angry at Google. Actually he pointed out that the European Union (and France in particular) must follow Google's example and put on the Web the their own libraries so that it will be easy to access the works in not only english language, but also in french, italian, spanish and what not. I agree with him when he says that the preponderance of any single culture (in this case the Anglo-Saxon) is a BAD THING.

    Actually the BNF already started with Gallica [gallica.bnf.fr] but there must be a common european effort.

    And the people from Google should actually have read the editorial before answering questions.

  • by ryanvm (247662) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @04:45PM (#11748531)
    Oh, they're just still miffed about that whole "french military victories [google.com]" thing. ;-)

    (Yes - I know how it works.)
  • sheesh (Score:3, Funny)

    by shaitand (626655) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @04:46PM (#11748546) Journal
    You would think if this guy wanted to be taken seriously by someone outside of France he would at least publish the editorial in English for god's sake.
  • by wan-fu (746576) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @04:53PM (#11748648)
    How about this: since the editorial is in French, I think it's only fitting to post the Google translation of the editorial [google.com]
  • by Thangodin (177516) <elentar AT sympatico DOT ca> on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @05:32PM (#11749137) Homepage
    ...that French is dying. A living language doesn't get prickly or defensive, and it does not try to impose linguistic purity the way the Acadamie Francais does. Culture grows synthetically, by combining influences from various sources. Purity is death. Look at the wonderful things that the Nazis did for Germany in the name of cultural purity--they killed the culture of Beethoven, Mozart, Goethe, and Kant. If you want to preserve something, you pickle it in formaldehyde--but first, you have to kill it.

    If French has a word that English doesn't have, English speakers will happily pick it up, and it will soon appear in the Oxford English dictionary. The same is not true for French. And if the French are bad in this regard, the Quebecois are 10 times worse. The dream of the separatists in Quebec is a country inhabited only by "pur laine", descendants of the original French settlers. In fact, Quebec's cultural influence peaked in the late 60's, when Montreal was New Orleans North, a mixture of races, religions, languages, and traditions. After that the separtists started driving out, in Jacques Parizeau's words, "money and the ethnic vote."

    If the French and the Quebecois get their wish, they may preserve their culture, but it will be dead, and no one will care.
    • by 808140 (808140) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @10:58PM (#11752010)
      You're being sort of silly. French is most certainly not dying -- it is, if I recall correctly, the 11th most natively spoken language in the world, and ranks 5th or 6th when people who speak it as a second language are considered (primarily because this includes most of North Africa).

      It isn't about language, it's about culture. It isn't that the French see no value in American culture, it's that they see value in their own culture. Furthermore, they most definitely are not keeping it static -- it continues to evolve in interesting ways.

      I can't comment on Canada, as I've never lived there. But France is a very interesting country, and their policy of cultural protectionism is not "enforced". The truth is that the French people care deeply about their language, their culture, etc, and they support taking active steps to protect it from an increasingly ubiquitous American cultural influence.

      Frankly, it shows. When you're in France, you can hear a lot of French music on the radio, there's a lot of French literature, and just a general feeling of pride in their culture. Across the border in Germany, radios play mostly American/English music, local bands often sing in English (despite being German) because it's considered "cool", and people seem a bit embarassed by things that are German. Sweden is even worse. My impression, as an outsider, is that French culture is vibrant, and the rest of Europe is being Americanized.

      And I think this fact is not lost on the French, who understand that preventing American corporate interests (ie, the RIAA and MPAA, for example) from culturally subverting them by, say, forcing some percentage of music played on the radio to be in French, by promoting French films, etc, has had a net positive effect. Young people in France are much more "French", it seems -- in the sense that they are connected to the culture of their country -- than people from Germany or say, England are.

      Which is not to say that other European countries are not considerably different from America or anything. Just that the French, as a people, care more about their culture, and take steps to protect it.

      And it seems to be working.

      Anyway, with respect to this article, the title was mistranslated. [slashdot.org]
  • by dancingmad (128588) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @06:02PM (#11749465)
    Professor: And this is my Universal Translator. Unfortunately, it only translates into an incomprehensible dead language.

    Cubert: Hello.

    Translator: Bonjour.

    Professor: Crazy gibberish!
  • by Astolpho (861760) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @06:10PM (#11749542)
    I've seen two types of apologist posts supporting this article, no doubt seeking to mine that tendency on /. that rewards contrarian posts with karma points.

    The first type of post argues that the author is just trying to motivate the French government to launch a digitization effort for French books. That's all fine and dandy folks, but this article is being, and should be, judged on the basis of its text, not the golden intent behind it. The author alleges, and this is almost a perfect translation, the threat of an American stranglehold on the world of ideas. The "money-shot" here is when the author wrote: "Voici que s'affirme le risque d'une domination écrasante de l'Amérique dans la définition de l'idée que les prochaines générations se feront du monde." I don't care what he is trying to accomplish -- that is anti-americanism, pure and simple.

    The second type of posts have argued that the author did not attack Google's initiative at all. Bullshit. The people espousing this point of view either didn't read the original editorial, or can't understand French as well as they think. The author followed a very popular line of argument among the French chattering classes: that the U.S.A. has grown TOO powerful, and that English is a lever by which they jiggle the world. (In this analogy, business would be the fulcrum). "Hyper-pouvoir" is the word practically coined in Le Monde, France's leading daily periodical for the grad degree plus set, and the anti-American editorials have flown fast and furious for at least the last 20 years. How French intellectuals manage to avoid noticing that English is actually spoken in other parts of the world boggles the imagination. Of course, talk to the average French teen who doesn't belong to the radical left, and they have no idea what the fuss is about. Unfortunately, it's the intellectuals that govern, not the teens.

    Long story short, an editorial that talks about Google's initiative as enhancing the U.S. "domination ecrasante" (sorry about the lack of accents) over ideas is an attack on the initiative, not "yellow journalism" as one poster put it. The motivation may be noble, but it comes off as bigotry, and it's dead wrong. Knowledge isn't a zero-sum game.

    Regards,

    Astolpho

    P.S. The most popular historical figure in France is Napolean. Now how could that possibly be?

  • Gauling (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Doc Ruby (173196) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @08:20PM (#11750862) Homepage Journal
    This isn't France attacking Google - it's France attacking Europe, for letting an American company do all the work, and leaving Europe behind. That's called "competition", which we usually expect from Germany instead. France is just so stereotyped as dissing American supremacy that everyone's misinterpreting it as a personal attack on them. And, strangely, it's almost always worth considering whether a French attack is relevant - because when it is, it's very personal.
  • by theolein (316044) on Wednesday February 23, 2005 @12:40AM (#11752562) Journal
    I have read TFA, and the guy IN NO WAY attacks Google. He is simply worried about the availability of primarily European literature online and argues that an effort should be made by Europeans to digitise non English languages as well, because, as he says, American English dominates this field completely and offers a very American centric view of the world.

    That's all he says. Nothing more and nothing less. It's not an attack on Google, and it's not an attack on English and it's not an attack on the US.

    But that wouldn't stop the rabid morons from posting an inflammatory anti-French article, now would it.

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