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France to spend
15.12.09 | Barbara Casassus
About €150m of next year's €35bn national loan announced by French president Nicolas Sarkozy could be earmarked to help digitise the collection of the French National Library (Bibliothèque Nationale de France, BNF).
"This is the amount we asked for, and we hope the Culture Ministry will confirm it shortly," BNF President Bruno Racine told The Bookseller. The €150m would come out of the €750m slated for digitising library, museum and cinematographic works. The money will also be used to invest in universities and fields such as renewable energy and the digital economy.
The cash from the loan "will enable us to progress much more rapidly with our digitisation programme, especially for the press and sound recordings," Racine said. The €150m would finance the programme for three to five years. But even then, only 20% of the press and an even smaller proportion of books would be covered. "We digitise about 100,000 out-of-copyright books a year--a miniscule proportion of our collection of 13 million, most of which are under copyright," Racine said.
Although not mentioning Google, Sarkozy called for a major public-private partnership to complete the task of digitisation. A commission headed by former France Television chief Marc Tessier is expected to present its proposals on the issue at the beginning of January, and is understood to have backed the idea in its initial findings.
Reports last summer that the BNF and Google were in negotiations created an uproar in France, with former BNF director Jean-Noël Jenneney stating that the cost of digitisation was a "derisory" argument for giving Google such power. Since then, prime minister François Fillon has come out strongly in favour of such a partnership, and culture minister Fréderic Mitterrand told French newspapaer Le Figaro that the funds from the loan would permit the BNF "to negotiate on equal terms with Google, and no longer as children expecting pocket money from their father".