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CIFNAL’s Début Launching the Collaborative Initiative for French Language Collections

Dominique Coulombe
Brown University, CIFNAL Chair


The first CIFNAL conference was held in August 2008 in the Grande Bibliotheque de Montreal. Photo by Dick Hacken.

CIFNAL: Collectif international des fonds documentaires en langue française, or the Collaborative initiative for French language collections, is a new and important effort to enhance international cooperation among academic and research libraries which manage, preserve, and provide access to French language collections in North America and French-speaking countries.

CIFNAL recently joined the Global Resources Network (GRN) programs operating and being administered at CRL—the German-North American Resources Partnership (GNARP), Cooperative African Newspapers Project (AFRINUL), Digital South Asia Library (DSAL), and Latin Americanist Research Resources Project (LARRP). The CIFNAL membership consists of 26 libraries and nine individuals from Africa, Europe, and North America. In addition to the projects outlined in this article, it features a bilingual Web site, in English and French, and a workspace for members.

Grande Bibliotheque de Montreal The first CIFNAL conference was held in August 2008 in the Grande Bibliotheque de Montreal. Photo by Dick Hacken. CIFNAL chose the venue offered by the Association international francophone des bibliothécaires et documentalistes (AIFBD) to hold its first annual meeting as a GRN initiative. Formed in 2004, the AIFBD represents librarians and information specialists from French-speaking countries worldwide. It held its first Congress in August 2008 in Montréal. With its rich francophone heritage and beautifully designed public and academic libraries, the city of Montréal offered the ideal setting for this gathering. Jeffry Larson coordinated CIFNAL's participation with Réjean Savard, President of AIFBD. CIFNAL members Sebastian Hierl, Birdie McLennan, Sarah Sussman, and Sarah G. Wenzel presented papers, most of which focused on CIFNAL projects.

CIFNAL Chair Dominique Coulombe moderated one session, and Jeffry Larson was one of two distinguished speakers who spoke at the closing session of the Congress. Our colleagues were particularly interested to hear about current and prospective digital projects. Sarah Sussman discussed the various stages of her work with the digital collection of the Bibliothèque bleue de Troyes (Cf. article page 5 of this newsletter). CIFNAL member Matthew Loving made a presentation on the Digital Library of the Caribbean (dLOC).

The collaborative model of the dLOC project emphasizes open access to digital resources and provides the technical infrastructure to support collections created by multiple partners. Once tested, this model could be applied to small-scale projects for digitizing and featuring historical or cultural content in French language collections in Europe or Africa. Following up on this meeting, Claude Potts and Matthew Loving prepared a memorandum of agreement with Brooke Wooldridge, the Coordinator of dLOC, which was endorsed by the CIFNAL Steering Committee.

The memorandum outlines some concrete steps for the involvement of CIFNAL in routine and complex activities such as translations, participation in collection management decisions, and relations with libraries and research institutes in the French Caribbean. Matthew Loving will take the lead as CIFNAL project coordinator on this initiative for a two-year term. The convergence of the dLOC's objective to increase its content on the Francophone Caribbean region and the GRN's goal to "expand the depth, breadth, quantity, range of formats, and variety of international information resources not currently available to North American students and scholars" holds the promise of future project planning to further enrich and complement the work of the Latin American Microform Project (LAMP) and Cooperative Africana Microform Project (CAMP). Also of great interest to our colleagues was the negotiation of consortial agreements for electronics products.

Following the Montréal meeting, CRL negotiated a licensing agreement for the dictionary Le Grand Robert Online on behalf of CIFNAL. Sebastian Hierl facilitated the conclusion of a consortial agreement with CAIRN, a collection of French and Belgian scholarly journals. Sarah Wenzel also reached a consortial agreement with Oxford University Press for the Electronic Enlightenment. A compound of cod liver oil and phosphites advertised in Haiti’s Le Courrier newspaper, Sept 9, 1902. A compound of cod liver oil and phosphites advertised in Haiti’s Le Courrier newspaper, Sept 9, 1902. Two ambitious projects that bridge the past with the future and focus on scholarly resources have been initiated by CIFNAL members.

One of the projects, led by Ceres Birkhead at the University of Utah, centers on identifying, locating, and publicizing the existence of major sets of microfilm pertaining to the history, culture, language, and literature of France and francophone countries. The other project, under the direction of Susanne Roberts at Yale, focuses on regional and local French research resources; an assessment of North American library coverage of regional and local French research resources, including publications of learned societies, local institutions, and associations; and specialized publishers. Several AIFBD participants gave Roberts some excellent feedback and suggestions for continuing her work on this important project. (Cf. article page 7 of this newsletter.)

The AIFBD Congress provided a lively forum for discussing and clarifying the linguistic and geographic scope of CIFNAL’s membership and activities. As a new organization with a still-evolving mission, the feedback we received from colleagues in other French-speaking countries was a key factor in shaping our identity and in determining our boundaries. The original name abbreviated as CIFNAL—Collaborative Initiative for French and North American Libraries/Initiative de collaboration entre les bibliothèques françaises et nord-américaines—did not clearly convey the association’s intention and desire to include the francophone community outside of North America and France in our project.

As a result, the Steering Committee proposed to change the name to: CIFNAL: Collectif international des fonds documentaires en langue française / Collaborative initiative for French language collections. The membership unanimously voted in December to adopt this change. The administrative and operational support CIFNAL receives from CRL has been an important factor in the growth of the organization in the past few months.

The expansion and synergies generated from the AIFBD meeting have been quite gratifying, as well as the prospect of entering a new partnership that could lead to collaboration with area studies projects. While we are aware of the challenges that lie ahead, CIFNAL is poised to continue increasing its visibility, reaching out to new partners, advancing current projects, and launching new initiatives in support of scholarship in French and francophone studies. We welcome inquiries about our activities and projects, suggestions for areas of collaboration, and are looking forward to receiving the support of enthusiastic colleagues in various regions of the world who seek to enhance access to French language resources.