Victor Hugo, the iconic French poet and author, once observed that “All the forces in the world are not so powerful as an idea whose time has come.” The recent creation of the CIFNAL association of French-language scholars, as illustrated in the following case studies, exemplify the enthusiasm, resourcefulness, and converging interests of an idea whose time has come.
Documenting Academic Web Portal Design in Algeria: An Unexpected CIFNAL Collaboration
Richard Hacken, European Studies Bibliographer, Brigham Young University
When members of the CRL-backed Collaborative Initiative for French Language Collections (CIFNAL) were invited to meet with an international association of francophone librarians and archivists—the "Association internationale francophone des bibliothécaires et documentalistes"(AIFBD)—in Montreal last August at an IFLA preconference meeting in Québec City, little did we know what a gold mine of collaboration it would be. Much more than just a "preconference," the AIFBD meetings
led to meaningful discussions about all aspects of francophone librarianship (and a veritable celebration of the same). Information professionals from France and French Canada were there in number, as might be expected. But their counterparts from other parts of the world were also richly represented, from Ivory Coast to the Belgian coast, from Senegal to Switzerland, from the Caribbean to the Congo. A contingent from North Africa was also present—from Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Egypt. As with many conferences, the meetings were professionally valuable, but the additional goal of networking took place before and after the meetings.
When the AIFBD organizers planned the Montreal meetings, they had the foresight to arrange for a six-hour catamaran cruise to Québec City for those traveling on to the IFLA meetings. It was in the middle of the St. Lawrence River, therefore, aboard a floating francophone festival, that I first met and talked with Ridda Laouar. Ridda is a "Maître de conference" (roughly equivalent to the rank of Associate Professor) in the Computer Science Department at the University of Tébessa in Algeria. Despite our obvious differences, we soon discovered common interests in areas of online information. Ridda is involved in the design of an academic web portal, a network of scholarly workstations, for the university library in Tébessa; I am a webmaster and librarian who sees a coming cyber-age that will involve the type of research platform that Ridda is currently crafting: a single-stop, customized research environment that can provide easy access to a multiplicity of documents, databases, and digital tools.
The scholarly holdings of teaching and research institutions in Algeria, while meager, are extensively underutilized due partially to a lack of online tools. It is imperative to put technologies into play that are within the means of Algerian institutions and that can maximize access to local and remote information sources.
Ridda and I agreed to work together as a transatlantic team toward an article on the design of the library web portal he is helping to conceptualize and implement. His skills and experience in computer science and my own language capabilities are combining to produce an English-language article. In Tébessa, meanwhile, the emphasis is on digitizing local resources (articles, theses, and so forth) for inclusion in the portal. Future plans include the integration of the local portal into the Algerian nationwide network: Réseau régional inter bibliothèques universitaires (RIBU).
Technical Aid to the National Library Association of Burundi
Jeffry Larson, Yale University Library
Last year, when I announced on BiblioDoc the participation of CIFNAL members at the upcoming congress of the l'Association internationale francophone des bibliothécaires et documentalistes (AIBFD) in Montreal, I received an email response from Aimé-Joël Nimubona, a young librarian in the médiathèque of the Centre Culturel Français, a French government facility in Bujumbura, the capital of Burundi. Nimubona also is the public relations officer of the Association des Bibliothecaires, Archivistes et Documentalistes du Burundi (ABADBU).
He was unable to attend the Montreal congress in August, he informed me, but was eager to reach out to colleagues and solicit their help in developing ABADBU, his national professional association. ABADBU was recently formed to foster the development of archives and library services in Burundi. One of its missions is to encourage its government to preserve documents for a national archive. Burundi has one of the lowest gross domestic products in the world and is recovering from years of civil conflict. Its school enrollment and literacy rates are low.
In his messages to me Nimubona sought support for ABADBU activities—any kind of support. Since all funds at my disposal are dedicated to adding to Yale Library collections, I consulted colleagues and supervisors about providing in-kind technical support for the development of an ABADBU Web site, which would facilitate professional communications among its members. The plan received approval and Nimubona was receptive to the idea and appreciative.
Student assistants were employed initially to build the Web site, but with mixed results and many stops and starts. Eventually Dick Hacken, a colleague in the Brigham Young Library, offered his services and, sooner than expected, produced categories or "tabs" on the ABADBU Web site.
. Although still "under construction," parts of the Web site are functioning as intended and contain relevent information.
Meantime, Mr. Nimubona
is still seeking aid of any sort—material, financial, or internships—for the ABADBU. Please email him directly if you or your institution can help.
CIFNAL—A Great Venue for Informal Learning
Chip Stewart, City College Libraries/CUNY
CIFNAL (Collaborative Initiative for French Language Collections) provides a professional and congenial setting for anyone interested in French language collections and library resources. CIFNAL relies upon organizational memberships for its financial and administrative support, but welcomes the participation of interested individuals, who wish to contribute to meetings and projects and keep current with the latest developments.
As an individual member, I have benefited from making the acquaintance of many colleagues who also select French information resources for libraries. Thanks to the relatively lively activity of the CIFNAL listserv, I became aware of the Association international francophone des bibliothecaires et documentalistes (AIFBD), a new international organization of francophone librarians, and was able to attend their first conference in Montreal. This proved an even greater opportunity to establish further contacts with several French and Québécois librarians.
Through these new contacts and my participation in CIFNAL I have gained increasing knowledge of the issues currently facing French books and periodicals. For example, the discussion of digitization efforts on both sides of the Atlantic confirmed that we face the same challenges in adapting to the new technologies and there are considerable opportunities for joint projects and for sharing our expertise.
What I like best about CIFNAL is the opportunity it provides for meeting with fellow professionals from both the U.S. and abroad—offering the chance to personalize a subject discipline that often has the feel of being distant and at times unreal.
In addition to the listserv, CIFNAL's administrative support by the Center for Research Libraries also enables a web-based collaborative work space for sharing lists, links, and project status information. All of this provides for a friendly learning environment for deepening exposure and expertise around the topic of French language materials.