Sunday, 21 December 2014

French libraries and the digital world (1/2)

On 13th November I attended in Paris a day of workshops on libraries in the digital world organised by the local groups of the French library association ABF. The format of the day was inspired by the unconference principles but it was a lot more prepared than the Library Camps I have attended or helped improvise! Participants were asked for session themes about two months in advance; the programme of the day was settled by the end of September and the organisers appealed to some local librarians with knowledge of the topics to lead the sessions. I was told that since the workshops were taking place on a week day, library managers wanted to see the programme in advance to make sure it was worth them releasing their staff to attend.

Before I tell you about the sessions I attended, I would like to point out something that struck me: both in the UK and France, librarians look to the US - simply because there are so many things happening, so many new developments, ideas that are tested there first - but we tend not to look much to our neighbours on the other side of the Channel. Now, of course we can't compete with the number of interesting projects taking place in the US, but I get the impression that in the UK we don't talk about French libraries - unless a Shakespeare First Folio is discovered in one of them; and when French librarians talk about the UK it's mainly to the shocked at the situation of our public libraries.

"Parisian church..." CC BY-NC-SA JH
Source: Flickr

A LibraryBox is a "portable digital file distribution tool" (more information on the LibraryBox Project website) For a user, it works like this: you switch on the wifi on your laptop / phone / tablet and connect to the LibraryBox network. You open a browser window, choose files and download them. It's as easy as that! Users cannot upload files (only admins can) and it's up to the librarian to curate the contents. An obvious use may be to share works in the public domain or under Creative Commons (CC) licences.

The session was led by Thomas Fourmeux of Aulnay-sous-Bois public library. It covered where to source and how to set up a LibraryBox and included discussions on what to use it for and how to make sure customers actually use it too! Here are a few points:
  • It's not just about e-books: on a LibraryBox you can also share audio (e.g. music), video (films), etc. So it can exist either in parallel to a commercial e-book offer (especially when the platform used is not very flexible) or as the only access point for electronic resources a library service may have.
  • Be careful with the content offered on the LibraryBox: check the works are under a licence that allows this (I was interested to hear that Aulnay Libraries offer items under CC including some for Non-Commercial use, and educate users about what it means) but also that it suits your public (in a public space, children may be accessing the LibraryBox too!)
  • Make sure you offer works in different formats so that users can download them in the right format for their device.
  • The browser interface is coded in html so can be edited and expanded, for example by adding a search box or a wiki.
  • The signal of the LibraryBox is not super strong so it may not be accessible in all corners of the library (and even less when it's a big building).
  • Just like with other online resources, people need to know about it otherwise they won't use it. Consider staging the actual Box in the library e.g. as the centrepiece of a display to attract customers' attention. (It also helps resolve the issue mentioned in the point above as people will know where to go to find the strongest signal.)
  • Customers will also need to be educated on how to technically use the LibraryBox.
If you're curious to see what Aulnay Libraries offer on their LibraryBox, they also store the content on a Dropbox account accessible via their website (see the index of works by author) A session participant was going to use her LibraryBox to tie in with local cultural events, and in particular a music festival - asking artists if they would donate a song for people to download freely via the LibraryBox at the festival's location or in other public places.

The early adopters of the LibraryBox in France have created a network of support to share their expertise and spread the word - the website over at [in French, obviously] even includes a map of LibraryBoxes in France!

CC BY-SA (screen capture 21/12/14)

I have included a LibraryBox in my Carnegie Library Lab project so I am looking forward to ordering and setting it all up come January...

In the next blog post I will sum up the other two sessions I attended that day: on supporting customers in the digital world, and on fablabs & libraries.

1 comment:

  1. More information about the bibliobox project in Aulnay's library here ;-)