The Bibliothèque Nationale and Cultural Productions of Scholarship

TitreThe Bibliothèque Nationale and Cultural Productions of Scholarship
Publication TypeArticle de revue
Année de Publication2012
AuthorsAnne E. McCall
PériodiqueSouth Central Review
FasciculeFall 2012. Special Issue: Cultural Production in Nineteenth Century France: A Tribute to Lawrence R. Schehr

Libraries conserve cultural heritage, communicate information, and support discovery; as a result, they find themselves central to debates over relationships that they should foster between readers and their collections. Technological innovations nourish paradoxical reactions, both encouraging us to fetishize borderless communities based on verbal modes of being and spawning resistance. I argue that the imminent fading of a certain library culture is related not only to our fears of manipulation and technological failure but also to our allegiance to architectural and material search engines that played an important role in the cultural production of scholarship as we know it and that were enshrined in a previous era of significant library transformation, the nineteenth century. Major debates accompanied well-publicized efforts to provide France’s premier library, the Bibliothèque Nationale, with an adequate physical infrastructure, facilitate research through the production of comprehensive catalogues, and orchestrate the signature activities that occur in libraries, namely reading and writing. This reflection supports the contention that our identification with certain fading forms of library culture ignores our most striking commonalities with this earlier period: experiences of temporal disjuncture and simultaneous distress over the prospect of infinite consumption and production, frustration at our inability to order knowledge, and fear of potential loss in social status. In more clearly recognizing ourselves and our fields as contingent cultural products, we free ourselves to imagine ways in which the library transformations might change the cultural production of scholars and beyond, create conditions conducive to the reinvention of scholarship.