Wings to Paris:
WESS European Conference 2004

By Yvonne Boyer

WESS Newsletter
Fall 2004
Vol. 28, no. 1

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The second WESS international conference was not only successful, but "it was the best of times."1 ACRL WESS members joined with their European colleagues in Paris, coinciding with the annual Salon du Livre, the French book fair. Attendees, presenters, sponsors, and institutional representatives came from many geographical points to discuss the theme of the conference, "Migrations in Society, Culture, and the Library."

The conference began at the Bibliothèque National de France, at the François-Mitterrand-Tolbiac site.2 Entering at the east tower, the Tour des Lois, down the moving walkway into the immense "open-book" building, the participants were welcomed, oriented, and registered by the organizers. Guided tours of the Library were offered by the BNF staff. The tours included a discussion of the Library catalogue, the BN-OPALE, and a behind-the-scenes look at a section of the 8-kilometer rail system of the automated document delivery. Long, wood paneled hallways and interior thematic reading rooms offered a view of the courtyard garden filled with forest trees that was grand and inspiring. From garden trees to mechanized services, from paper pulp of the book pages to digital processing, the blending of nature with a high-tech environment contributed to the sense that the familiar and the modern coexist dynamically in a 21st century library.

Through the set of stainless steel doors, across the embossed and galvanized metal bridge way, we began our official program in the Petit Auditorium. The president of the BNF, Jean-Noël Jeanneney, welcomed the conference participants with a proper amount of pomp and savoir-faire. The opening session keynote speaker was Jean-Claude Guédon, Professor, Department of Comparative Literature at the University of Montreal. His presentation, titled "Open Borders, Open Access: On Growing Humanity's Distributed Intelligence," was provocative, albeit charmingly presented.

On the following day, conference attendees met at the Paris Expo /Porte de Versailles for the Salon du Livre. This year, the 24th Salon du Livre featured the country China. At the Pavilion of Honor, Chinese literature from history to calligraphy was highlighted. A complementary Chinese motif decorated the Expo interior. It was interesting to notice the number of school groups attending the Salon du Livre. The young students on their field trip seemed most fascinated by the display of miniature books of classic French literature. Exploring the Salon at this popular venue was one of the highlights of the conference.

The morning session focused on the Syndicat National de l' Édition (SNE), the professional organization of the French book publishers. Jean Sarzana, president of the SNE, welcomed the attendees to the program in the Confucius Room. Speakers included representatives from Grasset, Seuil, and Gallimard. They discussed the state of French publishing, comparisons with other countries, particularly the United States, and the future direction of publishing in France. The afternoon session included presentations by select authors, editors, and publishers, discussing current trends in French publishing.

Conference sessions during the next two days were held at l' Espace Georges Bernanos,3 a multifunctional facility, part of the church of Saint-Louis d'Antin. The site is conveniently located near the Paris Opéra Garnier and the Gare St-Lazare. As the Chair of the Conference Planning Committee, Jeffry Larson, our chair d'Amérique, professionally and enthusiastically guided the attendees through the week's activities. Conference participants mingled with clergy, parishioners, and lay visitors, and were cautioned to veer to the left for the conference break room, as confessionals were to the right. Sandrine Pothier, Manager of La collection Extraordinaire, and Max and Yves, the haut high-techies, facilitated the technical and logistical demands of the conference space and speakers' audio-visual requirements.

The sessions explored the "migration" theme of the conference, from migration literature, social history, culture and arts, to technological "migrations," focusing on Western European and North American libraries and institutions. Session speakers were composed of a diverse blend of librarians discussing Dada to data migration, academics discussing Picasso to periodicals, book dealers discussing digital to distribution, and publishers discussing paper to e-print.

Jean Touzot Librairie Internationale, the Paris book dealer, sponsored a special evening event at the Mairie (city hall) of the 6th arrondissement, near the church of Saint Sulpice. The area is noted for a cultivated blend of bookstores and boutiques, and events such as book fairs and Bastille Day balls. His Honor the Mayor, Jean-Pierre Lecoq, officially welcomed the reception attendees. Jean-Denis Touzot, president of Jean Touzot Librairie Internationale, also graciously welcomed the conference attendees and kindly introduced his niece, the Parisian caterer for the evening. Lionel Chaumontet, Director of Touzot Librairie International, affectionately introduced the concert musicians. The soirée musicale featured 19th and 20th century French vocal and piano music. Charles Baudelaire's poem, Invitation to the Voyage, was one of the musical selections, complementing the theme of the conference. After the concert, the reception guests were invited to the salon, featuring an eclectic sushi buffet.

Jean Touzot Librairie Internationale also sponsored a reception at the Centre Culturel Calouste Gulbenkian. Foundation director Francisco Bethencourt welcomed the conference visitors and offered a tour of the Library. The Center is devoted to the study of Portuguese culture in France. Its library collection is the most important center of documentation of Portuguese arts and letters outside of Lisbon. In addition, Stéphane Martin, President of the musée des arts premiers, discussed the Musée du Quai Branly. This new museum site along the Seine is dedicated to arts and civilizations from Africa, Asia, Oceania and the Americas. The museum is scheduled to open in 2006. Currently, there is a web cam to view new developments on the construction site, literally a "site under construction."

Near the refined and affluent area of the Champ-de-Mars, Gilles de La Rochefoucauld of Aux Amateurs de Livres International hosted a reception at the Aux Amateurs offices on avenue de Suffren. Following the reception program of conference acknowledgements, sponsor and participant appreciations, and offerings of champagne and hors d'oeuvres, Aux Amateurs sponsored a dinner at the Eiffel Tower. With invitations and elevator tickets in hand, we ascended to Altitude 95, located on the first platform of the Tower. The interior of the restaurant resembled a Jules Verne vision of the future, at 95 meters above the sea, overlooking the city lights of Paris. It was a perfect Parisian evening, with conference participants gathering to overlook this beautiful city.

It was a fortunate coincidence that Paris at this time presented several opportunities to explore the migration theme on a cultural level. The Centre Georges Pompidou offered a large exhibit of the paintings of the Spaniard Joan Miró, the Texan director Robert Wilson staged the tales of Jean de La Fontaine at the Comédie Française, and the Musée Picasso presented the exhibit "Picasso-Ingres." These examples of cross-cultural and cross-geographical artistic activity were a timely accompaniment to our conference.

Paris also provided other typically Parisian diversions, such as the limited Metro strike and a demonstration by the city's firefighters. These events, and the occasionally chilly and rainy weather with sunny interludes, served as topics of conversation in our breaks and added to a lively metropolitan experience.

For the concluding session, we convened again at the BNF for the keynote presentation by the highly esteemed Directeur of the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Roger Chartier. His talk, entitled "Books, Reading, and Libraries from Print Culture to the Digital World," opened up vast challenges and opportunities presented to libraries and society today. His clarity and eloquence led us to a better understanding of the practical and conceptual issues related to this 'migration' from print to digital technologies.

At the "Tasks Ahead" section of the closing session, it was resolved to publish the proceedings of the conference; to enact a French-North American Resources Project, following from the session presentation by Tom Kilton, furthering the cooperative alliances between librarian counterparts; and to plan for another international conference in a European city. A spontaneous highlight of this session was a short address by Carla Hayden, then-President of the ALA and in Paris to tour the American Library. Her congratulatory comments have since been echoed by the ACRL WESS Conference Evaluation Report, which rated the conference as overwhelmingly "stimulating," noting especially the strong interaction between North American and European colleagues.

As an appropriate symbol of the WESS conference in Paris, the ancient Greek statue, Winged Victory of Samothrace, poised in flight at the top of a grand staircase in the Louvre, combines in one form conceptual, cultural, geographical, technological and political aspects of the theme of migration. As the conference applied these same perspectives to the theme of migration, it presented valuable lessons, the most lasting of which are that migration issues are highly complex and have a long and continuing history. The present understanding of that history has been articulated by this conference, preparing libraries for the future challenges of migration as an ongoing process.

1. Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities (1859; reprint, London: Oxford University Press, 1958), 1.
2. Bibliothéque National de France
3. l' Espace Georges Bernanos
4. Centre Culturel Calouste Gulbenkian
5. Musée du Quai Branly

Editor: Sarah G. Wenzel

Association of College & Research Libraries
©American Library Association

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