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12
ic archive for departmental administration
while others relied on the central library to
manage the documents. For example, the
manuscript department had an archive with
holdings from the seventeenth century until
the end of the nineteenth. In the twentieth
century, a general secretary was set up with-
in the library to centralise records between
the end of World War II and 1984, but it
was extremely difficult to manage records
during the period that the new library was
being built (1980­94). There is a lack of
information about the administration of the
library during this time, records were not
well managed and, as a result, much of our
history has been lost.
I
n 2002, the President decided to create a
new mission for the library's documents
and archives, run by a specialist archivist,
and I joined the BnF at the beginning of
2004. My background is twenty-five years
of experience in the Archives of France for
the Ministry of Culture, which provided
the specialist knowledge that the President
required to run this new venture. The two
major goals were to put in place procedures
for dealing with administrative documents
(e.g. mail registration) and to track docu-
ments to find out who was using them and
where they are stored. My job is to manage
the almost 6 km of administrative archives
which have been collected since the sev-
enteenth century. Our aims are linked to
one of the higher-level aims of the BnF:
to manage and record our own personal
and financial affairs, which is currently not
at a high level within the structure of the
library.
A
lthough our mission is very modest
(only three people!), we have already
made some progress in tracking docu-
ments and discovering who their readers
are. For example, we have rich resources on
the tools used by the library _ for instance,
how the use of typewriters was introduced
to the BnF. This type of information is very
useful to historians or universities who are
interested in the history of an institution.
The histories hidden in archives like these
can be fascinating; here, the period of the
Second World War is of particular inter-
est as one of the library's administrators, a
famous librarian, Julien Cain, was captured
and deported to German camps in 1940
and took over the general administration
of the library again after the war, instead
of another administrator who was linked
with the Vichy government. New perspec-
tives on history, within both an institution-
al and a national context, can be discovered
through these archives, and in some cases
these records could be the only evidence of
historical facts.
T
here is, therefore, a necessity both to
show and explain these documents, and
to preserve contemporary documents for the
future. Managing the archives at the BnF has
two parts. The procedures of handling con-
temporary documents have a lot of similarity
with records management, whereas the his-
torical documents require a more traditional
archiving approach. My first task was to pre-
pare a report defining what was necessary in
terms of staff, budget and new tools in order
to achieve the President's aims of allowing
the team to proceed in planning and imple-
menting our archiving strategy.
O
ne difficulty that was immediate-
ly apparent is that the administra-
tive documents are widely dispersed. It is
perhaps not the best solution to centralise
documents as, although this makes stand-
ardisation of procedures easier, it separates
items from their creators or producers, and
in our case some individual departments
have been managing their own archives
for decades. It is more important simply to
know
where each file or document is and to
manage them wherever they are physically
located. Each item can be physically locat-
ed (be it in somebody's office or stored in
a stack) by its unique code. This approach
creates an easier relationship between the
library's departments and the archivist ­ it
is often not easy being an archivist in a
world of librarians! We have to ensure that
our work is complementary and that staff
members know that the purpose of good
archiving is not to lock the documents
away. Indeed, some items have a very long
period of usefulness where they are often
consulted and are required to be near the
people who need them. As, in our spe-
cially designed system, each office also has
a unique code, the management of where
items are stored becomes much easier.
We are still in the midst of setting up our
Wooded area within the four towers of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France
©
Daisy
Abbott,

HA
TII,

Uni
v
er
sity
of
Glasgo
w
,

2004