A former member of the European Collections and Cataloguing team, now living in Paris, recently sent me a link to an article in a French newspaper about Michael Edwards, who in February 2013 was the first Briton to be elected to the Académie française, where he occupies ‘fauteuil 31’. Her email ended rather ominously ‘I’m afraid you have gaps’, but Eléonore not infrequently spots important gaps in our holdings.
Sir Michael Edwards is a poet, philosopher and cultural historian, knighted in 2014 for services to UK-French cultural relations. After completing a thesis on Racine and four years living in France, he spent much of his career at the University of Warwick, where he was Professor of English and Comparative Literature. In 2002 he became the first British academic to be elected to the Collège de France, holding the chair for the Study of Literary Creation in the English Language. He broadcasts regularly on France Culture, on English and French literature, on painting, music and philosophy. And now he is a French Academician, making reference in his inaugural address on May 22nd 2014 to his undergraduate years in Cambridge. Michael Edwards maintains close links with Cambridge, where he is an honorary fellow of Christ’s College.
How then did it come about that the Library’s coverage of Edwards’s publications was so patchy? Firstly we have to admit that it points to ignorance on the part of the University Library’s French selectors, in that he had not been identified as a major writer and scholar at an earlier stage. That shouldn’t have happened, but it indicates what a lottery good library coverage can be. I imagine a careless assumption has often been made, on seeing a very English name and French titles, that these must be translated from English originals which we would have. Especially since a number of his books are about Shakespeare, and topics such as Edgar Allan Poe and English poetry. This week we have ordered 12 back titles by Michael Edwards, and added his name to the list of contemporary authors we collect, so we will hopefully now pick up any of his new publications as they appear.
Developing the collections is a collaborative effort. The modern French collections will only be strong if our users repeatedly draw our attention to gaps in coverage. Whilst drafting this post, a doctoral student drew my attention to the work of the historian and anthropologist Philippe Artières, President of the Centre Michel Foucault, so we are now going through the same procedure with him – first identifying any titles we have missed which are still in print, and then adding his name to our list for future reference. I am always so pleased to receive these more general recommendations. Acting on them is a time-consuming activity, but also a stimulating and rewarding one, from which Josh, Katharine and I take great satisfaction.