A few notes on COVID-19 in France and the UK, at Cambridge UL, and in French publications

As in other parts of society, the pandemic has been challenging on both a professional and personal level and has affected University library staff in a number of ways. In France and the UK, the public understanding and political reaction to the coronavirus pandemic started in mid to late March 2020. On 11 March, the World Health Organisation classified COVID-19 as a pandemic. In France, visits to retirement homes were forbidden. On 12 March, all French nurseries, schools and universities were closed, and on 13 March, all non-essential public places. Although on 15 March the first round of city council elections was controversially maintained, on 16 March President Emmanuel Macron banned all non-essential travel and announced a mandatory home confinement – which was eventually extended until 11 May. At the beginning of June, cafés and restaurants were allowed to reopen and the travel ban of 100 km was lifted; later in June, leisure centres and schools reopened, as well as travel with non-EU countries from 1 July. From 24 July, face coverings became compulsory in all public indoor spaces. Later in the autumn and winter 2020-2021, with new peaks of infections, more sanitary measures were reinstated, including curfews (as well as the compulsory, but much derided, ‘Autorisation de sortie’ outing forms) and closure of restaurants and museums. Since July 2021, a Health pass (also controversial, and implying full vaccination, a negative test of, or a certificate of recovery from Covid) is required to attend venues of over 50 people.

In the UK, after initial advice against non-essential travel and attending leisure venues, on 23 March 2020 schools were closed and Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a stay-at-home order, banning social gatherings, and restricting non-essential travel and outdoor activity. At Cambridge University Library, most people working in our Collections and Academic Liaison department started working from home on 23 March 2020; a few members of staff decided to go on furlough. Some relaxation of the lockdown happened in England on 10 May, when those who could not work from home were advised to go to work, and outdoor exercise was not restricted anymore. In June, some classes reopened in primary schools. From 8 June, a 14-days self-isolation was required for travellers entering England from abroad, which lasted until 2 July, when this was relaxed for a large number of countries (the quarantine was suddenly re-established for travellers returning from France from 15 August). The wearing of face coverings was only required on public transport from 15 June, and in indoor shops and public spaces from 24 July. In England, with a new wave of infections, a three-tier framework was introduced in the autumn, then a second lockdown took place in November 2020, and a third one from January to March 2021. With an increased number of vaccinations, a gradual reopening took place until the month July, despite the development of the new Delta variant.

While the library was closed in the spring of 2020, print books were not accessible to readers anymore, and there was a huge emphasis on electronic resources, with additional resources made available for the purchase of large anglophone ebook packages, notably EBSCO Ebook Academic Collection and Proquest Academic Complete (see for example the bibliography of e-resources on Black Lives Matter and decolonisation in the Francophone world), but it also meant some cuts to the budgets for foreign languages acquisitions. A number of publishers (including French language Classiques Garnier, Brepols, Cairn, Droz…) helpfully opened up for free their databases and ebooks or ejournals collections, as a temporary measure, because of the lockdown. A major development in French ebooks acquisitions was the creation of the Amalivre ebooks online platform – long awaited, it was finally released in May 2021!

Working from home also enabled us to work on different cataloguing projects. At the end of June and beginning of July 2020, some University Library staff went back into the building (with new social distancing procedures), and new zero-contact services were introduced: Click and collect, for readers to order and borrow books; and Scan and Deliver of articles and parts of print books which were sent by email as digital files. In August 2020, readers were able to Book a visit and consult non-borrowable material, and the Ask a curator service was opened for enquiries regarding Special collections. Collections and Academic Liaison staff only resumed coming back to work in the building from August onwards and then took part in the Print Operations Recovery, with streamlined workflows for processing and cataloguing print books, especially readers’ requests. In September 2020, faculty libraries also started to reopen.

From November 2020, the second lockdown and third lockdown in England drastically reduced the number of Collections and Academic Liaison staff allowed to work in the department, a situation which lasted until May 2021. During that time, I had a baby girl and was on maternity leave, just after having trained (remotely) a new French assistant, with the help of my colleagues! From May onwards, more staff and readers were able to come back into the buildings, including to consult Rare books and Manuscripts; the Ghost Words: Reading the past exhibition on palimpsest manuscripts finally opened in the Milstein centre. From mid-September 2021, it has no longer been necessary for readers to book a place before visiting the University Library (apart from those using Special collections). There are now more readers in the building, which had been extremely quiet, but the footpath at the beginning of this new academic year is still quite reduced compared to previous years. We are also looking forward to the forthcoming display of 1870-71 Franco-Prussian caricatures on the first floor of the University Library. As for the Collections and Academic Liaison department, the rules on its occupancy level have been relaxed, and more people are now expected to come into the library to work, especially as some reader services such as late duties and Saturday duties have now resumed, though we still currently expect to continue to work in a hybrid way, partially from the office and partially from home…

As is to be expected, the COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdown led to a number of creative, analytic or polemic French language publications (see the new Library of Congress Subject Heading ‘COVID-19 Pandemic, 2020’).

In France, the introduction of the ‘Pass Sanitaire’ is one of the latest rules which has led to social and political protests and demonstrations.

Acquisitions for the French collections (some on order) include so far:

  • Personal testimonies
    • the diary Sine die : chronique du confinement (19 mars-12 mai 2020) / Éric Chevillard; dessins de François Ayroles, L’Arbre vengeur, 2021 (C206.d.6483)
    • Covid-19, témoignages de Guinée : le livre au service de la lutte contre la Covid-19 / Kaba Diakité, Sansy, L’Harmattan, 2020 (C217.c.7453)
    • La vague : l’épidémie vue du terrain / Piarroux, Renaud, CNRS, 2020 (C217.c.7298)
    • Tracts de crise : un virus et des hommes, 18 mars-11 mai 2020, Gallimard, 2020 (C206.d.7770)
    • the graphic novel Au coeur de la vague / Chappatte, Les Arènes, 2020 (Prix franceinfo de la BD 2021, on order)
  • Artistic and literary works produced during the lockdown
    • Soukhos: Heng Long Leather / Raphaël Barontini, RVB Books, 2020 (S950.a.202.181);
    • Les murs du confinement : street art et Covid-19 / Marie Christian et Cyrille Benhamou, Omniscience, 2020 (S950.e.202.2)
    • or the poetry collection by André Velter Séduire l’univers / avec sept tracés sonores de Jean Schwarz; précédé de À contre-peur avec quatre ciels de Marie-Dominique Kessler, Gallimard, 2021 (C206.d.6728)
  • Philosophical and psychological reflexions on the pandemic
    • Jean-Luc Nancy, Un trop humain virus, Bayard, 2020 (C206.d.7660)
    • Michel Onfray, La vengeance du pangolin : penser le virus, Robert Laffont, 2020 (C217.c.7297)
    • Vulnérables : une philosophie du risque / Alain Renaut et Geoffroy Lauvau, PUF, 2021 (C206.d.6953)
    • Lucien Ayissi, Méditations philosophiques d’un confiné sur coronavirus suivies de Dix méditations supplémentaires, L’Harmattan, 2021 (C217.c.4338)
    • Bruno Latour, Où suis-je? leçons du confinement à l’usage des terrestres,  La Découverte, 2021 (C206.d.7828)
    • Jean-Claude Kaufmann, C’est fatigant, la liberté … une leçon de la crise, Éditions de l’Observatoire, 2021 (C217.c.4410)
  • Works on the social aspects and consequences of the sanitary crisis
    • Covid : anatomie d’une crise sanitaire / Jean-Dominique Michel, Humensciences, 2020 (C217.c.7688)
    • Le monde d’aujourd’hui : les sciences sociales au temps de la Covid, dir. M. Lazar, G. Plantin et X. Ragot, Presses de la Fondation nationale des sciences politiques, 2020 (C206.d.7868)
    • Personne ne bouge : une enquête sur le confinement du printemps 2020 sous la direction de Nicolas Mariot, Pierre Mercklé et Anton Perdoncin, Univ. Grenoble-Alpes, 2021 (C217.c.794)
    • La société malade / Jean-Pierre Le Goff, Stock, 2021 (C217.c.4169)
    • L’explosion des inégalités: classes, genre et générations face à la crise sanitaire sous la direction de Anne Lambert et Joanie Cayouette-Remblière, Éditions de l’Aube, 2021 (C217.c.3445)
    • Sorbonnavirus : regards sur la crise du coronavirus, dir. Pierre-Marie  Chauvin et Annick Clement, Presses de l’Université Paris-Sorbonne, 2021 (C206.d.7771)
  • Writings on its political implications
    • La grande confusion : comment l’extrême-droite gagne la bataille des idées / Philippe Corcuff, Textuel, 2020 (C217.c.5331)
  • Analyses of its effects on the urban landscape and environment
    • La résurrection des villes face à la Covid-19 : les opportunités de la revitalisation et la régénération urbaines sous la direction de Marie-Christine Steckel-Assouère, L’Harmattan, 2021, Amalivre ebook
    • Guy Burgel, Ville et Covid : un mariage de raisons, Karthala, 2021 (C217.c.7835)

Irène Fabry-Tehranchi

E-resources on Black Lives Matter and decolonisation in the Francophone world

Over the years, Cambridge University Library has gathered an important collection of Francophone and (North) African / Caribbean material and postcolonial studies, through a selection policy in foreign languages and translations beyond what we receive by legal deposit. It ranges from history to philosophy, literature, sociology, politics or arts (see previous blogpost on “Black models” in visual culture and modern arts). However, only some of these resources are available as ebooks: unfortunately, few titles in French are currently available online, with the exception of the Open Access platform OpenEdition. A lot of extra (Anglophone) resources were opened to members of the University of Cambridge on temporary access during the COVID-19 outbreak. Cambridge University Library has just subscribed to the packages EBSCO Ebook Academic Collection and Proquest Academic Complete, which total c. 400,000 ebooks. Gallica, the online portal of the French national libraryholds many resources (digitised books and periodicals), but because of copyright, only extracts are available for many relevant works. The list below, which is completed by additional bibliographic e-resources on the French collections website, is only indicative and focuses on the 20th century.  Continue reading

History and memory: French comic books and graphic novels at Cambridge University Library

Comic books (bandes dessinées or BDs) and graphic novels (romans graphiques) are a very important and successful part of French and Francophone publications. A report on the Bande Dessinée was commissioned by the French Ministry of Culture and published in January 2019, ahead of BD 2020, l’année de la bande dessinée. It contained several proposals for better symbolic and institutional recognition for the “9th art”: a stronger local, national and international dissemination and promotion, and an ambitious education policy. 2020 is thus officially « L’année de la bande-dessinée à la BnF »: the French national Library has engaged in a series of printed and online publications as well as events on the topic (prolonged up to 31st June 2021 because of the coronavirus crisis) and has even developed an app, “BDnF, la Fabrique à BD“, for you to try and create your own comic book. The app is accompanied by tutorials, and examples of creations in different sub-genres (including comic strip, manga, webtoon…), based on a selection of digital images from archival BnF documents. You can also read entire comic books online: during the lockdown, publishers such as La Boite à Bulles or Dargaud opened up some of their collections; every month, you can access a free volume on the website of Les Humanoïdes Associés. You can also read online comic books on the Institut Français digital library Culturethèque (sign up for free with your email address), or browse the digitised collections of the Cité internationale de la bande dessinée et de l’image, based in Angoulème, where takes place a major annual International Comics Festival.

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Québécois literature and the first London edition of “Festival America”

The French collections at Cambridge University Library aim to capture a broad range of Francophone literature. Though quite a few Francophone writers have contracts with French publishing houses, we also buy publications from North Africa, the Caribbean, and Québec (readers’ recommendations for Cambridge University library, especially for Francophone material, are always welcome).

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French-speaking literature and literary prizes outside of France

When we think of French literature, the first names that spring to mind are those of the great metropolitan writers such as Proust or Balzac. But “la francophonie” is not limited to mainland France ; besides overseas territories and parts of Belgium, Switzerland and Canada, French is widely spoken in North West Africa, where France used to be the colonial power. Morocco, Tunisia, Ivory Coast, Senegal, Mauritania, Togo among others still have French as their official language, and l’Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie comprises 80 member states from all over the world. When speaking of French literature, one should not forget the contribution of writers from overseas, and that many a book written in French may in fact have been penned by an African author.

Examples of Haitian and Congolese prizewinners

Examples of Haitian and Congolese prizewinners

French-speaking countries and overseas territories’ contribution to French literature is not recent: XIXth century writer Alexandre Dumas was the son of a mixed-race former slave from Saint-Domingue ; in 1921 Batouala, written by René Maran, from Martinique, was the first novel penned by a Black person to be awarded the prestigious French literary prize Goncourt ; and the XXth century poet Saint-John Perse was born and spent his childhood in Guadeloupe. One important movement in French-speaking literature is “la Négritude”, founded in the 1930s by Martinican poet Aimé Césaire and Senegalese poet and politician Léopold Sédar Senghor. Contemporary writer and Nobel-prize winner Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio is Franco-Mauritian, and Haitian author Dany Laferrière has recently become a member of the Académie Française. Continue reading