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UKPounds:830m library where you can't find a book

UKPounds:830m library where you can't find a book

FRENCH academics were in despair yesterday as the country's showcase
National Library plumbed new depths of absurdity and incompetence.

Writing in Le Figaro, three eminent professors denounced the building
that was President Mitterrand's most extravagant brainchild as a
"sinister farce" that had undermined the edifice of French research.

Their attack came as the National Assembly established an inquiry into
an Fr8 billion (UKPounds:830 million) project that Mitterrand once
said would give rise to the "world's biggest and most modern

With Parisians joking that, in the two years since its opening, it has
turned into the world's biggest fiasco, MPs will report on the series
of floods, strikes and fist-fights between frustrated users and
bad-tempered staff.

They will also try to explain the extraordinary computerised obstacle
course that prevents all but the most determined from obtaining any of
the 11 million tomes stored in the grandly named Biblioth=E8que
Nationale de France-Fran=E7ois Mitterrand.

Yesterday, at the foot of one of the four glass L-shaped towers that
constitute the library, C=E9cile de Bary, 32, was engaged in an heroic
struggle with the information system in search of half a dozen works
housed somewhere in the 295ft tower. After 15 minutes surfing on a
public computer screen, she had got nowhere. "Non, non, non," she
groaned, wringing her hands in a Gallic gesture of dismay.

"It's going to take me at least an hour to track down the books and
I've only been able to reserve a reading desk for Friday, so I will
have to come back then. It's terrible. No, it's worse than that."

In January, anger at the UKPounds:42 million computer system exploded
as researchers attacked staff, badly injuring a pregnant employee who
lost her baby as a result.

The 2,500 staff went on strike for the second time in three months and
were persuaded to return only when the management said it would shut
the library on Mondays to ensure a stress-free start to the week. But
that fuelled the fury of academics who said they would have even less
chance of finding their books.

Their mood darkened further during the March rains when the library's
basement was flooded, causing concern that ancient manuscripts could
be in danger.

In Le Figaro, the three professors, Marie-Madeleine Fontaine,
Anne-Marie Lecoq and Michel Crouzet, described the building as being
like the Titanic. International academics were being driven away
because they could not retrieve documents from the library, they said,
adding that "everyone knows that it is no longer worth coming to work
in Paris". The situation amounted to a real catastrophe.

"This place is mad; the worst library I've ever come across," said
Stephan Albrecht, 36, a lecturer in the history of art at the
University of T=FCbingen in southern Germany. "It's hard to get the
books and when you do, they are often the wrong ones."

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