Like many, the Library of the Natural History Museum in Paris has invested in the acquisition of electronic documentation and the digitization of its holdings over the past 20 years in order to match researchers’ expectations and keep up with the massive dematerialization of scientific publications and data in the field of natural sciences. And it has been quite successful indeed, since researchers barely use the physical library anymore. What should we do now with our empty seats, reading rooms and reference staff? Should we close the Library or try to think differently about its mission and services? Designing the post-digital library and revisiting the potential of its materiality is not about going backwards. The digital experience and the dematerialization of cultural transactions has impacted our users’ lives in many ways. There are things people are starting to miss, senses that need to be reactivated. What if the library could be a good place to start addressing this sense of loss and look at the physical and social experience of a reading room or the discovery and manipulation of original, heritage collections as legitimate services of their own?
Located in between green houses, exhibition galleries, a botanical garden and a zoo, the Museum’s Library keeps exceptional collections including archives, manuscripts, sculptures, drawings, photographs, scientific instruments and even dead and living animals and plants - all stored in the stacks and backstage. The caretakers of this hidden treasure are also incredible storytellers. Our vision is that the future of the Library may somehow lie behind this scene, in the emotional and material strength and inspiration of this heritage and the passion of the people in charge of their conservation. Making the library “hyper-material” again may be our chance and our next challenge. This presentation will develop the vision of a post-digital library focused on human experience and tell the story of how its team has successfully engaged major organizational changes in order to start experimenting new forms of mediation and reach a totally new public.
A trained librarian graduated from ENSSIB (Ecole nationale des sciences de l’Information et des bibliothèques, Villeurbanne) with academic background in political science (Sciences Po, Paris) and communications (McGill University, Montreal) Gildas Illien served in French libraries in Norway and Austria for the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the nineties before spending 11 years at the National Library of France (BnF). Between 2005 and 2016, he specialized in digital innovation and management. His duties and areas of expertise et the BnF included legal deposit, web archiving, mass digitization, digital preservation, and linked open metadata. He was director of the French national bibliographic Agency and led the bibliographic transition national plan between 2011 and 2016. He was then appointed chief librarian and deputy director of collections at the Natural History Museum in Paris where he is currently developing new projects in line with his transformative and somewhat disruptive vision of what a “post-digital”, naturalist library could be.