House of Chemistry

- You know this tale by Edgar Poe, beautifully translated by Baudelaire, “the stolen letter”. The police look for a letter of extreme importance in an apartment, they search everywhere in the most bizarre nooks and crannies, they undo the slats on the floor, they smash pillows… and the letter is, in fact, there in front of everyone’s eyes, hanging in front of the chimney, and yet no one sees it.

- It sounds like a truism to say so, but it should not be a “stolen letter”; it is, in any case, my conviction that in these first decades of the 21st century, digital technology is the most important issue for culture and the economy generated by culture.

- For, without going as far as the "entertainment society" that Guy DEBORD and the situationists blame, in a society of service and communication like ours, the economy generated by culture is enormous. It resists the crisis very well and has very significant development potential.

- Entertainment industries;

- Applied arts;

-- Mode etc.

- We know that we will be judged by future generations / we are already judged, in the cultural field as elsewhere / more than elsewhere, on our ability to set up and support the digital revolution.

- Whether it is with the issue of copyright, with the passionate debates surrounding digitization and the online presentation of our book heritage (the BnF debate), but also with images and sounds, with the issue of accessibility to all of creation and heritage, I identified the digital revolution as the central issue of the Ministry of Culture and Communication.

But we are at a crossroads – many factors meet today. There are convergences that are not coincidences, but are the result of a context.

1) Upon my arrival at MCC, I asked my advisors to give me an update on the digitization of heritage and creation.

However, it is clear that everywhere, both within the Ministry itself and in the public institutions that depend on it, the digitization policy has reached a stage of maturation, which will have to be made to bear fruit and greatly amplified.

Everywhere, things are happening:

- Ministry of Culture and Communication.

Several million documents are already freely accessible from

The "collections" tab provides access to 3 million records and 2 million heritage images.

- In our establishments:

In our museums:

- At the Louvre: The “Atlas” database provides access to the 30,000 works on display at the museum. The computerized inventory of graphic arts is rich in 140,000 sheets on the works of the collections.

- At the Musée d'Orsay: 85% of collections are digitized and accessible free of charge online, and most works are accompanied by notices.

- National Museums Meeting: was the world’s largest art image bank with 500,000 images of artwork.

Audiovisual heritage

- The CNC is ready to launch a comprehensive plan to digitise and exploit French film and audiovisual production, covering 13,000 films and 70,000 hours of audiovisual creations.

- INA where Emmanuel HOOG does remarkable things.

= Has already fully digitized his video background and is ready to continue digitizing:

=> film fund: 51,600 hours remain (out of 114,050h or 45%) until 2015;

=> radio fund 236,850 hours remain (out of 442,608 hours or 54%) until 2015;

=> Photo holdings will be digitized at a rate of 50,000 photos per year over the next five years.

+ Mediterranean archives: a treasure to share.

- BnF: everyone knows Gallica, and Europeana, the European digital library. Gallica currently offers 830,000 documents, including 302,000 in text mode. The site was a major success with 3.1 million visits in 2008.

All these operations are great, but it is the institutions that bear the cost and the weight, in order still a little scattered. It is necessary to help them to speed up and improve coordination. Everything is launched, everything is there before our eyes, and yet we do not see it. Like a stolen letter. Why? Because there is no single entrance.

ANNOUNCEMENT: It is urgent to set up a unique gateway to French cultural heritage on the Internet

The stakes are high:

- Access to culture and heritage in today’s and tomorrow’s society will depend on digital technology or not. There is a kind of technological credibility and even “digital prestige”.

- It is a social issue of equality. I will not rewrite Bourdieu: everyone knows perfectly well the role of culture in social distinctions. Today, making it easier for everyone, especially the most vulnerable, to access art and culture is one of my priorities at MCC.

=> This is why I have defined three main areas of action:

- attachment to the wealth and diversity of heritage;

- a social culture, which today implies an openness to a multicultural France that exists and creates, in progress, the heritage of tomorrow;

- the requirement of transmission: it meets the energetic setting up, with my colleague from Education Nationale, Mr. Luc CHATEL, of arts and cultural education in classes as well as the teaching of the history of the arts. It meets the recent and firm commitment of my ministry in the dissemination of scientific knowledge, another cardinal point of the «knowledge economy» that we are building. I turn to Claudie Haigneré, whom I received a few weeks ago, and who knows that I am attached to this great challenge of bringing citizens, young people in particular, to all knowledge, scientific or «literary» and artistic: there are the hard sciences and there are the humanities, which, through study and reflection, make our heritage a living soil, always renewed – cf. history, archaeology etc.

The requirement of transmission also meets, finally, our challenges of digital development.

And here I turn to the Google representative to tell him two things:

I want to emphasize first that MCC is not in a defensive position. He is not opposed to the idea of using private providers. We are not in the Soviet Union! I am simply saying that when it comes to the cultural heritage of a country like France, as any other country, digitization requires guarantees and expertise.

There are questions, questions even sometimes, but this is not the place to ask them.

2) There are therefore three major projects that I would like to propose to the committee chaired by Alain Juppé and Michel Rocard on the major national loan.

1. Accelerated and coordinated digitization of print.

2. The digitization of cinemas and our entire cinematographic heritage of today and yesterday so that our films and audiovisual creations are ready to be seen in high definition and adapted to the technical requirements of tomorrow’s broadcasting networks, which is far from the case. The sustainability of this precious heritage is at stake.

3. The establishment of Digital Radio, RNT (Terrestrial Digital Radio) and Personal Mobile Television, TMP. This issue is not technical, it is ethical and political. It is ethical. It is also an issue of diversity of cultural expressions. We do not know enough, but Internet television and web radio are, to date, outside the guarantees of an authority such as the CSA, which allows television and radio to be spaces of law, rules and civilized spaces. We must accelerate and develop the transition from traditional media to digital. It is a necessity to preserve the funding and exhibition of cultural diversity. This is an emergency to which the large loan can be a response.


My colleagues Michel MERCIER, Christian ESTROSI and Hervé NOVELLI have rightly defended the need for a strong ambition for the widest possible coverage of our territory in terms of broadband. But if this infrastructure is necessary, it only makes sense if it can provide rich and diversified services and content that will help combat inequalities in knowledge and access to culture, as well as promoting artistic and cultural diversity and thereby further developing the volume of the “culture economy”.

The importance of culture in our knowledge societies must not be our “stolen letter”…