“Narratives fundamentally contribute to the development of societies, cultures, and identities. Deprived of this ability to tell themselves what they used to be, what they are and what they could be, identities would be divested of the power to transform their reference points embedded in language and in the whole symbolic field” [Saillant, Lachance, 2012, p. 7]. The same can be said about public libraries, institutions which have been seeking scientific, political and social legitimacy since their emergence in the middle of the modern era.
These narratives do not only fall under the field of history, even though they share with it a sense of linearity and veracity as well as significant breaks; they are also the basis of the mediation of heritage items, responding to a demand for democratisation. Yet, as anthropologists and ethnologists are well aware of, there can be no transmission without narratives [Derèze, 1997]. Moreover, “the choice of a narrative model—or, more precisely, an “exhibition”—is also the choice of a mode of knowledge” [Revel, 1996, p. 33]: narratives make the very idea of the library intelligible and linked to other histories (regional, national) in the set of cultural tools deployed by public authorities, whether this idea comes from the general public, from library officers or from political authorities themselves.
Heritage, however, is as much the product of administrative procedures as a “fact of language”, which inscribes it in the public space [Cerclet, 1998, p. 90]. The mediation of collections and of the library as an institution is based on narratives being rehashed, on “beautiful stories” that can seduce the public and feed various daydreams, not without making use of some inaccuracies and enduring stereotypes, in order to better correspond to the horizon of expectations of the public and to favour “the narrative identity of a community”, as formulated by Paul Ricœur [1985, p. 446]. This fictionalisation of the history of libraries or documents—making great use of rhetorical effects and standardisation of characters such as librarians, donors, town councillors, readers—has been overlooked for the time being, even though it undoubtedly explains a large part of the different systems of representations in which public libraries are part.
Thus, and to distance itself from a point of view solely based on history or library science to write about public libraries, as well as from a study of libraries as a literary object, this issue of Balisages intends to explore the place and shape of narratives within the mediation: 1) of documentary objects—in libraries, mostly—but also in archives or museums, at least by way of comparison, in a logic that is both diachronic (from the middle of the nineteenth century to the present day) and synchronic, in France and elsewhere; 2) of the institutions that preserve these collections, which amounts to questioning the place of narratives in the discourse of legitimisation and self-legitimisation of cultural facilities.
Aside from any value judgement on the gap between mediation and erudition, we would like with this issue to bring to light, thanks to various case studies, the process that gathers the elements of this history, simplifies it and re-uses it in the public sphere.
Proposals for articles should fall under one of the following themes:
What is the link between these narratives about libraries and history, which is in itself a form of narrative [Chartier, 1994], especially when mediation affects heritage collections that are part of various temporalities? What distortions, simplifications, schematisations can be observed between scholarly history and the narratives that support mediation? What authorities are called upon to build these narratives (archaeologists, historians, architects, librarians…)?
What are the invariable and the distinguishing elements of these narratives? Is it possible to recreate narrative “families”, a typology of rhetorical devices at work in these narratives? What place do they assign to libraries and to written heritage in society? What values do they convey?
What does narrativity bring to mediation? What part do imagination, feelings and emotions play in it? How is it rendered (e.g. in a popular / scholarly publication; exhibition / visitor’s tour)? This dimension should be linked to the emergence, over the past ten years or so, of “libraries-museums” where the collections are designed for a non-reading public—as in Sélestat, Épinal, Troyes, Carpentras, or Cambrai. Who does this mediation involve (library officers, elected officials, historians, learned societies…)?
April 2021: publication of the call for papers
28th June 2021: submission of manuscripts for peer-review (about 5,000 characters’ spaces included, not including bibliography)
15th July 2021: acceptance or rejection of proposals
15th November 2021: receipt of whole articles for peer-review
17th January 2022: referees’ reports
21st February 2022: receipt of final versions of manuscripts
April 2022: publication of the 4th issue of the journal Balisages
Submissions in both French and English are welcome.
The summaries must be approximately between 3,000 and 5,000 characters long (including spaces) and must be anonymised.
The texts must be approximately between 30,000 and 40,000 characters long (including spaces) and must be anonymised.
Authors are encouraged to comply with the guidelines for authors concerning the formatting of the text and the standardisation of bibliographic references.
Article proposals should be sent to the coordinator of this special issue in the format of their choice (doc, odt or md) : Fabienne Henryot (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Manuscripts will be subject to 2 blind peer reviews by a peer review committee whose members will be selected according to their field of expertise, upon receipt of the articles.
Its members are responsible for the double-blind peer review procedure. The committee is renewed for each thematic issue according to the area of expertise requested.