"The massive diffusion of digital technology and the Internet at the turn of the century accelerated several trends that had been at work over the previous decades (...) In many respects, it is the very conception of culture - its contours and divisions, its autonomy and internal hierarchies, its social functions - that has been shaken"observed Olivier Donnat in 2008, head of the Ministry of Culture's survey on French cultural practices.The 2008 edition of this survey (renewed every ten years) highlighted the convergence of most cultural practices in front of "screens": "viewing images and listening to music, of course, but also reading texts or amateur practices, not to mention the now commonplace presence of screens in libraries, exhibition spaces and even sometimes in certain live performance venues. Everything is now potentially viewable on a screen and accessible through the Internet ". Olivier Donnat, however, observed that between 1997 and 2008, "cultural outings and visits have suffered much less in the trade-offs imposed by the rise of digital practices than certain leisure activities of ordinary time such as watching television or reading printed matter ".Since 2008, cultural facilities have been using digital technologies to digitize their collections. Everyone can now consult archives, exchange with other enthusiasts on their content, borrow a work, visit a museum. Sometimes without ever visiting the cultural institutions concerned.Are museums, libraries and archives to be transformed into resource centers, destined to become remote service providers?The 2018 edition of the Cultural Practices survey, the main instrument for monitoring the behavior of the French in the field of culture, will provide a better understanding of the hybridities that digital technology creates between the use of cultural facilities ("culture in situ") and "culture online". The first results are expected in the second half of 2018.While waiting for these results, the indicators and fragmentary studies published by the Ministry of Culture and by Archives de France already suggest that these " in situ culture/online culture " hybridizations draw very contrasting trajectories depending on the cultural facilities.
The availability of online digital resources has not decreased library use. It has probably even contributed to the growth in the number of library users (+23% since 200). Young people are the most frequent users of libraries.
On the other hand, the digitization of archives has literally emptied the reading rooms of archives. More than 562 million pages and images have been digitized by the archives: 72% of these digitized documents are available online. Now, in the departmental archives, the ratio between the number of readers registered in the reading room and the number of unique visitors is one to one hundred.
As far as museums and monuments are concerned, the picture is more nuanced. In 2016, 44% of French people visited a museum or exhibition, 9% more than four years ago. To what extent is this increase attributable to the digital tools implemented by museums and monuments (ticketing, in the first place) to stimulate attendance? As for virtual visits to an exhibition, museum or monument, in 2016 they concerned only 15% of French people.
Digital technology does not harm library attendance. On the contrary...
The development of the Internet, of search engines, and the digitization of an increasing number of books have confronted the library world with an existential crisis: why should the public continue to visit libraries if they can find the information and books they are looking for online?The survey on the use of municipal libraries in 2016 highlighted a profound and long-term change in the relationship between the French and their libraries.
40% of French people aged 15 and over have visited a municipal library at least once in the last 12 months (35% in 2005, 25.7% in 1997). This attendance rate does not take into account the under-15s, who represent 40% of the registered public.
The number of municipal library users has increased by 23% since 2005, an increase of more than 4 million users, while at the same time the French population has only grown by 4%.
Young people are the most frequent users of libraries: use of municipal libraries by 15-24 year olds increased by 14% between 2005 (39%) and 2016 (53%). There was also a significant increase for those aged 35-49, with a six-point increase in the share of users between 2005 and 2016. Attendance among other age groups, however, remained stable.43% of library users have had an activity using computers or the library's online services. This finding contradicts "the assumption that libraries are being rendered obsolete by the online services available on the Internet," the study's authors note. "Although the municipal library continues to enjoy a strong legitimacy, including among non-users, the tendency that they are no longer a "sacred" place but a facility whose function can be questioned is progressing among the latter, especially in view of digital developments in society."
Libraries, places of digital mediation
For the past decade, libraries around the world have been rethinking their buildings, their reception and their services in light of the digital revolution. They have undertaken to bring together traditional books and digital books (e-books), shelves and computers in the same place. This "hybrid library" gives access to digitized books (the "digital libraries") as well as to digital service packages.97% of libraries with 40,000 or more inhabitants have a dedicated website (56% for libraries with less than 5,000 inhabitants).The acquisition of digital resources is still marginal in the library budgetThe equipment of libraries with reading stations and wifi has thus transformed the expectations of the public; if they visit libraries, it is now also to benefit from an Internet connection.
20% growth in 2017 for the National Library of France's online services
The Bibliothèque Nationale de France (BNF) reports 1.3 million visitors to all of its sites: bnf.fr, Gallica, Retronews, catalog resources, data.bnf.fr. This represents a 20% increase in the number of visitors, with 36 million visits.The progression of digital uses does not harm but rather contributes to boosting attendance at BnF's sites and reading rooms: this increased by 13% compared to 2016. The reading rooms received 920,000 visitors, thus returning to a level of attendance that had not been reached for 5 years. Attendance at events, meanwhile, increased by 60%.
Archive services: the rise of online consultation has emptied the reading rooms
The digitization of archives has democratized the consultation of archives. Several million French people use them, mostly for genealogical research. More than 2.2 billion documents were consulted on the sites of national, regional, departmental and municipal archives in 2016.In 2016, archive sites had a total of 52 million logins, recording 2.2 billion page views: the 4% decrease in 2016 was the result of better indexing to make it easier to reach the document you are looking for.For the departmental archives alone, the number of unique visitors has reached ten million, and a visitor may be counted several times if he or she consults the archives of several departments. 93% of them turn to the archives for genealogical research.As Gaël Chenard, Director of the Hautes-Alpes departmental archives, notes, "this transformation in usage took archivists by surprise because of its speed and scope. We thought that our help was essential to use the archives well and that the impossibility of mediating through the Internet was an insurmountable obstacle to dematerialization. We also thought that we should defend our reading rooms as places of sociability. It is actually debatable whether a reading room, presumed to be silent, is a real place of sociability, unlike the Internet, which is now the world's largest network for mutual aid and sharing. The departmental archives were in fact overwhelmed by the consequences of their own policy and began to discover with concern - even horror - that Internet users were in fact very autonomous, and had no need for direct contact with the original document."
Digital technology is boosting attendance at museums, exhibitions and monuments... without expanding their audience(s)
44% of French people have used the internet in connection with a heritage visit in the past 12 months (+7 points compared to June 2014).The fastest-growing uses are for more practical purposes, such as finding information (+9%) and booking tickets (+7%).The profile of people who use the Internet to prepare or accompany these visits corresponds substantially to those who already visit museums and monuments "in situ": 79% of graduates with a bachelor's degree or higher use the Internet to prepare or accompany their visits, compared to 49% of bachelor's degree graduates and 31% of high school graduates. Cleavages persist despite the beginning of a social decompartmentalization".Only 15% of French people surveyed have taken a virtual tour of an exhibition, museum or monument.Online visits are combined with a physical visit "in situ" in more than 9 cases out of 10. Conversely, 9% of French people who had an online activity related to museums and monuments did not visit this type of place during the year.According to the head of studies at the Directorate General of Heritage, "current data do not confirm the hypothesis of a broadening of the public through digital technology, even if online uses, without physical visits, are emerging for certain populations.
Is an online visitor worth less than an in situ visitor?
"In France, cultural policies are traditionally thought of in terms of cultural development of the territory and attendance of facilities,"observes Christopher Miles, Secretary General of the Ministry of Culture. "By creating new spaces, which are massively invested by the whole population (and very often around cultural content), the digital era forces us to reexamine these historical missions: should cultural policies continue to give priority to the attendance of establishments? Is a visitor online worth less than a visitor in situ?"If archives are called upon to become "remote service providers", this is not the case for libraries.The expectations and uses of the public, as well as the evolution of what is offered, are leading to a "library-third place": silent areas are being combined with coworking spaces, meeting rooms, relaxation areas, cafés, and places to watch films."Breaking with an elitist vision of culture, the library-third place refuses to be a place of prescription of knowledge. It addresses all forms of popular culture and its cultural offer is diverse and varied.On the other hand, the digital transition is confronting museums and monuments with new choices: should digital technology be used primarily to stimulate and improve attendance? Or diversify the digital offer to reach new audiences, broaden the visibility of works and their circulation?