The March 2009 Bloodsucker award winner — the Bibliothèque Nationale Français

In early January I ordered images from the Bibliothèque Nationale Français of a manuscript of the unpublished 13th century Arabic Christian historian, al-Makin.  Today I received a CDROM containing two PDF’s.   The PDF’s were simply scans of a low-grade black-and-white microfilm, of about the same quality as a Google books scan.  One was 40Mb, the other 10Mb.  Together they totalled 640 images.  I also received my credit card bill; these two files cost me $400.

My feelings may be imagined.  At such prices, obtaining several manuscripts is impossible.  And… for that obscene price, could they not have photographed the things in colour?  The black and white images, of course, don’t scale.  The rubrics are lost in the text.  Quite how I print these things I do not know.

Oh yes.  Want a copy?  Well, they sent me a legal notice saying I can’t give you one.  You have to pay them again, if you want to see them.  These, remember, are publicly owned manuscripts!

This is disgusting.  So, with all these reasons in m ind, I award the Bibliothèque Nationale Français the second Bloodsucker award

I will award it, ad hoc, to institutions in receipt of state funding which in order to make money violate their primary directive; to make books available and promote learning.

Well done, chaps.  May you all rot in the hell reserved for those who knowingly obstruct the progress of learning.

My previous award was to the John Rylands Library in 2008, also for making it impossibly expensive to obtain a usable copy of a manuscript of al-Makin.

Postscript: I have now discovered that the photographs are of two-page spreads.  Most of the images have a large black band down the centre of the opening, wide enough to obscure the text on the inner margins.  Guess what?  Being black on white, this means that the ends of the words are all unreadable.  And this, for $400.  I have been forced to write back and point this out.  I may have to involve VISA, to recover money for substandard merchandise.  What’s the betting that they simply try to get me to pay yet more money?

UPDATE 6th March 2009: No reply from the BNF.  I’ve now written again and threatened (politely) to go to VISA for a refund.

3 Responses to “The March 2009 Bloodsucker award winner — the Bibliothèque Nationale Français”


  1. Nick Norelli

    I think you’d be justified in returning the CD-Rom and disputing the charge with your credit card company. I’m sure you could put that $400 to other helpful uses.

  2. Roger Pearse

    I probably could; I bet VISA wouldn’t be at all impressed. It might be in the public interest too! But I’d never get be able to get another image from the BNF, I suspect.

    It’s the sheer lack of accountability that gets me. These people live off the public dollar, yet treat us all like cattle to be milked.

  3. ikokki

    Alas, as a person who has studied in France and one who leaves in a country which has based its state on the French state (that would be Greece of course), I must say that for French-model states there is something that is never really understood by Anglo-Saxons: as Louis XIV did not say “L ètat c’est moi”.

    The Anglo Saxon model is that the state exists only as the manifestation of the will of the people. Since we have paid for for something by taxes, then we should not have to pay for it again. Hence the cost of sale of something is the cost of reproduction.

    The French model is that the state is something separate from the people: if it can make a profit from its holdings then it should. This way they will not need money from the national budget. Free things are only those that are of national importance, like education, health care etc …