Monday, April 21, 2008


I am leaving on a research trip to Paris - just a couple of weeks - next month. I planned this in part to return to one of the places I did some preliminary research "reconnaissance" last year.

I had such a great experience there (as I have at most every place I've done such research). The woman who is in charge of the library there was extremely kind, helped me a lot, and encouraged me to come back. She told me how nice it was to have a researcher like me come in - someone doing "actual research," since it turned out that most of the people she had appointments with are just random folks who are interested, not professional researchers working on a substantive project. She told me about some new, relevant resources the library had recently acquired at auction and said that when I came back, I should spend some time looking at them. She was so lovely, as I gushed in that blog post - as was the colleague she drew in to help me with a couple of questions.

Last week I wrote to her - not in any kind of overly familiar way, but reminding her that we had met last year and that she had suggested that I should look at X Resource in future. Could I set up some times to do that while I would be in Paris next month, I asked?

I got back quite a curt note - entirely different in tone from the emails I'd had from her the previous year - saying she could give me one three-hour appointment, and that they just didn't have the resources to see me more than that, normally, but that since I was coming from outside the country, she might see while I was there if she could give me one or two more appointments, but nothing more than that.

I was surprised by the whole thing - particularly the tone. But also because it had been she who suggested that I come back to look at this stuff. However, I wrote back a VERY grateful email, in which I said that I understood that they didn't have many resources and that it was very kind indeed of her to see me, and that I would come on the appointed date. I noted in an offhand way that we could, as she said, see at that point if there were one or two other times available.

Well. Clearly this has pissed her off, even though it was her idea. She wrote back a very irritated note which suggested I shouldn't expect any more time there, and reminded me of how very far she was going to even suggest additional appointments.

Dude. Chill. God.

If this had been the tone when I dealt with her last year, that would be one thing. But it seems like such an about-face, it's really confusing. There are probably internal politics, or funding issues, or job-loathing on her part, that I know nothing about. I just wish she wouldn't be so rude about it - what I've communicated to her is not at all demanding, and it is entirely laced with bowing-and-scraping.

Also, this just sucks because I had counted on being able to look at those resources - I expected to spend a few days there...she'd indicated before that this would be possible. There's another place I can go for other things, but she has me very curious at looking at these special resources; they would be extremely helpful to me.

Oh, sigh.


Anonymous said...

There is a lot of tensions in many French archives right now, because of some really stupid proposed changes in French law that will limit access to a lot of material. There is a huge movement to get an international petition signed against this, and even if this library isn't going to be directly affected by the proposed changes, I gather from the archivists I know that there is a lot of anxiety over it. A lot of libraries and archives are also pretty short-staffed, in part because of some changes in how the system works, so that might also be why she's been so curt. Maybe when you're there in person, she'll be easier to deal with; right now, she might see you as just one more person demanding something from her.

Hilaire said...

That is such a helpful comment, Anon - thank you so much! This really puts things in perspective. Thanks for dropping by. :)

K said...

That sucks, but I agree with Anon above that it's likely due to all of the political and other problems the libraries and archives in France are having. Once you get there and talk to her in person, maybe she'll remember you and your work and be more helpful. I hope you're able to get a lot done and that you'll have a little time to just indulge yourself in the wonders of Paris.

Thoroughly Educated said...

Glad Anon was able to give some useful perspective. It must have been awfully disconcerting to get that response from her. But hey, Trip! To! Paris! Excellent that that's a go.

Belle said...

Well, see, this is the kind of stuff they should mention in places like H-France... or did they? I remember one particularly horrifying day when I arrived at the archives in which I'd worked for months, and found a note that the archives were going to be closed for renovations, effective the next day! While it only inconvenienced me, all I could think about was the horror of people coming in from around the world, counting on access, and finding out that they couldn't get in. Yikes.

Good luck! And have a great trip; I was there this time last year and loving every minute in *my* archives.

Belle said...

H-France has a link to a petition about redressing such issues. I quote:

Opposition to the current bill on archives has gathered momentum. You have the opportunity to join it by signing the petition via

Hilaire said...

Thanks a million, Belle - I signed immediately. :)

medieval woman said...

Oh Grrr! That is annoying - but I'm glad that the tensions right now might have been the cause (rather than a change in her attitude toward you in particular). I can't wait to hear about your trip - I'm so excited about your lovely little flat on that beautiful hill!!