Founded in 2006 in response to a request from the Association of College Libraries Western European Studies Section (ACRL-WESS), CIFNAL (Collaborative Initiative for French Language Collections) collaborates with Francophone partners in North America. Like the International Association of Francophone Librarians and Documentalists (AIFBD), CIFNAL is made up of working groups and external partners. The organization has several core objectives: identifying, locating, disseminating, enhancing and making visible the French and Francophone collections available in the university libraries of North America. Therefore, and because of its relationship with the Center for Research Libraries (CRL), CIFNAL sponsors a group to facilitate and improve access to the French and Francophone collections of the North American libraries: The Collection Development Working Group. It is composed of five members : Hélène Huet, Chair (University of Florida), Kelsey Corlett-Rivera (University of Maryland), Emma Popowich (University of Manitoba), Deborah Raftus (University of Washington) and Sarah Wenzel (University of Chicago).

The National School of Information Sciences and Libraries (ENSSIB), located in Villeurbanne near Lyon in France, has participated in international cooperation projects for several years. Thus, and because of its membership on the Board of the International Association of Francophone Librarians and Documentalists (AIFBD), ENSSIB decided to increase the number of partnerships with French-language universities and libraries in order to make the French and Francophone collections in the world visible. As a result, the institution became a partner of CIFNAL in 2008.

Wishing to identify the most important French and Francophone collections in university libraries in North America, the Collection Development Working Group from CIFNAL has collaborated with the National School of Information Sciences and Libraries (ENSSIB). To meet this need, International Relations Officer Raphaëlle Bats chose to recruit Anne-Charlotte Pivot, a student in Master 1 Cultures of Writing and Image (CEI) in order to carry out this project during a one-month volunteer internship from July 4 to July 28, 2017.

The project was to create an online database in order to catalog French and Francophone collections in North American university libraries. The first step was to carry out an inventory of the French and Francophone collections on the basis of a list created by the Western European Studies Section of the Association of College and Research Libraries: “Notable European Studies Holdings in North America.” Thereby, this database would have the classify the collections in the form of lists by collecting the French and Francophone collections available in the libraries of North America. The collections would be listed according to their theme, their language, their provenance and their current geographic location in North American universities.

Thus, as part of a distance internship in partnership with ENSSIB, Anne-Charlotte Pivot, student in Master 1 CEI, was in charge of finding a tool or software that could allow the creation of a database for CIFNAL. She proposed several options to the Collection Development Working Group, which chose the “Airtable” tool. With an extremely precise search function, this tool allows collaboration with others on the database through internal spaces and to make the data accessible to external users. Thus, Airtable was an optimal tool for this project.

Accessible from any electronic device (mobile, desktop, tablet), the Airtable tool is a SaaS (Software as a service) and its graphical user interface is similar to an Excel spreadsheet. It allows the unlimited storage of data and the export of data to a website. Finally, it is possible to share the data with other users around the world.

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The collections listed in the Airtable database are instantly saved and stored in six categories (Holding Institution, Language, Name of Collection, Geographical Focus of Collection, Link to Collection / Finding Aid). Named “CIFNAL BASE”, the database created by Anne-Charlotte Pivot via the Airtable tool allows keyword searching through a tab located at the top right of the interface. For example, by typing the name “Dumas”, of the 13 collections referring to the French writer Alexandre Dumas.

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Allowing users and researchers to view data, Airtable appears to be an optimal tool for the discovery of French and Francophone collections in North American university libraries by ensuring their dissemination and their accessibility for diverse audiences (students, researchers, teachers, etc.). 

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