This website offers a digital collection of the most famous French texts. Created in 1993 and hosted at the Conservatoire National des Arts et Metiers (CNAM, Paris), ABU stands for "Association des Bibliophiles Universels", a group of volunteer scholars and independent editors committed to developing a high quality, free and easy-to-use collection of digital texts. The collection currently includes 288 titles of books by 101 authors. The goal of the Association is to offer a maximum of texts in the public domain to teachers, students and scholars for pedagogical or research purposes.
Type of Material:
Literary and non-literary texts in HTML format. Search engine in development.
For classroom or independent study of French literature
Identify Major Learning Goals:
To develop knowledge of French literature and culture.
Target Student Population:
Advanced students in literature and culture courses. Intermediate students at the college level may be introduced to this resource, especially in areas where French books are difficult to find in libraries or bookstores.
Prerequisite Knowledge or Skills:
Advanced reading competence.
ABU's collection is commendable for the high quality of the captured text which have been carefully prepared for on-line reading and/or downloading. Each text comes with a frequency table and can be searched for occurrences. It is possible to retrieve the texts either by individual pages or as one single file. Although most of the texts have been carefully proofread, some do contain misspelled or missing words or even missing passages. Teachers should carefully read the texts before communicating them to their students, and report mistakes to the Association.
From the ABU home page, there are numerous interesting links for those interested in the history and development of digital libraries. The fair use of materials in the public domain is thoroughly explained in the FAQ section, entitled "Qui le fait?", which is accessible through a link on the home page. Also in this section, one learns that the name ABU is a reference to the fictional computer Aboulafia from Umberto Eco's novel Foucault's Pendulum. The connection between the novel and the ABU library is the intersection of the modern (high-tech) with the ancient (French literary texts), a combination that provides access to the treasures of the past. Also accessible from the home page is a link to statistics on the use of the ABU collection, deemed useful by the author to other developers of virtual libraries and even to publishers who can gauge the popularity of certain authors by the frequency of hits. There are a group of scholarly articles on the development of ABU and a new project called CNUM, which is a scientific collection.
For texts not found in ABU,
the user is directed to an external link to Clicnet, a comprehensive resource from Swarthmore University which has also been reviewed in MERLOT.
Some features are given as available even though they seemed to be in development at the time of this review. For example on ABU's homepage the readers are invited to search the whole corpus, yet this feature did not appear to be fully functioning at the time of our testing (March 2002). The same can be said about authors' corpus: at this time word occurrence searches seems only possible from the individual work pages.
Potential Effectiveness as a Teaching Tool
The collection can easily be implemented in culture or literature survey courses, either as the main source for readings related to the course topic, or as support for in-class activities. The possibility of searching the texts for word occurrences and their contexts allows for interesting findings about the conceptual organization of the texts or about vocabulary, symbols, values, etc.
ABU could be effectively used in conjunction with a site like Storyvox (See MERLOT peer review), which features audio renditions of many of the works accessible thriough ABU. Students could use the Storyvox readings, frequently extracts of larger works, as a point of departure, before discovering the texts in ABU. Once in ABU, the students could look at other works by the same author and study word occurences as described above.
The collection is limited to texts that are in the public domain and mostly to ABU members' contributions. Users should not expect it to contain neither all the works nor all major authors from all periods.
Ease of Use for Both Students and Faculty
Thanks to its simple, consistent design, ABU's digital text collection can be used by anyone. Searching the database and retrieving texts can be learned in a matter of minutes. When searched by authors,
the database retrieves a table divided alphabetically with clickable names in each square. Clicking on a name will take the user to the list of works by this author that ABU currently holds.
Since ABU contains a large number of works, scrolling down the title list may be tedious for those who are looking for a specific work. We would suggest offering a search engine or simply an alphabet at the top of the list of titles.
The Dictionary page could benefit from a redesign. The first heading after clicking on the page is for word lists and although it announces four lists in the text, there are actually five working lists. The note in this section contains a sentence fragment (La liste de mots communs etant particulierement volumineuse.)
The following paragraph, still under the heading Listes des mots, has dictionary references that would be better-organized under the general dictionary heading. In fact, since the link from the home page announces Dictionnaires, this group of resources should probably come first.
The link to Les Nouveautes from the home page goes all the way back to 1998. It should either be abridged or organized to avoid the excessive scrolling now necessary.
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