By Alex Wright
The dream of taking pictures and organizing wisdom is as outdated as historical past. From the documents of historic Sumeria and the Library of Alexandria to the Library of Congress and Wikipedia, humanity has wrestled with the matter of harnessing its highbrow output. The undying quest for knowledge has been as a lot approximately details garage and retrieval as artistic genius.
In Cataloging the World, Alex Wright introduces us to a determine who sticks out within the lengthy line of thinkers and idealists who committed themselves to the duty. starting within the overdue 19th century, Paul Otlet, a librarian by way of education, labored at increasing the potential for the catalog card, the world's first info chip. From there common libraries and museums, connecting his local Belgium to the area through an enormous highbrow firm that tried to prepare and code every thing ever released. 40 years earlier than the 1st laptop and fifty years prior to the 1st browser, Otlet estimated a community of "electric telescopes" that might let humans all over the place to go looking via books, newspapers, pictures, and recordings, all associated jointly in what he termed, in 1934, a réseau mondial--essentially, a world web.
Otlet's existence success was once the development of the Mundaneum--a mechanical collective mind that might apartment and disseminate every little thing ever devoted to paper. choked with analog machines equivalent to telegraphs and sorters, the Mundaneum--what a few have referred to as a "Steampunk model of hypertext"--was the embodiment of Otlet's objectives. It used to be additionally short-lived. by the point the Nazis, who have been pilfering libraries throughout Europe to gather details they idea necessary, carted away Otlet's assortment in 1940, the dream had ended. damaged, Otlet died in 1944.
Wright's enticing highbrow background provides Otlet his due, restoring him to his right position within the lengthy continuum of visionaries and pioneers who've struggled to categorise wisdom, from H.G. Wells and Melvil Dewey to Vannevar Bush, Ted Nelson, Tim Berners-Lee, and Steve Jobs. Wright exhibits that during the years for the reason that Otlet's dying the realm has witnessed the emergence of a world community that has proved him correct concerning the possibilities--and the perils--of networked details, and his legacy persists in our electronic global this day, captured all the time.
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Extra resources for Cataloging the World: Paul Otlet and the Birth of the Information Age
While the first wave of industrialization had transformed the production of textiles with iron and steam engines, by the second half of the nineteenth century a socalled second Industrial Revolution had started to take shape. The invention of electricity and the internal combustion engine accelerated the production and transportation of goods, while new communications technologies like the telegraph and the radio started to lay the foundations for a nascent global communications network. 34 T he L ibraries o f B abel These developments in turn created the conditions for new patterns of knowledge production to emerge.
52 T he D rea m o f the L ab y rinth Spurred on by the king’s rhetoric, Belgium launched its first civilian expedition to the Congo in 1886, organized and financed by none other than Édouard Otlet. The trip’s ostensible goal was to gather indigenous artworks for a planned museum; the results proved disappointing. The trip’s leader did return with the son of a Congo chief, a young man called Mayalé, who went on to work as a servant in the Otlet household. Otlet’s later expeditions were overtly commercial in nature and came in the wake of a series of secret government-sponsored expeditions financed by Leopold and led by the world-famous Henry Stanley.
To realize that potential, Dewey insisted that libraries would need to submit themselves to a program of strict standardization: management techniques, equipment, and systematic rules that would govern everything from the printing of index cards to the size of drawers, boxes, inkwells, and pens—all in the hope of achieving a greater level of synchronization. The Dewey system offered librarians a standard organizing scheme that allowed them to acquire and catalog material efficiently and share bibliographic information with other institutions.