By Alex Wright
The dream of taking pictures and organizing wisdom is as outdated as heritage. From the files of historical 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 inventive genius.
In Cataloging the World, Alex Wright introduces us to a determine who sticks out within the lengthy line of thinkers and idealists who dedicated themselves to the duty. starting within the past due 19th century, Paul Otlet, a librarian by means of education, labored at increasing the opportunity of the catalog card, the world's first details chip. From there common libraries and museums, connecting his local Belgium to the area via an unlimited highbrow firm that tried to arrange and code every little thing ever released. 40 years ahead of the 1st computer and fifty years sooner than the 1st browser, Otlet expected a community of "electric telescopes" that will enable humans in every single place to look via books, newspapers, pictures, and recordings, all associated jointly in what he termed, in 1934, a réseau mondial--essentially, a global web.
Otlet's lifestyles fulfillment used to be the development of the Mundaneum--a mechanical collective mind that might condo and disseminate every thing ever devoted to paper. choked with analog machines akin to telegraphs and sorters, the Mundaneum--what a few have known as a "Steampunk model of hypertext"--was the embodiment of Otlet's goals. It used to be additionally short-lived. by the point the Nazis, who have been pilfering libraries throughout Europe to assemble details they suggestion invaluable, carted away Otlet's assortment in 1940, the dream had ended. damaged, Otlet died in 1944.
Wright's attractive highbrow heritage supplies 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 because Otlet's demise the realm has witnessed the emergence of a world community that has proved him correct in regards to the possibilities--and the perils--of networked info, and his legacy persists in our electronic global at the present time, captured all the time.
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Extra info for Cataloging the World: Paul Otlet and the Birth of the Information Age
1 But the country had considerable assets at its disposal: raw materials in the form of enormous coal and iron deposits in the south and east of the country, as well as a major port in Antwerp. The country was ripe for the technological revolution that would soon transform it into the most industrialized nation on the continent. Eager to prove his bona fides as a leader, King Leopold oversaw the construction of continental Europe’s first railway. 2 Meanwhile, new industrial mining techniques allowed Belgian firms to tap the country’s mineral resources, which found ready markets in the expanding industrial economies of France and Germany.
As Taylor’s efficiency doctrines created the industrial conditions for the information explosion of the late nineteenth century, the problem of information management began to capture the attention of energetic librarians like the aforementioned Melvil Dewey, the great proselytizer of card cataloging whose eponymous Decimal System continues to serve as the ontological foundation for library catalogs across North America and elsewhere. Along with his less well-known contemporary Charles Cutter—whose pioneering work at the Harvard College library and, later, the Boston Athenaeum would provide the conceptual foundations for the Library of Congress catalog—Dewey started to develop new strategies for libraries that would enable them to cope with the barrage of documents demanding their attention.
And soon enough, card catalogs started to spread beyond the confines of the library world. As the Industrial Revolution unfolded during the latter half of the nineteenth century, organizations of all stripes started to recognize a pressing need to control their intellectual capital. 33 Over time, corporations, government agencies, foundations, and 40 T he L ibraries o f B abel other institutions began to adapt the card catalog for their own uses. It provided a stable mechanism for storing information, interpolating one piece of data against another, and transferring records from one location to another.