Cataloging the World: Paul Otlet and the Birth of the by Alex Wright

By Alex Wright

The dream of taking pictures and organizing wisdom is as previous as heritage. From the information 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 info garage and retrieval as inventive genius.

In Cataloging the World, Alex Wright introduces us to a determine who stands proud 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 info chip. From there common libraries and museums, connecting his local Belgium to the realm via an unlimited highbrow company that tried to prepare and code every thing ever released. 40 years ahead of the 1st laptop and fifty years sooner than the 1st browser, Otlet anticipated a community of "electric telescopes" that may enable humans in every single place to look via books, newspapers, photos, and recordings, all associated jointly in what he termed, in 1934, a réseau mondial--essentially, a global web.

Otlet's existence fulfillment used to be the development of the Mundaneum--a mechanical collective mind that might condominium and disseminate every thing ever dedicated to paper. full of 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 goals. It was once additionally short-lived. by the point the Nazis, who have been pilfering libraries throughout Europe to assemble details they inspiration worthwhile, carted away Otlet's assortment in 1940, the dream had ended. damaged, Otlet died in 1944.

Wright's enticing highbrow historical past offers 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 seeing that Otlet's loss of life 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 this day, captured forever.

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These blank white surfaces made them ideal for use as note cards, lottery tickets, marriage and death announcements, and business cards. Playing cards also had another virtue: Most of them adhered to a standard size (either 83 x 43 mm or 70 x 43 mm). Stiff, evenly sized, and easy to flip with one hand, playing cards thus made the ideal building blocks for a library catalog. In 1780, an Austrian named Gerhard van Swieten further adapted the technique to create a master catalog for the Austrian National Library, known as the Josephinian Catalog (named for Austria’s “enlightened despot” Joseph II).

15 As more and more of these encyclopedic books appeared across Europe, a few scholars began exploring more sophisticated methods for synthesizing material from disparate sources. In 1627, Francis Bacon published his Sylva Sylvarum; or, A Natural History, offering an example of how knowledge could advance through the interpolation of previously published works. Here he chronicled the results of 1,000 experiments, collected from both his own work and the published reports of other scholars. Bacon also thought deeply about how to classify the growing accumulation of published information.

Ignoring the Good Angel’s plea to “lay that damned book aside/and gaze not upon it, lest it tempt thy soul,” Faustus takes the magical book in hand and consigns himself to perdition. The prize that costs Faustus his soul is, paradoxically, a short book—one that due to the black magic of printing managed to encompass the entirety of human and divine knowledge in a single slim volume. Faustus’s fatal fascination with the encyclopedia reflected a widespread popular distrust of books and bookmaking that held sway throughout Western Europe during the period.

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