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- Nowadays, with the computer and the work of UNESCO and the International Council of Scientific Unions, Otlet's visionary schemes may yet be realised through UNISIST.
In 1937 the Institute for Intellectual Co-operation organised a World Congress for Universal Documentation in Paris. This was an enormous congress attended by representatives of governments as well as by those interested in documentation in a more private capacity. It was, in fact, the first time that such a large, influential congress had been held in the field since the IIB [c 1] conferences of 1908 and 1910 and those of the UIA in 1910 and 1913. Here Otlet and La Fontaine came into much respectful praise. Their positions as grand old men of European documentation were clearly acknowledged. [c 2] The idea of a Universal Network or System for Documentation was taken up and the IID [c 3] once more changed its name and statutes to become the International Federation for Documentation, in order better to promote this. Here there was much talk of H. G. Wells' idea of a World Brain, a new form of the encyclopedia, an idea which, in a different form, Otlet had been writing about for decades. Here Otlet met Wells and made "magnificent improvisations".
Bradford regarded the World Congress of Universal Documentation as the culmination of a rival scheme. Jean Gerard, he asserted, had induced the International Institute of Intellectual Co-operation to call the Congress with the view to setting up a new Institute for Documentation in Paris. Gerard had powerful support and for Bradford there was "no doubt the project would have been achieved, had not the International Institute [for Bibliography] meanwhile grown up". The mobilisation of forces within the Institute's national sections and much arduous work at the Congress itself were necessary to avoid defeat. "At every meeting", Bradford reports, "resolutions were proposed in favour of [Gerard's] plan" and "at first the members of the Institute were, every time, outvoted". Eventually, however, "knowledge, experience and logic made their mark", and with a change in name which emphasised the decentralised "federalised" nature of the organisation, the Congress voted to support it and not proceed with Gerard's proposal.
Otlet, however, did not share Bradford's view of the Congress. He was pleased that it recognised the need for a Universal Network for Documentation and saw this aspect of its work as recapitulating his own ideas. [c 4]
It is indeed paradoxical that libraries and archival repositories preserve large masses of documents without having the resources to catalog, analyse and circulate them; that offices and services of Documentation establish vast repertories without power of themselves disposing of (actual) works; that learned and administrative bodies publish them without full co-ordination or care for their utilisation; that provincial workers in all countries are deprived of the means of study. The Universal Network of Documentation is called on to organise the liason of these reservoirs and repertories, of producers and users. The ultimate goal is to realise the World Encyclopedia according to the needs of the twentieth century. (pp. 355-357)
- In the wake of World War II, the contributions of Otlet to the field of information science were lost sight of in the rising popularity of the ideas of American information scientists such as Vannevar Bush, Douglas Engelbart, Ted Nelson and by such theorists of information organization as Seymour Lubetzky.
- His 1934 masterpiece, the Traité de documentation, was reprinted in 1989 .... (Neither the Traité nor its companion work, Monde (World) has been translated into English so far.)
- Otlet regarded the project as the centerpiece of a new 'world city' -- a centrepiece which eventually became an archive with more than 12 million index cards and documents. Some consider it a forerunner of the internet (or, perhaps more appropriately, of Wikipedia) and Otlet himself had dreams that one day, somehow, all the information he collected could be accessed by people from the comfort of their own homes.
- Rayward, W. Boyd, ed. (2008). European Modernism and the Information Society: Informing the Present, Understanding the Past. Ashgate Publishing. [+]
- Rayward, W. Boyd (1999). "H.G. Wells's Idea of a World Brain: A Critical Reassessment," Journal of the American Society for Information Science, 50(7): 557-573. [+]
- Rayward, W. Boyd (1994). "Visions of Xanadu: Paul Otlet (1868-1944) and Hypertext." Journal of the American Society for Information Science 45(4): 235-250. [+]
- Buckland, Michael (1992). "Emanuel Goldberg, Electronic Document Retrieval, and Vannevar Bush's Memex." Journal of the American Society for Information Science, vol. 43, no. 4 (May 1992), pp. 284-294. [+]
- 1981/Smith [+]
- Rayward, W. Boyd (1975). The Universe of Information: The Work of Paul Otlet for Documentation and International Organisation. (FID 520). Moscow: VINITI (for FID). [+]
- Kochen, Manfred, ed. (1975). Information for Action: from Knowledge to Wisdom. New York: Academic Press. [+]
- Shaw, Ralph R. (1949). "Machines and the Bibliographical Problems of the Twentieth Century." (pp. 37-71) In: L. N. Ridenour, et al. Bibliography in an Age of Science. Urbana: University of Illinois Press. [+]
- Bush, Vannevar (1945). "As We May Think." The Atlantic Monthly (July 1945): 101-108. [+]
- Wells, H. G. (1938). World Brain. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, Doran & Co. [+]
- Wells, H. G. (1936). World Encyclopaedia. Lecture delivered at the Royal Institution of Great Britain, November 20th, 1936. [+]
- 1935/Davis [+]
- 1934/Otlet [+]
- Goldberg, Emanuel (1931). Statistical Machine. U.S. patent 1,838,389. Dec. 29, 1931. [+]
- It may be suspected that both Paul Otlet and Henri La Fontaine were both Belgian patriots or nationalists and globalists perhaps in disguise, if not an oxymoron, who frankly aimed to make Belgium the World Center, World City or World Palace, while being challenged from other countries, as noted in the long excerpt above by Bradford (1953).
- Likewise, H. G. Wells may be suspected of his idea of "World Encyclopedia" (1936) aiming tacitly to make English the World Language, as it were, as suggested by his support for Ogden's (1930) Basic English that looks like a compromise. Yet he was in a position to propose to make anything an "open conspiracy". He may have seen practically no alternative to the simplified English.
- Russia may have been among the strong cons against Wells and rather preferred Otlet and his FID anyway. This biography (1975), published for FID by Russian VINITI, well coincides with the high Wellsian tide marked by Kochen (1975) and others. On the other hand, the affluent American Association for Computing Machinery revolving around AI and cognitivism may have made best use of that uneasy situation in watering down the AI winter just on time by replacing Wells with Vannevar Bush, the icon of cognitivism, who wished indeed the machine that thinks as well "as we may think".
- The time of this publication was exceptional enough for an enormous revolution, say, "cognitive revolution" or worldview revolution, shifting from objectivism to admission of humanic subjectivism in sharp contrast to dehumanizing cognitivism.
- The cognitive revolution, as Bruner (1990) refuted but as Miller (2003) positively attributed to the Dartmouth Conferences (1956) hence McCarthy (1955) that was simply the cognitivist manifesto of AI indeed, must be called the cognitivist, rather than cognitive revolution proper. Miller may have done with an unjust word play, boldly confusing human cognition with machine cognitivism. The cognitive revolution that started around 1974/1975 was not mechanic at all but just humanic.
- Inline comments
- The Institut International de Bibliographie (IIB) founded in 1895 by Otlet together with Henri La Fontaine, later renamed as (in English) the International Federation for Documentation (FID).
- La Fontaine received the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1913. This must have enormously, if not unjustly, thrust Otlet in the shadow.
- The Institut International de Documentation (IID) became a new name for IIB since (perhaps in) 1931.
- This sounds a mark of self-importance that may not have been pronounced by Otlet himself but instead untruly announced by his followers who would make best use of him for their benefit, perhaps for librarianship. Followers may make a fool of their heroes while unjustly making a hero of them for themselves. The admirers of Otlet and Bush may make it too big for all of us. It may turn out soon!
- 45. For an account of this Congress with its resolutions on the Universal Network for Documentation and incidental references to Otlet and La Fontaine see "Congres Mondial de Documentation, Paris, 16-21 aout, 1937", IID Communicationes, IV Fasc. Ill (1937), especially pp. 16-18.
- 46. S. C. Bradford, Documentation (London: Crosby Lockwood, 1953), pp. 142-143.
- 47. "Le Cangres Mondial de la Documentation". This is a single page of typescript in the Otletaneum dated 1937.09.20 and signed Paul Otlet.