The Tragedy of the Mundaneum

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The story of Paul Otlet's Mundaneum: an expansive bibliographic project that demonstrates the difficulties of building an intellectual ideal in the face of real-world politics.

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The Tragedy of the Mundaneum

  1. 1. The Tragedy of the Mundaneum CILIP Library and Information History Group Conference 2011
  2. 2. Each thing (a mirror's face, let us say) was infinite things, since I distinctly saw it from every angle of the universe. I saw the teeming sea; I saw daybreak and nightfall; I saw the multitudes of America; I saw a silvery cobweb in the center of a black pyramid; I saw a splintered labyrinth (it was London); I saw, close up, unending eyes watching themselves in me as in a mirror; I saw all the mirrors on earth and none of them reflected me… Jorge Luis Borges, The Aleph , 1949
  3. 3. Whatever the world includes or dreams create. Here is the fruit of their labor: the Library. They say the wealth of volumes it contains Outnumbers the stars or the grains Of sand in the desert. The man Who tried to read them all would lose His mind and the use of his reckless eyes. Jorge Luis Borges, Alexandria, A.D. 641 , 1977
  4. 4. “ May the rays of the Mundaneum help amplify and advance Life, Knowledge and Universal Civilisation.” Illustration © Igor Platounoff Image from: Rayward, Mundaneum: Archives of Knowledge , 2010.
  5. 5. Image from: Rayward, The Universe of Information , 1975. “ where there is much intellectual life… where there will be great diversity which will lead to something real for myself and society…”
  6. 6. Printed matter as a whole summarizes and synthesizes all information. It constitutes the memory of humanity and registers its collective experience. Its power for the general good will be especially strengthened when its accessibility is made easier through more systematic selection and more detailed and better organised cataloguing, but also through publication procedures which are more responsive to general needs and which are placed under the control of the Associations themselves. Otlet and La Fontaine, 1914 Image from: commons.wikimedia.org
  7. 7. The Catalogue Room of the International Office of Bibliography Image from: Rayward, The Universe of Information , 1975.
  8. 8. 1905 1906 1906 1907 1907 Le Répertoire iconographique universel Universal Iconographic Repertory La Bibliothèque collective des sociétés savantes The Collective Library of Learned Societies Le Musée de la livre The Museum of the Book Le Répertoire universel de documentation The Universal Repertory of Documentation Le Musée de la presse The Newspaper Museum
  9. 9. The Palais Mondial Image from: commons.wikimedia.org
  10. 10. A... radical assumption would consider that all knowledge, all information could be so condensed that it could be contained in a limited number of works placed on a desk, therefore within hand's reach, and indexed in such a way as to ensure maximum consultability. In this case the world described in the entirety of books would really be within everyone's grasp. The Universal Book created from all books would become very approximately an annex to the brain, a substratum even of memory, an external mechanism and instrument of the mind but so close to it, so apt to its use that it would truly be a sort of appended organ, an exodermic appendage. Paul Otlet, Traité de documentation , 1934.
  11. 11. Inside the Mundaneum Image from Flickr user: Matthew Burpee Image from: www.mundaneum.be
  12. 12. The Mundaneum as it exists today in Mons, Belgium Images from: www.mundaneum.be
  13. 13. Alex Wright, Glut: Mastering Information Through the Ages , 2007. Otlet’s vision rested not just on communications technology but on brilliant insights into the possibility of stitching otherwise discrete bits of information together, creating semantic relationships that would allow users to navigate from one resource to another across an electronic network. In 1934 the notion of networked documents was still so novel that no one had a word to describe such relationships, until Otlet invented one: “links.” He envisioned the whole endeavour as a great “réseau”: a web .
  14. 14. The surviving Mundaneum card catalogues Image from Flickr user: fdecomite
  15. 15. World City plans by Le Corbusier and P. Jeannneret Image from: Rayward, Mundaneum: Archives of Knowledge , 2010. Give all the elements of international life the means of making contact with each other in an extraterritorial World City which will function as a permanent home for associations and will express in a visible symbol the oneness of mankind. Paul Otlet, address given in 1931
  16. 16. Voices for the Library is a place for everyone who loves libraries to share their stories and experiences of the value of public libraries. www.voicesforthelibrary.org.uk Map courtesy of Voices for the Library team member, Ian Anstice at publiclibrariesnews.com
  17. 17. RAYWARD, W. B., 1975. The universe of information: the work of Paul Otlet for documentation and international organisation . Moscow: All-Union Institute for Scientific and Technical Information (VINITI).   RAYWARD, W. B., 1990. International organisation and dissemination of knowledge: selected essays of Paul Otlet . Amsterdam: Elsevier.   RAYWARD, W. B., 1994. Visions of Xanadu: Paul Otlet (1868-1944) and Hypertext. Journal of the American Society for Information Science , 45 (4), pp. 235-250.   RAYWARD, W. B., ed., 2008. European Modernism and the information society: informing the present, understanding the past . Aldershot: Ashgate.   RAYWARD, W. B., 2010. Mundaneum: Archives of Knowledge. Occasional Papers , 215, May 2010.   OTLET, P., 1934. Traité de documentation . Le livre sur le livre: théorie et pratique . Liège: Centre de Lecture publique de la Communauté française.   OTLET, P., 1935. Monde, essai d universalisme: connaissance du monde, sentiment du monde, action organis e et plan du monde . Brussels: Mundaneum.   VAN DEN HEUVEL, C., 2010. Authoritative Annotations, Encyclopedia Universalis Mundaneum, Wikipedia and the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Delivered at the Wikipedia Conference, 26 March 2010 in Amsterdam.  WRIGHT, A., 2007. Glut: mastering information through the ages . London: Cornell University Press.

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