Session 4: Ordering the Universe of Information

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The Science of Information, 1870-1945: The Universalization of Knowledge in a Utopian Age
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Library and Information Science
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Lor, Peter
Rayward, W. Boyd

Peter Lor, University of Pretoria In the Background: The Development of International Librarianship during the Period 1870 - 1945 A great deal has been written and much more will no doubt be written, on the rise of documentation during the Belle époque and on the close association of key figures such as Otlet and La Fontaine with universalism and utopianism. Their heroic and ultimately unsuccessful project to create a universal database of scientific literature, and similar initiatives by the Royal Society and others, have overshadowed the international activities of librarians during the same period, which also saw the beginnings of international librarianship as a field of activity. Library activities across borders have a long history, but the word "international" was only invented by Jeremy Bentham in 1789, well more than a century after the creation of the Westphalian system. The word "internationalism" followed in 1843. International library activities in the form of international schemes for the exchange of publications started during the 19th Century and from mid-century gained impetus through national and international meetings of librarians held in conjunction with universal exhibitions. The second half of the 19th Century saw the advent of international conferences of librarians, bibliographers and bibliophiles. The first Anglo-American cataloguing code of 1908 was a product of formal library cooperation between two national library associations. The inter-war period 1918-1939 saw a significant growth in international librarianship. The series of international library and bibliographic conferences culminated in the founding of the International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA) in 1927/9. It was also a period of growing US influence in Europe, Latin America and Africa through various processes and carried out by various agents. These included visitors to US libraries who went back to their countries to spread American library ideas, the American Library Association, involved in post-war reconstruction of library services, the Carnegie Corporation of New York, and the US State Department. The intention of this paper is to paint a broad canvas of the development of international library activity as a backdrop to developments in documentation. I will also pose questions about the relationship between the two fields. What links were there? What were the differences between the protagonists in terms of their professional backgrounds and institutional settings? How did their concerns and emphasis differ, e.g. in terms of bibliographic control? Was this the period of bifurcation, in which documentation, the precursor of information science, drifted away from librarianship? W. Boyd Rayward Paul Otlet and the Organization of Knowledge For fifty years Paul Otlet devoted himself to the study of how the social and epistemic benefits of the knowledge that was buried within what he called "documents" could be identified, extracted and potentiated for world-wide use. His approach was two pronged. First was technical: the creation, rationalisation and international promotion of new techniques for the processing of information. Second was organisational: the deployment of national and international associations and societies which would assume information-related tasks to support the emergence of a new information based global polity. Despite the sudden and shocking disruption of World War I, this new era seemed for a moment to be the inevitable outcome of the pre-war international arbitration and peace movements that culminated in the emergence of the post-War League of Nations and its associated agencies. Like so many, Otlet was soon disillusioned in the League of Nations. During the 1920s and 1930s, he devoted himself to promoting the idea a World City. The Cité Mondiale was to be both a symbolical representation of his vision of a new international polity but also an architectural representation of a planned urban environment for housing the organisations, agencies, services and collections that would be needed for instantiating this vision. At the centre of the Cité Mondiale would rise what we now might call, anachronistically, a global data centre and its related services of information management and dissemination, the Mundaneum. The paper concludes with an analysis of the resonances today of these Otletian projects.

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The Science of Information, 1870-1945: The Universalization of Knowledge in a Utopian Age
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Kleinman Center for Energy Policy at the University of Pennsylvania
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YouTube recording of Peter Lor begins at 1:20:04. YouTube recording of W. Boyd Rayward begins at 1:55:06.
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