Weekly response post – Eugene Rutigliano

The Alex Wright article on Paul Otlet describes his position that documents can only be understood in relationship to other documents. This is a tenet of the Universal Decimal Classificaiton philosophy and it harkens back to some of the ideas we first read about in the Buckland articles on the nature of information. At its most essential, Information is a difference that describes a difference. A document, as a vessel for information, has value defined by its relationship to (difference from) other documents. Social context, the significant feature of UDC cataloging, becomes intrinsic to document-hood in this understanding. That information scientists continue to wrestle with the definition of information is not surprising. What is surprising is how Otlet’s classification system seems to presaged have organization problems that have only recently emerged. At some point in his project, Otlet must have recognized that “an intellectual cosmos illuminated both by objective classification and by the direct influence of readers and writers” would have to be ‘outsourced’ to institutions and user groups that transcend the library and archive. His apparent attention to detail makes it hard to believe so little of his Mundaneum survived temporal challenges.


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