Alex Wright’s article on Paul Otlet and his visionary (and mind-boggling ambitious) explorations to organize all the world’s data places him on a grand pedestal on par with forgotten geniuses like his contemporaries Leon Theremin and Nikola Tesla. Otlet’s work gives me another reason to marvel at the ingenuity and progress of the arts and sciences at the turn of the century. Wright’s detail of the birth of the UDC system, with it’s functional faceted search similar to Ranganathan, and the creation of the Mundaneum, that unfortunately named uber database, were equal parts fascinating and tragic and set the stage for a deeper analysis by W. Rayward.
Rayward’s history of information science sheds must greater light on Otlet’s work and how it was a remarkable precursor to today’s stage of library and information science. While Otlet’s theories were sound, it would take a mere 60 years for the technological advances to catch up to make them fully realized in the interplay of the internet, Google and current cataloging practices. Otlet was thinking big with his universal catalog (RBU), universal classification system (UDC) and even the universal book. His attempts to reclaim the term ‘monograph’ from the printed codex and expand it to the 3×5″ index card or microfilm was admirable and prophetic in regards to today’s upheaval of traditional publishing as we move further in to a more integrated digital age.
I would like to the think of Paul Otlet smiling down on the many realizations of his work, but I imagine he would rather be busy tackling ever more complex theories in the pursue of collating, analyzing and disseminating all of the world’s collective human knowledge in one tidy package.