Necessity is the mother of invention is the expression that resonated in my mind as I read through this week’s readings that focus on the origins of knowledge organization and the development of information science. The huge increase in information following the industrial revolution and the mechanization of the printing processes meant new ways had to be created to organize the incredible expansion of the knowledge base. Melvil Dewey and Paul Otlet are two of the most important figures to rise to this challenge. Dewey, an easy figure to ridicule these days for his bigoted views, views, however, that continue to inform and influence a classification system still used in ninety-five percent of public school libraries in the US according to Weinberger’s figures, and Paul Otlet, who Alex Wright claims as the forgotten forefather of Information Architecture.
Of the two, Paul Otlet certainly holds most interest and has more currency as we move towards a semantic web of knowledge, and both the Rayward and the Wright pieces give fascinating accounts of the ambition and vision of the man who would create a system of Universal Decimal Classification, a system that went beyond Dewey to incorporate Ranganathan’s facets and foreshadow perhaps our current fixation with an information environment where, as Wright puts it “ social context in information is as important as topical content”.