Michael Buckland, Professor.
Paul Otlet, Pioneer of Information Management.
Paul Otlet (portrait) was born in Brussels, Belgium, in 1868. His monumental book Traité de documentation. (Brussels, 1934) was both central and symbolic in the development of information science - then called "Documentation" - in the first half of this century. In addition, it reminds us of something that has been too widely forgotten: That this field did have a lively existence in the early decades of this century and a sophistication concerning theory and information technology that now commonly surprises people. He died in 1944.
Paul Otlet was the most central figure in the development of Documentation. He struggled tirelessly for decades with the central technical, theoretical, and organizational aspects of a problem central to society: How to make recorded knowledge available to those who need it. He thought deeply and wrote endlessly as he designed, developed, and initiated ambitious solutions at his Institute in Brussels.
Towards the end of working life he summarized his ideas in two large
books of synthesis, the Traité de documentation in 1934 and
Essai d'universalisme in 1935. In recent years there has been a renewed
interest in Otlet's work. In 1989 the Traité, so long out
of print, was in reprinted. In 1990 his biographer, Prof W. Boyd Rayward,
of the University of New South Wales, published an annotated English translation
of a selection of Otlet's best writings: Otlet, Paul.
Organization and Dissemination of Knowledge: Selected Essays. (FID
684). Amsterdam: Elsevier, 1990. Now Otlet's ideas and writings are again
an active ingredient in information science, having historical interest
and also a contemporary interest in relation, for example, to the nature
of documents and of hypertext. It is now a century since Otlet and La
Fontaine began their ambitious program which continues as the International
Federation for Information and Documentation
(Adapted from the Preface to the Spanish edition of Otlet's Traité).
Otlet and La Fontaine were also active in the founding of the Union
of International Associations.
Otlet's archives and museum is now available again at Rue des Passages 15, 7000 Mons, Belgium, as The Mundaneum, which has started to publish research based on these archives, notably Cent ans de l'Office International de Bibliographie : 1895 - 1995 ; les prémisses du Mundaneum. - Mons : Editions Mundaneum, 1995. ISBN 2-930071-05-2. (Review in German).
List of selected writings about Otlet, his work, and his successors.
Documentary by B. Rayward (speaking English) and F. Fueg (speaking French): Alle kennis van de wereld (Noorderlicht, 9). Available from VPRO, P.O Box 10, 1200 JB Hilversum, The Netherlands.
A wry comment from France: When America discovers Paul Otlet.