Mundaneum co-founder Paul Otlet's 147th Birthday celebrated with a Google Doodle

It was like the internet - before the internet

Jess Staufenberg
Sunday 23 August 2015 09:16

Google has celebrated the birthday of Paul Otlet, a Belgian lawyer who founded the Mundaneum - an institution set up in 1910 which had the aim of trying to gather all the world's knowledge and index it in a vast bank of drawers.

What is it?

The Mundaneum was the name given to an institution that collected and classified data. It was set up by two Belgian lawyers, Paul Otlet and Henri La Fountaine, in 1895 and formalised in 1910.

How did it work?

The Mundaneum brought together all the collections of "worldwide importance". The founders created a way of organising the information, now known as Universal Decimal Classification, which is still used today in libraries. This allowed them to pool all the information into what one English pamphlet described as "one universal body of documentation, an encyclopedic survey of human knowledge, an enormous intellectual warehouse." They even had a giant cabinet with drawers, with all the information references on special index cards.

Where did it get its information from?

Its founders considered the most important global knowledge to be found in the International Museum, the International Library, the International Bibliographic Catalogue and the Universal Documentary Archives.

What is the Google Doodle celebrating?

Co-founder Paul Otlet's 147th birthday (if he was still alive).

What was his vision?

He dreamed that one day all the information he collected could be accessed by people from the comfort of their own homes. In this way, the Mundaneum is seen as a precursor of systematic knowledge projects like Wikipedia - or even of the internet itself.

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