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The Radiated Library

OK, so Paul Otlet (1868-1944) rocked it harder.

At the turn of the century, he created the UDC and the mundaneum – a universal catalog of all documented knowledge. If that’s not enough, holmes contemplated multimedia and universal search.

Watch this video (4996 views), and keep in mind that he made it actually work almost 100 years ago.

His Universal Decimal Classification is rad. First, he extended Dewey decimal system to become as granular as he needed. e.g. 617.39 refers to “Congenital malformations: flatfeet”.

Go to the “card catalog” and look up 617.39. There you’ll find a card for each book that has information on flatfeet. Bingo.

The trick is, when you suck a new document into the system, you don’t just file it in one broad heading. No, you describe each of its subject areas/themes/components by the UDC, then add each of those records to to card catalog in all the right places.

So if it’s 1920 and you need to find all the books that talk about flatfeet, you hit up the Mundaneum in Brussels and just look up what’s under 617.39. By the 1930’s, it had an unbelievable number of records: 17M. Forget GBs, that’s tens of tons of data.

Two lessons
1) Dudes from brussels rock it hard, baby.
2) There is nothing new under the sun

Learn more about Paul Otlet here.

Here’s another video that shows what’s left of the mundaneum today. It’s pretty slow watch, but if you have 20 minutes to kill, give it a shot:


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