What were librarians doing while Otlet was inventing documentation?

In August 2014 IFLA’s Library History Special Interest Group (SIG) held a post-Congress Satellite Conference on the History of Librarianship at the École Normale Supérieure des Sciences de l’Information et des Bibliothèques (Enssib) in Lyon. Attempts to publish the papers unfortunately failed to materialize and have now been given up by the SIG.

I had presented a paper entitled “The end of international and comparative librarianship?” in which I reflected on the development of international and comparative librarianship and on the impact of globalization on the field. Subsequently I developed my ideas on the six intellectual and spatial horizons of librarianship (local, imperial, universal, national, international and global) and on the impact of globalization, in my book International and comparative librarianship: concepts and methods for global studies, published this year and launched at IFLA’s 2019 World Library and Information Congress.

I subsequently did some further work on the topic of the paper I had presented in 2014. Focussing on the period 1850–1914, which includes the Belle Époque (roughly from 1870 to 1914), I examined the growth of professionalization and modernization in the library profession more closely. The result is an article which recently appeared under the title, “What were librarians doing while Otlet was inventing documentation? The modernization and professionalization of librarianship during the Belle Époque”, in JLIS.it, the open access Italian LIS journal:https://www.jlis.it/article/view/12566.

Here is the abstract:

In the historiography of librarianship and information work, the development of librarianship during the Belle Époque (1871-1914) has been somewhat overshadowed by the heroic and ultimately unsuccessful projects of Otlet, the Royal Society, and others to bring about bibliographic control of the world’s scholarly literature. In this article, an attempt is made to determine the issues which preoccupied an emerging Anglo-American library profession during this period. It is based on evidence provided by a selection of British and American documents and events from the 1850s onwards which were influential at that time, including Britain’s Public Libraries Act of 1850; the first world’s fairs in the early 1850s; Edward Edward’s Free town libraries of 1869; the formative events surrounding the 1876 United States Centennial Exposition; Melvil Dewey’s School of Library Economy (established 1887); and James Duff Brown’s Manual of library economy of 1903. Librarians’ concerns at the turn of the twentieth century are discussed in relation to societal trends affecting the modernization and professionalization of librarianship.


About Peter Lor

Peter Johan Lor is a Netherlands-born South African librarian and academic. In retirement he continues to pursue scholarly interests as a research fellow in the Department of Information Science at the University of Pretoria, South Africa.
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