Paul Otlet, the man who wanted to catalogue the world
Paul Otlet was a symbolic figure in the world of documentation and remains fascinating today. He was highly innovative and produced an original body of work in a range of different fields, including photography, schematics, the encyclopaedia and museography. He predicted the arrival of the Internet before the Second World War and, together with this friend Henri La Fontaine, laid the foundations of the Mundaneum, a sort of paper Google with pacifist principles. He was a utopian who stove to construct an ideal society, designing a World City project with the assistance of Le Corbusier.
Paul Otlet, born in 1868, was an author, entrepreneur, lawyer and a socialist and pacifist militant. He was a true visionary who wanted people to get to know themselves better, stop fearing each other and live in peace.
He is best known for his bibliographic work and wanted to create a network and international cooperation between libraries and librarians. With Henri La Fontaine, he founded the Office International de Bibliographie and set up a Universal Bibliographic Repertory (UBR), which brought together all the works published around the world on any subject. In 1905, also with his friend Henri La Fontaine, he created the Universal Decimal Classification (UDC) and the 125 x 75 mm standard for bibliographic records, which is still used in libraries throughout the world.
Between the two World Wars, he planned to create a World City with Le Corbusier; its aim was to bring people together through a universal civilisation considered as a "world bridge". It was similar to the universal encyclopaedia projects created at the same time by Wells in World Brain and by the philosopher and sociologist Otto Neurath.
He was also behind the Palais-Mondial-Mundaneum in Brussels (http://www.mundaneum.org/), which is located in the south wing of the Cinquantenaire and contains his many creations (Musée de la Presse, Musée du Livre, international encyclopaedic archives and the RBU); its aim was to bring together all the world's knowledge. At its peak, the Mundaneum contained 16 million files indexing a huge range of subjects; this explains why some have called it the "paper Google".