Inaugural Paul Otlet Lecture in Library and Information Science

Paul Duguid

When Was the Age of Information?

In 1778, Vicesimus Knox—today an all-but forgotten Anglican schoolteacher, but in his time, a popular essayist—declared his era an “Age of Information,” suggesting, in a fashion recognizable today, that the period had severed connections with prior ages and promised rich if daunting futures to those who understood the change. This talk will attempt to set Knox’s claim in context by exploring changes in the way information was understood across the eighteenth century. It will then try to clarify what such a history of information can tell us about our own age.

A live broadcast will be available for those who are unable to attend in person.

Speaker Biography:
Paul Duguid is an adjunct full professor in the School of Information at the University of California, Berkeley. Over the past decade he has held visiting appointments at Queen Mary, University of London, Copenhagen Business School, and the Ecole Polytechnique in Paris. In the 1990s, he was a consultant to senior management at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC). He holds degrees from Washington University (MA) and Bristol University (BA). Duguid is co-author with John Seely Brown of The Social Life of Information (2000) and has written extensively on theories of learning and of organization, and on the history of wine and of trademarks. His recent writings look at trademarks from an informational perspective, and at information from a historical perspective. He has been invited to co-edit (with Anthony Grafton and Ann Blair) a multivolume history of information to be published by Princeton University Press. His teaching at Berkeley includes an undergraduate course, “The History of Information,” and a graduate course, “Concepts of Information.” Along with his academic writing, Duguid reviewed for the Times Literary Supplement for 25 years, and intermittently for The Nation, Threepenny Review, and various other publications.

For more information, see:

About the Paul Otlet Lecture in Library and Information Science:
This lecture series brings to GSLIS selected lecturers who are leaders in the field of library and information science to discuss the historical context and the present and future impacts of cutting-edge developments in the general field of information science and the information society. It is endowed jointly by GSLIS Emeritus Professor W. Boyd Rayward and Eugene Garfield.

About Paul Otlet:
Paul Otlet (1868-1944), a Belgian lawyer, bibliographer, internationalist, and pacifist, became concerned as a young man about the increasing volume and fragmentation of the literature of science and scholarship. With his colleague, Henri la Fontaine, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1913, he spent his life in building experimental “knowledge” institutions that he hoped might facilitate global access to information in a range of new formats. His analyses of what he called documentation, of multimedia substitutes for the book, of encyclopedias, museums and libraries led him to explore the possible use of the new technologies of his days such as x-rays, radio, telegraphy, cinema, sound recording, and eventually television for disseminating information through a universal information network. And he proposed special organizational arrangements for the network’s management and use by means of what he called Mundaneums. He also envisaged the development of a range of new kinds of intellectual machines and instruments that, suggested by what was already available, would create new functionalities in information access and use. In these ideas we find foreshadowings of digital and other technologies that have created such phenomena as the Internet, the World Wide Web, Google and even—and perhaps especially—Wikipedia, that are fundamental to what we now regard as a new kind of information society.


126 LIS Building; reception to follow from 5:00-6:00pm

Event Date: 

Mon, 05/05/2014 - 4:00pm

For disability-related accommodations, contact the event organizer or MT Hudson (217-333-0885,