Otlet Lecture

Otlet-ARC-MUNDA-PHOTO-PO-006-cropped-1-r This biannual lecture series honors the career of Paul Otlet (1868-1944), a Belgian lawyer, bibliographer, internationalist, and pacifist. It brings to the iSchool select 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. The lecture series is endowed jointly by Emeritus Professor W. Boyd Rayward and Eugene Garfield.

About Paul Otlet:
Paul Otlet (1868-1944) 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 the 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.

2017 Lecture

Data and Deep Time: Addressability in a Dappled World
Matthew Battles, Associate Director, metaLAB, Harvard University

Link to 2017 event | Slides with audio | Recorded 4/25/17

Abstract: In the era of big data, we want to believe that all things, all the phenomena of the world, are documentable, trackable, addressable. This ideology is captured by Jeffrey Pomerantz in his book Metadata for the MIT Press Essential Knowledge series, where he writes that "[i]t's metadata's world. You're just living in it." This talk will probe the limits of that assertion. For despite big data's wonted ubiquity, the world is dappled: there are patches where addressability shines brightly, and zones where people and things move and shift without address. By looking at the fate of human artifacts in deep time—stretching over epochs beyond even the scope of written history—we might find clues to what happens, and what is possible, beyond the edges of the data we keep.

2014 Inaugural Lecture

When Was the Age of Information?
Paul Duguid, Adjunct Full Professor, School of Information, University of California, Berkeley

Audio | Video | Slides with audio | Recorded 5/5/14

Abstract: 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 by Paul Duguid 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.