in 1895, two Belgians, Paul Otlet and Henri La Fontaine, began the project that grew into the Mundaneum. Their card catalog, initially called the Universal Bibliographic Repertory, compiled links to books, newspaper and magazine articles, pictures and other documents from libraries and archives around the world. People were able to submit queries via the mail or telegraph.
The collection expanded to 16 million cards, and Mr. Otlet and Mr. La Fontaine envisioned a “city of knowledge,” complete with museum exhibits and other archival material.
The Belgian government provided space for the Mundaneum for some years in a building in Brussels but cut off funding in 1934. When Nazi Germany invaded Belgium in 1940, the Mundaneum was replaced with an exhibit of Third Reich art, and some material was lost.
Now, what is left of the Mundaneum is housed in a new site in Mons, where the existing museum opened in 1998. This includes the card catalog, as well as sketches by Mr. Otlet in which he describes an imaginary system of “electric telescopes” that would allow users to search and browse through databases like the Mundaneum.
“As we went around the world looking for the roots of the Web, this was a particularly intriguing example, and one that people didn’t know about,” said William Echikson, a spokesman for Google.
Setting aside from the Google connection, the story of the Mundaneum fascinating.
Source: The New York Times