Paul Otlet, Henri La Fontaine, and the importance of networking

Belle Epoque: Notes and thoughts on chapter 3

Information networks need human networks to exist. Paul Otlet understood this. Otlet’s wisely partnered with skilled networker Henri La Fontaine. La Fontaine participated in the social clubs of the day. A Freemason, he founded the Belgian League for the rights of women, and earned membership into the Belgian Senate. He passed his networking knowledge on to Otlet:

Having thus acquired for their organization an air of governmental authority, La Fontaine also helped Otlet master the arts of politicking and persuasion. Through a combination of determination, guile, and relentless personal networking, the two men began to insinuate themselves into the center of a global dialogue about the future of books and libraries: convening congresses, issuing bulletins, and promoting their project at every available opportunity.

Cataloging the World, Alex Wright. pg 74

The pair successfully wooed King Leopold II into endorsing their Office of International Bibliography. They pitched him on the idea of being a stakeholder of a global international project.

In taking this initiative,” Interior Minister François Schollaert wrote to the king at Otlet and La Fontaine’s behest, “you can establish in your country the principal organ of intellectual life.” For the imperially minded monarch, the prospect of serving as royal patron to a universal library would likely have held much the same appeal as it did to the emperors of Sumeria, China, and Alexandria

Cataloging the World, Alex Wright. pg 73

Beginning with each other, Otlet and La Fontaine built a vast network of support for their universal library. Without constructing a human network, their information network would never exist.


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