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Reconnecting library architecture and the information space

  • Wouter Van Acker (a1)


This article explores how our understanding of the materiality of knowledge has changed during the 20th century and how these meanings got incorporated into the concept of information. Special attention is given to Paul Otlet, the founding father of documentation, and to Norbert Wiener, the founding father of cybernetics. Furthermore, there is the question of what these changes that surround the notion of information imply for the architectural conception of the library. If the current discourse treats the library no longer as a space of books but as an information space, what implications does this evolution have for the architecture of the contemporary library? What is this information space that architects are required to articulate and to interpret?


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1. Hugo, Victor, Notre-Dame de Paris (Paris: Hachette, 1861), 1:207.
2. Bieri, Susanne and Fuchs, Walther, Bibliotheken Bauen: Tradition und Vision; Building for books: traditions and visions (Basel: Birkhäuser, 2001);
Webb, Terry, Building libraries for the 21st century: the shape of information (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2000).
3. Nunberg, Geoffrey, ‘Farewell to the information age’ in The future of the book, ed. Nunberg, Geoffrey, 103-138 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996), 111.
4. Muddiman, Dave, ‘Public science in Britain and the origins of documentation and information science, 1890-1950,’ in European modernism and the information society: informing the present, understanding the past, ed. Rayward, W. Boyd, 201-222 (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2008), 202.
5. Ibid.
6. The publication in 1880 of the Index-catalogue of the library of the Surgeon-General’s Office by American medical librarian Billing, John Shaw can be considered as the beginning of the activity of documentation. The Index-catalogue combined a bibliography of journal articles and a library catalogue in the form of a dictionary.
7. Otlet, Paul, L’organisation rationnelle de l’information et de la documentation en matière économique: rapport (Bruxelles: Hayez, 1905).
8. Shera, Jesse, Foundations of the public library: the origins of the public library movement in New England, 1629-1855 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1949);
Ditzion, Sidney Herbert, Arsenals of a democratic culture: a social history of the American public library movement in New England and the Middle States from 1850 to 1900 (Chicago: American Library Association, 1947);
Black, Alistair, A new history of the English public library: social and intellectual contexts, 1850-1901 (London: Leicester University Press, 1996).
9. Fayet-Scribe, Sylvie, Histoire de la documentation en France: culture, science et technologie de l’information 1895-1937 (Paris: CNRS Éditions, 2000), 54.
10. Wiener, Norbert as quoted in Hayles, N. Katherine, How we became posthuman: virtual bodies in cybernetics, literature, and informatics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999), 14.
11. Nunberg, ‘Farewell,’ 122.
12. Frohmann, Bernd, ‘Discourse and documentation: some implications for pedagogy and research,’ Journal of library and information science education 42 (2001): 1328.
13. Webster, Frank, Theories of the information society (London: Routledge, 1995), 101.
14. Black, A new history.
15. Lyotard, Jean-François, The postmodern condition: a report on knowledge (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1997), 45.
16. By the term ‘practices’ I refer to what Andrew Pickering has described as a heterogeneity of ‘skills and social relations, machines and instruments, as well as scientific facts and theories’. Pickering, Andrew, Science as practice and culture (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992).

Reconnecting library architecture and the information space

  • Wouter Van Acker (a1)


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