The following are translations of part of the introduction of Paul Otlet
‘s Traité de Documentation
, with varying degrees of accuracy, creativity, polish, and completion.
This work is dedicated to a general report of ideas relating to books and documents, and to the considered use of the elements which make up documentation.
Our time, more than any other, is characterised by these general tendencies: organisation and rationalisation of methods and procedures, automation, cooperation, globalisation, considerable development in science and technology, concerns with applying the data thereof to the good of society, extension of education at every level, aspiration and latent desire to give larger intellectual bases to all civilisation, and to direct it by guidelines.
It is in such an environment that books and documents must evolve today. Written expressions of the ideas, the instrument of their fixation, of their conservation, of their circulation, are the necessary intermediaries of all links between people. Their enormous mass, accumulated in the past, increases every day, every hour, by disconcerting, sometimes alarming numbers. Like languages, we can say that they can be the best of things and the worst of things. Like fallen rain, we can say that it can cause a flood or deluge, or spread as beneficial irrigation.
A rationalisation of books and documents is necessary, starting from an initial unit and extending to larger and larger groups of units, encompassing finally all of the units, existing or to be created, in an organisation that envisages, from the ground up, an entity of information which represents the sum of all the books and papers of each person, the collective information entity of institutions, of administrations and of companies; the entity of documentation of agencies specially dedicated to books and documents, either entirely or as one of its functions: office, institute, publishing, libraries, documentation offices. This work gives a general outline of this and defines an orderly method.
There is no small number of papers saying how to make from simple notes, the pages of a manuscript; from a pile of books, a well-organised library; from a pile of correspondence, tidy archives; from accounts, order; from a diverse set of texts, a coordinated codification. But this large number of publications, excellent at their individual goals, each only envisage one aspect of the matter, and so gave the impression that there were just as many specific domains, distinct and separated by watertight barriers; that one had to acquaint oneself with a whole new set of ideas, and become familiar with practices unrelated to those already learnt.
The current treatise aims above all to extract the facts, the principles, the general rules, and to show how coordination and unity can be obtained.
Lipogrammatic (without the fourth letter of the alphabet)
The goal of this work is a general report of notions relating to various sources of information, as well as to the thoughtful use of the elements which make up information.
The following inclinations characterise our time more than any other: organisation of algorithms, automation, co-operation, globalisation, much progress in science, whether theoretical or in terms of technological breakthroughs, concerns with applying the results of this for the benefit of society, enrichment of instruction at every level, latent will to give larger intellectual bases to all civilisation, while properly orienting it by means of plans.
It is in such an environment that information sources must now evolve. Written expressions of the notions, the instrument of their fixation, of their conservation, of their circulation, are the necessary arbiters of all communication between people. Their enormous existing mass increases relentlessly by unsettling, sometimes alarming amounts. Like languages, we can say that they can be the best of tools or the worst of tools. Just as we can say of rain that it can cause either a catastrophic torrent in a small area, or beneficial irrigation over a large area.
A rationalisation of information is necessary, starting from an initial unit, then continuing to ever larger groups of units, eventually encompassing all of the units, whether they exist yet or not, in an organisation that envisions, from the grass roots, an entity of information which represents the sum of all the written matter in each person’s possession, the collective information entity of institutions, of governments, of companies; the set of information of agencies with a special interest in the keeping of information, either in its entirety or as one of its functions: office, institute, publishing, libraries, information offices. As well as giving a general outline of the topic, this work presents a systematic solution.
There is no small number of papers saying how to make from simple notes, the pages of a manuscript; from a pile of books, a bookcase in logical arrangement; from a pile of letters, neat archives; from accounts, consistent balances; from an eclectic set of texts, a coherent synthesis. But this large number of publications, excellent at their respective goals, each only treat one aspect of the matter. In this way they gave the impression that there were just as many specific subjects, separate, kept apart by watertight barriers; that to tackle one of them, it was necessary to acquaint oneself with a whole new set of notions, to become familiar with practices bearing no relation to the ones learnt previously.
The current treatise aims first to extract the facts, the principles, the general rules, then to show how it is possible to achieve a systematic unity.
This document is dedicated to a general report of ideas relating to manuals and documentation.
Our time, more than any other, is characterised by these general tendencies: refactoring of methods and procedures, scriptability, internationalisation and localisation, considerable development in patterns and programming paradigms, concerns with applying these to the good of the codebase, extended instruction sets in all hardware, the aspiration and latent desire to teach everyone the One True Way, and to direct them using UML diagrams.
It’s in such an environment that documentation must evolve today. Textual records of intended functionality, the instrument of its circulation, of its guaranteed backup, and the definitive reference for distinguishing bug from feature, are the necessary interfaces between people and software. Their enormous collective filesize, accumulated in the past, increases every day, every hour, every minute, by disconcerting, sometimes alarming numbers. Like programming languages, we can say they can be the worst and the best for a given software project. Like network traffic, we can say that they can be like a DOS attack, or a favourable hit count.
Refactoring of manuals and documentation is necessary, starting from documentation of individual routines, extending to larger and larger units, eventually encompassing all software suites, released or vaporware, the individual blob of documentation which represents for each person the sum of his or her man pages and whitepapers, the collective documentation of institutions, of open source project teams, and of companies, and of the software specially written to have documentation as one or all of its use-cases: document repositories, documentation generators, editors, code analysis libraries, wikis.
//todo: Refactor this document, it needs to be split into smaller sentences with well-defined purposes, and all these lists and mappings should be put in resource files. They’re severely affecting the readability of the code. I quit.
This book is devoted to an overview of the concepts relating to the Book and Paper, employment rational elements which constitute the Documentation.
Our time, among all the others, is characterized by these general trends: streamlining the organization and methods and procedures, machinery, cooperation, internationalization, considerable development of science and technology, concern in the data applies to the advancement of societies, extension of instruction at all levels, latent desire and willingness to give any civilization broader intellectual foundation, the guide by the plans.
It was in such an environment that nowadays evolve Books and Documents. Expressions written ideas, their instrument of fixation, conservation, their movement, they are middlemen compel all the relationships between human beings. Their huge, accumulated in the past, increases every day, every hour, new units daunting number, sometimes alarming. To them as language, we can say that they may be the worst and the best of things. To them like water fell from the sky, we can say they can cause flooding and the flood irrigation or s’épandre beneficent.
A streamlining of the Book and Paper is hence an initial unity, extending to groups of units increasingly widespread, finally embracing all units, existing or to be performed, an organization considering, Basically, the entity that individual documentary form for each person the sum of its books and papers; entity documentary collective institutions, governments and firms; entity bodies specifically devoted to the book and the paper, to all or someone of his duties: Office, Institute for Publications Editor, Library, Documentation Offices.
This book gives a general outline and present a coordinated approach.
The presentations are not lacking who said what to do single notes, the leaves of a manuscript, a pile of books, a library well-ordered; a pile of pieces of correspondence, accounting, archives in good order; a set of diverse texts, a consolidation coordinated. But these publications in large numbers, for their excellent but have envisioned that each aspect of the book, and therefore gave the impression that there were as many specific fields, distinct and separate from the watertight bulkheads, there was, in addressing each of them, to learn all new concepts, become familiar with the practices without connection with those already acquired.
This Treaty is designed primarily to generate facts, principles, rules and show how coordination and unity can be obtained.
(Automatic translation using Babelfish
This work is devoted to a general talk of the concepts relating to the Book and the Document, with the reasoned use of the elements which constitute Documentation. Our time, among all the others, is characterized by these general tendencies: organization and rationalization of the methods and processes, mechanization, co-operation, internationalization, considerable development of sciences and technology, concern to apply of them the data to progress of the companies, extension of the instruction to all the degrees, aspiration and latent will to give to all civilization broader intellectual bases, to direct it by plans. It is in such a medium that the Books and the Documents have nowadays to evolve/move. Written expressions of the ideas, instrument of their fixing, their conservation, their circulation, they are the intermediaries oblige of all the relationship between the Men. Their enormous mass, accumulated in the past, accroit each day, each hour, of new units in a disconcerting number, sometimes distracting. Them like Language, one can say that they can be the worst and best things. Them like water fallen from the sky, one can say that they can cause the flood and the flood or épandre in beneficial irrigation. A rationalization of the Book and Document are essential, on the basis of an initial unit, extending to groups from units increasingly extended, embracing finally all the units, existing or to realize, in an organization considering, at the base, the individual documentary entity which form for each person the sum of her books and its papers; collective documentary entity of the institutions, the administrations and the firms; entity of the bodies especially devoted to the Book and the Document, the whole or some one of its functions: Office, Institute, Drafting of the Publications, Libraries, Offices of Documentation. This work gives of it a general draft and into present a coordinated method. The talks do not miss which said how to make, of simple notes, the sheets of a manuscript; of a cluster of books, a well ordered library; of a cluster of parts of correspondence, of accountancy, files in good order; of a whole various of texts, a coordinated coding. But these publications in great number, excellent as for their goal, did not consider each one that an aspect of the things of the book, and consequently gave the impression that there was like as many specific fields, distinct and separated by watertight bulkheads, that there was, by approaching each one of them, to initiate itself with very new concepts, to familiarize itself with practices without connection with those already acquired. This Treaty aims before very releasing from the facts, the principles, the general rules and showing how coordination and the unit can be obtained.
The Lake Of Two Rivers card originally gave me the idea of writing a poem in which each rhyming couplet would be French and English versions of the same idea… each river representing a language. The idea never got any further than that. I don’t think I could have pulled it off, anyway.
I’ve recently resubscribed to New Scientist magazine, after a break for reading books and running around in circles trying to find out whether it was possible to subscribe for more than one year from Switzerland. On Friday I read the ‘Histories
‘ section of my first issue. It was about Paul Otlet, and his early 20th century implementation of something startlingly similar to the worldwide web, with the web made of hundreds of thousands of index cards, the search engine made of women, and snail mail playing the part of HTTP. He later went as far as proposing that access be via telephone and TV screen.
This part, though far from being the most important point in the article, particularly amused me:
Part library and part museum, the Mundaneum would be built in a proposed “world city” within Geneva. Visitors would ascend a stylised ziggurat in lifts or via an external ramp 2 kilometres long, and as they descended floor by floor they would travel through history, from man’s beginning through the rise of civilisation, to emerge finally in the glorious modern age.
At CERN, where the real worldwide web was born, and just inside the canton of Geneva, is the Globe of Science and Innovation. Ascending the ramp around the inside of the globe, you travel through prehistory, from the big bang to the formation of our solar system, if I recall correctly.
I’d been considering trying my hand at translation for a while, and when I saw that Otlet had written a treatise in French, which has not yet been translated in its entirety to English, I decided to try it. But I wrongly assumed that a translation of prose would not demand enough creativity for this to qualify as a thing a week, so I decided to translate it in different styles, including a lipogrammatic version excluding this week’s letter. This is somewhat similar to Raymond Queneau
‘s Exercices de style
, in which he tells the same simple story in 99 different ways. I have long wanted to emulate this, but was stuck for raw material. I have not had the time to write 99 different versions, or even three good ones, but what I’ve done was at least a good exercice
, if not de style.
It became clear what the real lake of two rivers would be… a translation including elements of both Otlet’s work and Tim Berners-Lee’s proposal
of the worldwide web. Unfortunately, I didn’t end up having time to do it. I still have an hour before the deadline elves get me, so perhaps I’ll edit this post to add a Berners-Lee version, but I’m going to need a good cup of tea and some chocolate first.
I think I actually like the lipogrammatic version better than the somewhat literal translation, since I let myself stray further from the confusing phrasing of the original, although in some cases I chose vocabulary even closer to that of the original (though perhaps not as usual in English.) Also, since I was able to use the nine most common letters in English, the result flows fairly naturally. The major sources of trouble were past tenses, not to mention a certain common conjunction.
At around 2a.m. on Sunday, I noticed how much easier it would be to translate if I used terms from my ‘native’ language, programming. So there is also a version about software. But don’t be fooled. These are all, as Paul Otlet pointed out, different aspects of the same thing.
I should point out that you should not consider any of these translations to be in any way accurate. I’ve only been learning French for three years, including two terms of beginners’ French classes, and I hardly ever speak or write it. However, I do try to read and listen to as much French as possible, and that’s all that should count for a translation. I had never encountered an author who wrote such long and convoluted sentences though. I asked for help with a few sentences on WordReference
, and even the French native-speakers there had trouble understanding them. To be honest, I still don’t fully understand a few parts of it (notably the part just before I gave up on Programmatic), and I interpreted them differently in each translation.
Just for fun, I decided to see what automatic translators would make of it. I thought that three years of French and 27 of English would at least make me better at French to English translation than a machine. but wow… Google translator did better than I did in many parts. Why didn’t I think of ‘coordinated approach’? And ‘streamlining’?
I don’t know whether this should encourage me to stick to my day job, or be afraid that my day job (as a programmer) will give rise to even more creatures superior to me, which will go on to take over the world. At least Babelfish did a suffishently poor job of it.