A who’s who of Library and Information Science

A who’s who of Library and Information Science

In celebration of the start of this years #citylis, I thought it might be fun to write a very brief¬†who’s who guide to some of the main figures in Library and Information Science.¬†It is by no means definitive, so feel free to add your own thoughts in the comments below if you feel someone is missing.

Ashurbanipal, King of Assyria (668-around 630 BC)

The Royal lion hunt reliefs from the Assyrian palace at Nineveh , 645-635 BC, British Museum. by Johnbod CC-BY-SA-4.0

The last great King of the Neo-Assyrian empire in Nineveh near Mosul in Iraq. Ashurbanipal was responsible for assembling The Royal Library of Ashurbanipal, thought to be the oldest surviving Royal Library in the world. The library consisted of 30,000 cuneiform tablets and writing boards on a range of subjects including historical inscriptions, letters, administrative and legal texts, alongside found thousands of divinatory, magical, medical, literary and lexical texts.

The fragmented remains were discovered in the 1850s and are now kept in the British Museum. In 2002 the Ashurbanipal Library Project was setup between the museum and University of Mosul, in Iraq, with aim of cataloguing and digitizing the library to make it available to new and future generations.

Further reading:  The British Museum The Library of Ashurbanipal

. . .

Thomas Bodley¬†(2 March 1545 ‚Äď 29 January¬†1613)

Thomas Bodley Public Domain via` wikimedia commons
Thomas Bodley – Wikimedia Commons

Founder of Oxford’s famous Bodleian Library. After a career as an Oxford academic, Member of Parliament and diplomat for Queen Elizabeth the First, Bodley set about restoring the Library¬†known as Duke Humfrey‚Äôs, which had fallen into disrepair. The restored library reopened in 1602 containing some 2000 volumes, and included¬†works in Hebrew, Turkish, Arabic, Persian and Chinese. Today the Bodleian is one of Europe’s oldest libraries and also functions as one of the UK’s six¬† legal deposit library alongside the British Library, the National Library of Scotland, the National Library of Wales, the University Library, Cambridge, and. the Library of Trinity College, Dublin.

Further reading: The Death of Thomas Bodley

Bodleian Library: History of the Bodleian

. . .

Suzanne Briet (1 February 1894 – 13 February 1989)

Suzanne Briet

Known as Madame Documentation,¬†Ren√©e-Marie-H√©l√®ne-Suzanne Briet was born in Ardennes, but grew up in Paris. She began her career in librarianship at the Biblioth√®que Nationale de France in 1924 and would go on to shape both the field of¬† librarianship and Documentation. At the BNF Briet was responsible for establishing the¬†Office of Documentation, Alongside Chemist¬† Jean G√©rard she was responsible for co-founding the Union Fran√ßaise des Organismes de Documentation (UFOD) in 1931, the french equivalent of ASLIB or the American Documentation Institution. Brie Went on to influence the development of library education in her role as Director of¬†the¬†¬†l‚ÄôInstitut National des Techniques de la Documentation¬†one of France’s oldest library schools.

In 1951 Briet published her treatise on Documentation:¬† Qu’est-ce que la documentation?, a text of great significance that considers documents not as material objects but “evidence in support of a fact“. Her expanded definition of documentation, marked a departure from previous definitions asking the question:

‚ÄúIs a star a document? Is a pebble rolled by a torrent a document? Is a living animal a document? No. But the photographs and the catalogues of stars, the stones in a museum of mineralogy , and the animals that are cataloged and shown in a zoo, are documents.‚ÄĚ

In 1997,¬†Michael Buckland‚Äôs What is a Document? revived interest in Briet’s concept of Documentation and led to a renewed interest in the study of Documentation, providing¬† a foundation for modern debates about the nature of documents.

Further reading: On Documenting Performance and Suzanne Briet

Briet, S., et al (2006) What is documentation?: English translation of the classic French text, Scarecrow Press.

What is a Document? / Michael Buckland

. . .

Richard de Bury (1281‚Äď1345)

Portait of Richard De Bury via eBooks@Adelaide

Born at Bury St. Edmunds, Richard de Bury¬†was a Benedictine monk, he studied at Oxford and became tutor to the Prince of wales, the future Edward III. Bury¬†was a skilled diplomat and administrator, serving as¬†keeper of the privy seal, chancellor and treasurer of the exchequer.¬†¬†One of the first English book collectors, he founded¬†a library at Durham, searching far and wide for books and manuscripts. Prior to his death on 1345 De Bury¬†wrote his Philobiblon, a collection of essays¬†concerning the acquisition, preservation, and organization of books, in which he describes ‘his means and method’ of¬† collecting books.

Further reading: The Love of Books: The Philobiblon of Richard De Bury РTranslated Into English By E. C. Thomas

The Spectator Archives¬†¬†The “Philobiblon ” of Richard De Bury.¬†

. . .

Melvil Dewey¬†(10 December¬† 1851‚ÄĒ26 December 1931)


Melville Louis Kossuth (Melvil) Dewey, called “the father of modern librarianship” invented the Dewey Decimal Classification(DDC) system and helped establish the American Library Association, the ALA. At the age of¬† 21 whilst working on the reclassification library of Amherst College, Dewey devised a system of decimal numbers on top of a knowledge structure originally outlined by Francis Bacon. The system outlined in A Classification and Subject Index for Cataloguing and Arranging the Books and Pamphlets of a Library, became the Dewey Decimal Classification System, which he Copyrighted¬†in 1876.

Having helped establish the ALA that same year, he served as secretary from 1876 to 1890 and then president for¬†the 1890/1891 and 1892/1893 terms. Alongside¬†R.R. Bowker and Frederick Leypoldt he became co-founder and editor of¬†the Library Journal.¬† In the year, following his appointment as librarian of Columbia College in 1883, Dewey founded the first ever library school,¬†the School of Library Economy, which opened in 1887,with a cohort of 20 students, mostly women, at Dewey’s insistence.

Following his move to New York State Library, in Albany, the school was reestablished under his direction as the New York State Library School.  As director of the New York State Library (1889 to 1906),  secretary of the University of the State of New York (until 1900) he reorganized the New York state library, into one of the most efficient in the United States. He was also responsible for establishing a system of traveling libraries and picture collections. Dewey, died of a stroke on 26th December 1931 at the age of 80.

Further reading: Irrepressible Reformer / Wiegand

. . .

Luciano Floridi (Born 16 November 1964)

Luciano Floridi via Oxford Internet Institute
Luciano Floridi via Oxford Internet Institute

Luciano Floridi is currently Professor of Philosophy and Ethics of Information at the University of Oxford, and Director of the¬†Digital Ethics Lab¬†of the Oxford Internet Institute.¬†Flordi’s main areas of research are Information and Computer Ethics (Digital Ethics), the Philosophy of Information, and the Philosophy of Technology. His current work includes the lifelong project, Principia Philosophiae Informationis, the Information tetralogy.

Florid’s work in the area of Information Philosophy and Digital Ethics is extensive having published more than 150 papers on these subjects.

In his Floridi’s central premise of his Information Philosophy is that :

Semantic Information is well formed, meaningful and truthful data. Knowledge is relevant semantic information properly accounted for: humans are the only known semantic engines and conscious inforgs (informational organisms) in the universe who can develop a growing knowledge of reality and the totality of information.(note the crucial absence of semantic)

Floridi also argues that¬†we are moving into the 4th revolution, following the Copernican, Darwinian and Freudian revolutions. In the Fourth Revolution information becomes our environment, the ‘infosphere‘. Floridi argues that following the Fourth revolutions we are becoming interconnected inforgs amongst other inforgs, our online personalities and personas begin to bleed into our ‘real lives’ leading to a phenomenon¬†known as onlife.¬†¬†Floridi’s work confronts the philosophical, ethical and moral issues of this new reality in¬†which¬†we find ourselves, what Flordi deems the ‘information ontology’ including the ethics of, Information, Onlife and particularly Artificial Intelligence.

Further Reading:

Floridi, L. (2010) Information: a very short introduction, Oxford University Press, Oxford
Floridi, L. (2011) The philosophy of information, Oxford University Press, Oxford. (Volume one of the Tetralogy)
Floridi, L. (2013) The ethics of information, Oxford University Press, Oxford, United Kingdom. (Volume two of the Tetralogy)
Floridi, L., (2014) The 4th revolution: how the infosphere is reshaping human reality, Oxford University Press, Oxford, United Kingdom. (Oxford University Press, 2014)

Edited volumes include:
Floridi, L.(2004) The Blackwell guide to the philosophy of computing and information, Blackwell Pub, Malden, MA.
Floridi, L.(2010) The Cambridge Handbook of Information and Computer Ethics, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
Floridi, L., (2016) The Routledge handbook of philosophy of information, Routledge, London.

. . .

Conrad Gesner (26 March 1516 Р13 December 1565)

Conrad Gesner by Conrad Meyer 1662
Conrad Gesner by Conrad Meyer 1662

Conrad Gesner was a Swiss physician and naturalist born in Zurich 1516. As a child he demonstrated an aptitude for both Greek and Latin and at school studied classical languages and theology in Strasbourg. In 1533 he was given a scholarship to study medicine in Bourges University, France.

. In 1537 he produced his first¬†Greek‚ÄďLatin dictionary and in 1545 he published his¬†Bibliotheca universalis, a bibliography of 1800 author listed alphabetically, and accompanied by annotations and listings of each author works. The work the first of its kind took him four years to complete and earned him the name “the father of bibliography.”¬†

Between¬†1551‚Äď1558 Gesner produced his greatest Zoological work, the Historiae Animalium,¬†a four volume bibliography of¬†writings on natural history, combined¬†with encyclopaedic descriptions of every¬†known animal. A fifth volume covering¬† snakes and scorpions¬†was published after his death in 1587. The book was illustrated¬†with some 1,200 hand drawn woodcuts.¬†Gesner’s unique method of arranging his notes involved cutting them into slips and arranging them as desired.¬†Gesner’s other works included studies of plants and his final book¬†De Omni Rerum Fossilium (A Book on Fossil Objects, Chiefly Stones and Gems, their Shapes and Appearances), in which he stressed the importance of the form of an object to its classification. He died of plague in 1565, having published 72 books, and written 18 more unpublished manuscripts.

Further reading: Gesner: Conradi Gesneri medici Tigurini Historiae animalium

Strange Science: Conrad Gesner

Egmond, F. (2013) “A collection within a collection: rediscovered animal drawings from the collections of Conrad Gessner and Felix Platter”, Journal of the History of Collections,. 25(2), pp. 149-170.

. . .

Johannes Gutenberg¬†(born 14th century, Mainz ‚ÄĒdied probably February 3, 1468)

Anonymous portrait of Johannes Gutenberg dated 1440, Gutenberg Museum
Anonymous portrait of Johannes Gutenberg dated 1440, Gutenberg Museum

Johann Gensfleisch zur Laden zum Gutenberg, son of an upper class merchant, was born in Mainz,¬†Germany and devised the printing press that precipitated the ‚ÄúPrinting Revolution in Europe‚ÄĚ. Specifically It was Guttenberg‚Äôs method of printing with movable type, that would usher in the development of printed books in the west, influencing the reformation, renaissance and libraries. Although little is known of his life, around 1428/1430 he is thought to have moved to Strassburg (modern Strasbourg, France), following a dispute between Guilds. With Strasbourg at war Gutenberg is thought to have returned to Mainz around 1448.

Between 1450 and 1453 he entered into business with Johann Fust, who helped him to purchase the tools and materials he needed. However, by 1452, Guttenburg was heavily in debt to Fust and unable to repay the loan. A new agreement was entered into by the two men which made Fust a partner in Guttenberg’s business, however by 1455, Guttenberg was once again unable to pay.

Fust sued, successfully winning ownership of Guttenberg’s business, including his press and ¬†his masterpiece, “Forty-Two-Line” Bible , which Guttenberg had first managed to print at some point during the course of the trial. With Fust’s son in-law joining him in his newly business acquired business they went on to produce the first ever book to bear the name of it’s printers’, the Psalter (Book of Psalms). The Mainz Psalter was printed with 2 colour capitals, using a method of woodblocks and multiple inking no doubt pioneered by Guttenberg and put into practice by Fust and Schoeffer.

In 1462 Fust and Schoeffer’s business was destroyed in the sack of Mainz. Guttenberg remained in the city, and continued his printing, although, since he didn’t put his name to his outputs little is known about what he printed.¬†He died in February, 1468, and was buried in the church of the Franciscan convent in¬†Eltville, Germany.

Further reading:

Barbier, F. (20170) Gutenberg’s Europe: the book and the invention of Western modernity, Polity, Cambridge.
Baron, S.A.,Lindquist, E.N. & Shevlin, E.F. (2007) Agent of change: print culture studies after Elizabeth L. Eisenstein, University of Massachusetts Press, Washington, D.C.

Eisenstein, E.L. (2012) The Printing Revolution in Early Modern Europe, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge

McKitterick, D. (2003) Print, Manuscript and the Search for Order 1450-1830, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

 . . .

Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1 July 1646 –¬†14 November 1716)

gottfried wilhelm libeniz
By Kopie nach Andreas Scheits (um 1655‚Äď1735), deutscher Maleruploader was Hajotthu at de.wikipedia (Museum Herrenhausen Palace) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Born in¬†in¬†Leipzig,¬†Saxony, during the 30 Years War, Leibniz was a philosopher and polymath. Thanks to his farther’s extensive library of Greek and Latin texts, he was able to read by the age of four and by the age of eight had taught himself latin. By 1662 he had already completed a Bachelors Degree in¬†Philosophy at the University of Liepzig.¬†He served as Librarian to the Duke of¬†Guelph, at the¬†Leineschloss Palace and in 1691 he was appointed as Librarian of the Herzog August Library at Wolfenbuettel, containing some 100,000 volumes, and which Leibniz helped design.

Liebniz’s first discussion on the ordering of libraries appeared in his Leibniz discussed the order of books in a library in¬†Nouveaux Essais sur l‚ÄôEntendement humain, a rebuttal of John Locke’s¬†An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, written between 1703 and 1705, but not published until 1765.

As a Librarian Leibniz devised classification schemes that he detailed in his¬†Representation¬†to His Serene Highness the Duke of Wolfenb√ľttel, for the Purposes of Encouraging the¬†Maintenance of His Library. In 1679 he devised the modern binary number system, which today’s computers are based upon, in his¬†Explication de l’Arithm√©tique Binaire(published in 1703). Using the device known as the “Leibniz Wheel’ he developed a calculating machine that could Add,Subtract, Multiply and Divide, which continued to be used in calculating machines throughout the 20th Century.

Further reading:

Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz: Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Davis, M. (2012) The universal computer: the road from Leibniz to Turing, Turing centenary edn, CRC Press, Boca Raton, Fla.

. . .

Carl Linnaeus¬†(23 May 1707 ‚Äď 10 January 1778)

Carl von Linné, Alexander Roslin, 1775
Carl von Linné, Alexander Roslin, 1775

Swedish botanist and the father of Taxonomy, Carl Linnaeus was born 1707 the eldest of five children, in Råshult, Sweden. At an early age, he was taught the names of every plant, by his father Nils, a keen gardener who took his son into the garden whenever he could. By 1728, having spent a year at University of Lund studying medicine, Linnaues transferred to Upsalla University. Whilst there he wrote a thesis, Praeludia Sponsaliorum Plantarum, on the classification of plants based on their sexual parts. The thesis caught the attention of Professor Olof Rudbeck and led him to ask Linnaeus to become a lecturer in botany.

Between 1732 and 1735 Linnaues travelled throughout Sweden including to Lapland, where he hoped to learn all he could about the country’s flora, fauna and natural resources. During his travels he used his binomial system of nomenclature to describe his findings and discovered great quantities of the twin flower Campanula serpyllifolia,later known as Linnea borealis. His Flora Lapponica described 534 species using his Linnaean classification and taxonomy. In 1735 he published his Systema Naturae in which he first established the three kingdoms that are still used today, Animal Vegetable and Mineral or Regnum Animale, Regnum Vegetabile and Regnum Lapideum. Alongside the Species plantarum the book is still used today by scientists and the basis for naming animals and plants respectively.

Further Reading: Who was Carl Linnaeus?

Quammen, D. (2007) Linnaeus: The Name Giver, National Geographic

. . .

Gabriel Naudé (2 February 1600 Р10 July 1653)

Gabriel Naudé. Line engraving by C. Mellan, 1765, after himself
Gabriel Naudé. Line engraving by C. Mellan, 1765, after himself РCC BY 4.0 Wellcome Images

Born in Paris 1600, Naud√© was well educated and was an avid reader of authors classic and modern. Having attended several colleges, and receiving the title master of arts he enrolled in the University of Paris to study medicine. Despite his medical training Naud√© would never practice medicine and instead was offered the position of Librarian to¬†President Henri de Mesme. Whilst working for de Mesmes, whose library¬†contained some 8,000 printed¬†books,¬†Naud√©¬†would¬†write¬†his famous¬†Advis pour dresser une biblioth√®que, considered the first modern treatise on Librarianship. Addressed to his patron¬†de Mesme¬†Naud√©‚Äôs Advis¬†consisted of 9 chapters dealing¬†with the selection, acquisition and arrangement of books under the subject headings that included “Theologie, Physick, Iurisprudence, Mathematicks,¬†‚ÄĮand¬†Humanity”.¬†Naud√©‚Äô used his Advis to advocate his vision for a universal library that was open to the public. Following, his time in the Bibliotheque Memmiana Naud√© returned to his medical studies before he¬†was asked to join Cardinal Bagni the¬†Vatican ambassador in Paris when returned to Italy in 1629. Naud√© returned to Paris in 1642, and the following year he entered into the service of France’s first minister Cardinal Mazarin, once again in the role of Librarian. In service to Mazarin, Naud√© sought to establish France’s first public library and would spend the next ten years devoted to the creation and development of his Universal Library in the shape of the Bibliotheque Mazarine, in Paris.

Further Reading:  Naudé, Mazarin and the origins of France’s oldest public library

Kelley, D.R.(1997) History and the disciplines: the reclassification of knowledge in early modern Europe, University of Rochester Press, Woodbridge, Suffolk.

. . .

Paul Otlet  (23 August 1868  Р10 December 1944)

Paul Otlet by Marc Wathieu
Paul Otlet – Marc Wathieu -Flickr Commons [CC BY-NC 2.0]
Belgian bibliographer, lawyer and entrepreneur Paul Marie Ghislain Otlet, was another figure said to be the ‘father of information science’, and ‘father of the internet’.¬†Born in Brussels, Belgium, in 1868, he¬†trained as a lawyer, completing his law degree at the Free University of Brussels in 1890. That same year whilst working as an intern at the offices of Edmond Picard, he met¬† fellow lawyer Henri La Fontaine, who shared Otlet’s interest in bibliography.

Otlet and La Fontaine soon became good friends and in 1892 they formed the International Institute of Social Bibliography and began a bibliographic survey of sociological literature that would last the next three years. In 1895 they established the Institut International de Bibliographie and turned their focus to the cataloging of  published information across all subjects. Together they created their Universal Bibliography, a card catalog comprising over 400,000 entries recorded on index cards, each assigned a class number, initially based on the Dewey Decimal Classification and later his own UDC.

La classification Décimale Universelle - Indices composés détaillant l;analyse classificatrice
La classification D√©cimale Universelle – Indices compos√©s d√©taillant l’analyse classificatrice.
Indexation des publications et rédaction des fiches bibliographiques
Indexation des publications et r√©daction des fiches bibliographiques” “By Mundaneum

Otlet and La Fontaine initially decided to use a translated version of the Dewey Decimal Classification, with the agreement of Melvil Dewey, in the process they developed and adapted it to their needs, creating a classification scheme they named Universal Decimal Classification. Like Dewey UDC divided all knowledge into 10 main categories, that could further be subdivided into any number of subcategories. Where the two diverged was in the separation of numbers, while Dewey used the decimal point from which it took its name, the UDC used a range of notations, such as the plus and equals signs, the colon and parentheses to allow a much expanded range of relationships between concepts.

They published the first complete edition of the UDC in 1905 in form of the Manuel du R√©pertoire Bibliographique Universel¬†(Handbook of the¬†Universal Bibliographic Repertory) a 2000+ page containing elaborate and extensive subject arrays illustrated by extended classification tables, auxiliary tables and a guide to the scheme’s use in creating¬†catalogs and indexes. The arrival of the¬†First World War forced Otlet and La Fontaine into exile, with the former travelling to the Netherlands, Switzerland, and finally to France. Meanwhile La Fontaine journeyed to¬†London and then the United States. Both were committed to peace as reflected in their writings¬†with Otlet penning¬†his¬†Trait√© de paix g√©n√©rale (Treatise on General Peace, 1914) and Les probl√®mes internationaux de la guerre¬†(International Problems of War,¬†916) whilst La Fontaine¬†published his The Great Solution: Magnissima Charta (1916) in the United States where he was involved in the Pacifist Movement.

In 1910 having been to the universal exposition in Belgium, Otlet conceived the idea for the Palais Mondial or World Palace, which would act as an international centre for knowledge and peace. At its centre would be the Mundaneum, a universal network of all the world‚Äôs knowledge and containing his universal bibliography. In what has been described as an ‚Äėanalog internet‚Äô, Otlet envisioned network of ‚Äúelectric telescopes‚ÄĚ, dubbed ‘resau’, connected to the Mundaneum, through which users could request documents from the great libraries, that would be would be projected into a telegraph room. Following the end of the War, the Begian Government, proving receptive to the idea, provided Otlet and La Fontaine, space in the left wing of the Palais du Cinquantenaire, a government building in Brussels, opening 1921. The following year it was shut briefly, due to lack of support from the government,¬† but was reopened again after lobbying from Otlet and La Fontaine. In 1924 Otlet renamed the Palais Mondial to Mundaneum and the Universal Bibliographic Repertory, continued to expand and take in all forms of document including letters, reports, newspaper articles, and images.

By 1934, the Belgian government had again lost interest in funding the Munadaneum and its offices where closed, despite the protest of Otlet. Whilst the collection remained in situ, but inaccessible, Otlet returned to his writing producing¬†in 1934¬†Trait√© de documentation, still considered a key text in the sphere of Documentation. The following year he published¬†Monde:Essai d‚Äôuniversalisme (1935), which described his vision for a worldwide information network, that foreshadowed the internet. In 1940, Germany invaded Belgium and the Palais du Cinquantenaire was taken over to house a collection of artwork of the Third Reich, destroying much of the Mundaneum in the process. Otlet salvaged the remains and moved them to Parc L√©opold, the dilapidated building in which the collection remain until it’s rediscovery by a young research name Boyd Rayward, in 1968.

Otlet died in December 1944, however the Mundaneum continues today as a private museum and archives center, with a mission to conserve, preserve and showcase within its space of temporary exhibitions, archives and collections bequeathed by its founders : nearly 6 km current documents and 12 million index cards of Universal Bibliographic Repertory!

In many of his ideas Otlet was ahead of his time, the semantic relationships that UDC allows have been compared by many to the RDF-Triples data model that underlies the semantic web. His thoughts on a network of information centres and the transmission of documents predicted the Internet several decades before Tim Berners-Lee would first propose his vision of hypertext.

Further reading:

Boyd Rayward(1981) The Evolution of an International Library and Bibliographic Community- The Journal of Library History  Vol. 16, No. 2, Libraries &Culture II (Spring, 1981)

Rayward’s Otlet Page: Paul Otlet and Documentation

Manfroid, S., Gillen, J. & Phillips-Batoma, P.M. (2013) The Archives of Paul Otlet: Between Appreciation and Rediscovery, 1944‚Äď2013, Library Trends, vol. 62, no. 2, pp. 311-328.

Otlet, P. (1934) Traité de documentation: le livre sur le livre, théorie et pratique

Wright, A. The Web Time Forgot

Wright, A., (2014) Cataloging the world: Paul Otlet and the birth of the information age, Oxford University Press, New York, NY.

Cataloging the World by Alex Wright [Video]

. . .

Claude Shannon (30 April 1916 Р24 February 2001)

Claude Shannon by Konrad Jacobs CC BY-SA 2.0

Widely regarded as the ‘Father of the Information Age‘ Claude Elwood Shannon was born in¬†Petoskey, Michigan. After obtaining bachelor’s degrees in Mathematics and Electrical Engineering from the University of Michigan, Shannon began his graduate studies in¬†electrical engineering at MIT in 1936. ¬†His familiarity with Boolean Algebra allowed him to design¬†electrical switching circuits based on Boolean Logic. His¬†master’s thesis, A Mathematical Theory of Communication, was described by¬†Howard Gardner¬†as “possibly the most important master‚Äôs theses ever written‚ÄĚ, whilst other have called it “the Magna Carta of the information age.”

It was Shannon he who first established that data could be measured in “bits” (a term derived from the contraction of binary and digit)¬†in his 1948 paper¬†‚ÄúA Mathematical Theory of Communication.‚Ä̬†In 1941, Shannon, having obtained A PhD in Mathematics was recruited by Bell Labs, where he worked on cryptography. He continued to work on Information Theory during this time, realizing that the encoding of messages in cryptography could be applied on a theoretical level to communication in general. The general premise of his theory was that: “a¬†message‚Äôs information is proportional to its improbability–or¬†its capacity to surprise an observer.

Whilst at Bell Labs, he would work closely with Alan Turing, who had been seconded to Washington in 1943, to aid the allies efforts in decryption. In 1949, his previously classified paper “A Mathematical Theory of Cryptography‚ÄĚ was published in the Bell Labs Research Journal. Shannon’s landmark theory stated that all communications could be though of as the same regardless of the medium. Noise poses a risk to all messages regardless of the channel and so Shannon declared that the key to ensuring accurate delivery of any message was the information contained in the message, rather than the meaning of the message itself.

Shannon stated that all communication systems can be broken down into the same essential components, information source, source, transmitter, channel, noise source receiver and destination. From there he was able to determine that the encoding of message by the transmitter was the key to ensuring the accuracy of the message and the avoidance of noise.

Shannon’s Schematic diagram of a general communication system – Wikimedia commons

Building on the premise of information as a measure of “surprise, or the amount of uncertainty we can overcome” he used the example of a coin toss to illustrate his point. Asserting that a fair coin toss, with equal chance of landing on either side, head or tails contains one bit of information. Shannon argued that the messages we send are like weighted coin tosses, they aren’t merely a random assemblage of characters but follow implicit rules that make them more predictable. Using this knowledge exemplified by the rule that certain characters are usually followed by others for example the letter “Q” is most commonly followed by a “U” or an “E”, he was able to show that the value of English (he called it H value) characters could be less than 1 bit. He expressed this in the following equation:


In 1956 he joined¬†MIT’s¬†Research Laboratory of Electronics¬† and served as faculty until 1978. Outside of work Shannon dabbled in robotics and computing, he invented a juggling robot, a flame-throwing trumpet, an electronic maze-solving mouse called Theseus, and a roman numeral arithmetic machine called¬†THROBAC I Thrifty Roman Numeral Backward-Looking Computer. One of his most interesting devices was the “Ultimate Machine” a featureless box, with a single switch¬† on the front, when the¬†switch was flipped the lid of the box would open and a mechanical hand reached out, flipped off the switch, then retracted back inside the box.

In 1973,the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers bestowed him the first ever Shannon Award. In later life¬†Shannon was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and spent his last years in a nursing home. He died in 2001. His legacy lives on in his Information¬†theory and work which formed the basis of modern computing, the internet and everything that followed.

Further reading: Soni, J. (2017) A Mind at Play: How Claude Shannon Invented the Information Age, Simon & Schuster

Claude Shannon, the Father of the Information Age, Turns 1100100

10,000 Hours With Claude Shannon: How A Genius Thinks, Works, and Lives

Profile of Claude Shannon, Inventor of Information Theory Scientific American


Books, bugs and a dead rat…Hands on History at the National Archives

Books, bugs and a dead rat…Hands on History at the National Archives

A busy couple of weeks and were nearly at the end of February… I am going to briefly write about a couple of talks I attended at the National Archives in Kew.

Late last year I was fortunate enough to attend a #citylis arranged visit to the National Archives which included a talk about their work and a behind the scenes tour, some of their operations including the document handling,¬†conservation and¬†digitization,¬†sadly no pictures were allowed. It was a fascinating tour, which I had planned to write about here but didn’t sadly didn’t have time.

Since then I have been lucky enough to find the time to go back for two free talks which they have provided as part of programme called Hands on History:

20160202_143326 (2)
Polygraphiae libri sex Ioannis Trithemij, abbatis Peapolitani quondam Spanheimensis, ad Maximilianum Caesarem.- 1518

The first event presented an opportunity to examine and interact with a selection of rare books printed and published between 1518 and 1798.

Although, I would have found it interesting anyway it was especially relevant as one of my recent #citylis assignments focussed on the impact of printing on Libraries in the early modern period. Having read about the features introduced by printing, such as contents and title pages, here was a chance to seem them in the flesh, or paper as it were.

There was a wide selection of different books on display including a books on the history of the Exchequer of the Kings of England’, a book entitled The compleat surveyor or, The whole art of surveying of land : by a new instrument lately invented; as also by the plain table, circumferentor, the theodolite as now improv’d, or by the chain only, which contained an array of fold out diagrams, or the beautifully illustrated Cosmographia Petri Apiani : per Gemmam Frisium apud Louanienses medicum & mathematicum insignem, iam demum ab omnibus vindicata mendis, ac nonnullis quoque locis aucta, & annotationibus marginalibus illustrata.

An image of the title page of The Compleat Surveyor
The Compleat Surveyor…1722

Some of the books were still in original bindings, while others showed signs of conservation works carried out in the past. One book of particular interest was an early legal dictionary titled The interpreter, or, Booke containing the signification of words : wherein is set forth the true meaning of all, or the most part of such words and termes, as are mentioned in the law writers, or statutes of this … kingdome …: a worke … necessary for such as desire throughly to be instructed in the knowledge of our lawes, statutes, or other antiquities / collected by John Cowell. ¬†. which had been banned for some of its definitions, relating to the monarchy, when it was first published, although its subsequent release featured acceptable and amended definitions.

Title page of the the book the Interpreter which was banned upon first release
The Interpreter or book containing significant words 1637

According to the catalogue of the National Archives manuscript note pasted in the front reads: “The first edition of this book was suppressed in 1610 – a proclamation denounced it as a pernicious book made against the honor and prerogative of the Crown and the dignity of the law. It was not printed again until 1637. Cowell was imprisoned.” References to State Papers are given and a note that says See under Subsidy, King, Parliament, Prerogative. ( For those interested a digitized copy of the book is available online here)

Ammended defintions

The talk gave an insight into the provenance of the books and in some cases how they ended up in the National Archives, one featured a note saying that the book had belonged to a member of the archives staff before being given to the Archive by the Chief Librarian of Kingston upon Thames, this was many years ago now.

There were many other books on display including the effectively titled:

The Office of the clerk of assize : containing the form and method of the proceedings at the assizes and general gaol-delivery as also on the crown and nisi prius side: together with The Office of the clerk of the peace: shewing the true manner and form of the proceedings at the Court of General Quarter-Sessions of the Peace: wih divers forms of presentments and other precedents at assizes and sessions: with a table of fees thereunto belonging. (catalogue record)

Published in 1682 this book was the standard book for the assize clerks and once belonged to Sir John Trollope MP once 7th Baronet Trollope of Casewick, later 1st Baron Kesteven and President of the Poor Law Board.

It was amazing to be able to view such rare books up close (and there was no need for white gloves, although they provide supports and weights, the latter seen in the first photograph) and to be able to look through them albeit delicately. Another bonus was that I could take photos with my phone.

It was a great chance to see some fascinating items, not just the books as a whole, but the illustrations, diagrams, footnotes and some funky illuminated letters, showing that despite the new technology of printed books, there was still a desire to replicate

Beyond the opportunity to see these beautiful rare books, it gave me an idea of the difficulties and challenges that are involved in both the cataloguing and conservation of rare books.


Warning the next section contain pictures of insects and a mummified rat look away now if you’re easily grossed out

You have been warned…


Conservation at The National Archives: Bugs and preventive conservation

The second event I attended was another Hands on History and was all about conservation at the National Archives and was not for anyone who dislikes bugs. It also featured my favourite item from the Archives:

A Mummified Rat

The talk was given by staff from the Collection Care and looked how they prevent damage from insects and other pests.

In their work the Collection Care team have to deal with a wide range of pests some of which may directly affect the collections such as the Case Bearing Clothes Moth, which feeds on Textiles, Guernsey Carpet Beetles, Furniture Beetle and the Common Book Louse. Some insects feed on bindings, others may bore through eating their way through the covers and pages. They hold a large collection of tally sticks which show can show signs of furniture beetle infection Рholes and saw dust  (although they said there has never been an infestation at National Archives).

Image of Tally sticks from the National Archives
Tally sticks from the National Archives – the holes are the result of furniture beetle boring through

Others indicate possible risks such as damp or in some the presence of dead insects provide food for other insects. The Archives also are at risks from rodents, which can gnaw through pretty much anything  and birds which can nest in ducts. In the case of the latter we heard the gruesome the story of how a former Head of the National Archives was sitting at their desk when a horde of maggots began to raining down from the ventilation duct. Apparently they had come from the corpse of pigeon that had somehow become stuck and subsequently died in the ventilation duct. Yuck! To prevent such things occurring, they make use of variety of measures including mesh coverings, repellent gels and plastic owls.

To prevent infestations and damage they employ special adhesive traps which help them monitor for the presence of insects and as part of the talk we were able to examine these complete with a wide variety of dead specimens up-close using special microscopes. Storing documents in boxes off the floor and carefully monitoring the environment to prevent damp and mould are amongst the various measures they take. Monitoring is a large part of the job as is liaising with a variety of other departments such as housekeeping and premises teams. They engage with both Archives staff who can then aid them in monitoring and prevention. They also provide training and guidance to Government departments to prevent infestations from documents being transferred in.

Both talks were fascinating and insightful providing a great way for the Archives to engage with members of the public as well as perhaps sharing knowledge with staff from other archives or museums. I’d recommend anyone interested in attending future events to visit their Eventbrite page or http://nationalarchives.gov.uk for a full list of past and future events.

Thanks for reading!


I’m pleased to say that¬† passed both essays with 74 and 75 /100 respectively.

Also I found a great blog Table of Discontents the¬†History of the English Book Index¬†its written by¬†Dennis Duncan a¬†Post Doctoral researcher at the¬†Bodleian Library in Oxford who’s conducting a Research Project which:

…charts the history of the book index from the late middle-ages to the¬†age of the Kindle. It also examines the anxiety which has accompanied the index¬†from its earliest days ‚Äď that it poses a threat to ‚Äėdeep reading‚Äô, bringing about a¬†degraded form of learning, a claim which can be found as far back as the early¬†sixteenth-century and which is still alive and well in Nicholas Carr‚Äôs ‚ÄėIs Google¬†Making us Stupid?‚Äô (2008). Tracing the development of the index, its critics, and¬†its variety and distribution across different genres (why, for example, are novels¬†rarely indexed?), the project shows how the index has shaped the ways that we¬†read, as well as coming to represent the distinction between factual and fictional¬†modes of writing. As indexing becomes the paradigm for the processing of ‚Äėbig¬†data‚Äô, and digital archiving brings about both a quantitative leap in the accessibility¬†of materials and a qualitative change in how scholars treat them, the project¬†provides a timely historical context for the way that the index affects conceptions¬†of knowledge and scholarly practice.

Its well worth a look if your interested in early printing or the evolution of indexing.

British Library Labs Roadshow 2016

British Library Labs Roadshow 2016

citylisHappy New Year (only a month late!)

I’m kicking the new year off with a quick recap before the main event, the British Library Labs 2016 Roadshow.

Since last we met, or rather since last I blogged, I have been busy with assignments, Christmas and now I’m back into lectures for a new semester. Last Semester I started my MSc Library Science at City University, which provided me with the impetus and opportunity to (re)start this blog. Last term I studied the grandly titled Library and Information Science Foundation, a whistlestop tour of history, looking at the origins of Libraries and Information Science as we know it today, and the enigmatic sounding DITA which translates to Digital Information Technology and Architecture.

This time around its Digital Libraries, looking at the collection and management of Digital and Digitized Materials (including repositories Рwhich gives me a head start, since I focussed on that for my assignment) and Information Resources and Organisation, which looks at cataloguing rules, taxonomies, thesauri and more.

So the main event, The British Library Labs Roadshow 2016. Last year, I was fortunate enough to attend the British Library Labs Symposium, which you can read all about right here, the Roadshow kicks off the process for the British Library Labs Competition 2016 which will culminate in this years BL Labs Symposium, when the competition winners are announced.

British Library Labs Competition 2016

The annual Competition is looking for transformative project ideas which use the British Library‚Äôs digital collections and data in new and exciting ways. Two Labs Competition finalists will be selected to work ‘in residence’ with the BL Labs team between May and early November 2016, where they will get expert help, access to the Library‚Äôs resources and financial support to realise their projects.

Winners will receive a first prize of £3000 and runners up £1000 courtesy of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation at the Labs Symposium on 7th November 2016 at the British Library in London where they will showcase their work.

The deadline for entering is midnight British Summer Time (BST) on 11th April 2016. 1


The evening kicked off with an introduction by #citylis course director and lecturer Dr Lyn Robinson¬†who said a few words about the late Marvin Minsky’s work in artificial intelligence and about Luciano Floridi’s concepts of AI and Ethics (Floridi says robots are more likely to be like hoovers, both less and more than we can¬†imagine. (Although, even the BL are using robots¬†for some tasks)

Motivator HAL 9000 soory dave
Stanley Kubrick’s HAL – Minsky advised Kubrick on the capabilities of the homicidal AI
 She said that its not contrary to what fiction would have us believe, its not killer AI we need to be concerned with so much as Digital Data, Big Data, Metadata and Meta-Metadata (Metadata about Metadata);

Data, Data everywhere – inside a Google Data Centre

Lyn Handed over to Dr Aquiles Alencar-Brayner, a Citylis Alumnus and now a Digital Curator for the British Library Labs. His presentation provide an overview to the work of and challenges faced by the BL Labs team, he talked about the 10 ‘in’ rules of Digital Libraries and the problems of scale in terms of storing and managing the data that is generated every day.

Digital Libraries: 10 “in” rules – from a presentation by ¬†Dr Aquiles Alencar-

Dr Alencar-Brayner went on to discuss how the Digital Scholarship team supports BL staff and researchers  through  training courses and the projects they have run. He talked about how Digital Scholarship team are working to assist in the capture and conservation of personal digital devices and born digital manuscripts (the modern equivalent of the handwritten notebooks and diaries of old) for future analysis and access.

Lastly he gave some examples of how they have engaged with the public through exhibitions and crowdsourcing efforts such as the Growing Knowledge Exhibiton (2010 – 2011) and the BL Sound Map ‘Your accents’ interactive map of accents (more about the project here).

Next to take the floor was¬†Mahendra Mahey Project Manager of the British Library Labs. Mahendra talked about the reasons for the British Library labs Awards, a means to learn about who is using the Library’s digital content and data, what they are doing with it, why and how. He explained that they also want to understand how they are supporting future users of their digital content/data and how they should be supporting them.

He then talked about last years winners, and the ways in which they made use of the British Library’s digital content (see my post for last years awards) and went on to announce this years competition. (see above).

Following on from Mahendra’s presentation, was a Q &¬†A panel from¬†#citylis students who were asked to talk about their experience and involvement with the British Library Labs. The Q¬†& A¬†was joined by former BL Labs Trainee¬†Dimitra Charalampidou, via Skype, who talked about her¬†experience of uploading Digitized Bookbinding sets¬†to Wikimedia. It was a great opportunity to learn¬†first hand the ways in which students can gain skills¬†and¬†experience through¬†working with the BL Labs.

Farces… a slide from Ben O’Steen’s presentation

After the Q & A, Ben O’Steen,¬†Technical Lead for BL Labs, gave a though provoking presentation called¬†Farces and Failures. He talked about how the when the¬†British Library Labs team¬†work with researchers on a specific problem, they are also trying to understand how widely that problem is felt by the wider community. He talked¬†about how we name and label things can shape the questions that people ask and the assumptions they¬†make. Introducing the the concept of the farce where two people have a conversation and leave with a completely different ideas of what they talked about he said that common farce inducing¬†words¬†included Access, Collection, Metadata content and even Crowdsourced. Access to one person can mean a completely different thing to another.¬†Much of the confusion can come from the assumption that a¬†sample of¬†digitized works, such as the Microsoft Books Collection, is representative of the overall sample. Other examples included the best guess dates in metadata.¬†This led to the development of the sample generator¬†a tool that was created which created statistically representative samples from the British Library‚Äôs book collections.

What does¬†do we mean by “Access”? Ben O’Steen

He rounded out the talk by discussing how failure and imperfection can be helpful, the misconceptions surrounding crowdsourcing and a look at the use of games to aid in tagging content.

The final part of the evening, the ideas lab, was the most fun. In groups we had, 15 minutes, to try an pitch an idea to the BL Labs team for innovative use of their digital data, there were some intriguing ideas such as a soundtracks for novels using Archival sounds, and a tinder style app for tagging content. In the end the winning idea came from my team led by fellow #citylis student Hannah Kolef, which pitched a mashup between crime fiction metadata and real crime statistics to see explore possible correlations between fantasy and reality.

Overall it was a great and informative, evening and a privilege to be able to attend the inaugural stop on the 2016 Roadshow, in the company of fellow #citylisers and others. These events are one of the great things about #citylis, and also the BL, the opportunity to meet, interact and learn from so many different people.

1. British Library Labs Competition: http://labs.bl.uk/British+Library+Labs+Competition







Library as Makerspace

Library as Makerspace

The link between Libraries and a banana piano is not immediately obvious but it has everything to do with the Library as educator, community engagement and addressing the digital divide by making digital technology available to all.

Using a 3d Printer to build an Advent Calender

Our last #citylis DITA lecture focused on learning about the Library as Makerspace:

Makerspaces, sometimes also referred to as hackerspaces, hackspaces, and fablabs are creative, DIY spaces where people can gather to create, invent, and learn. In libraries they often have 3D printers, software, electronics, craft and hardware supplies and tools, and more. 1

We were fortunate to have Carlos Izsak visit us with his Makercart Рa trolley that allows him to transport the equipment from place to place and provide a pop-up Makerspace. As part of the session we were able to have hands on with 5 different types of technology, including a 3D Printer, Digital Cutter, Audrino Computing, Robotics and a sampling of literature on the subject of Makerspaces and the associated tech.

Split into groups we all got time to spend experimenting, creating and playing with each different technology:

Now if you imagine that a group of Library students could get totally involved, just imagine the excitement you would get from Children. The great thing about the Makerspace is it’s hands on participatory nature, participatory learning is a big tool in the Library as educator toolbox.¬†It fosters engagement and boosts motivation through meaningful experimentation ¬†and play. And in our case it certainly did, from the get go we were taking everything out and¬†plugging things together to see what happened.

The Robot revolution

Maker cart as open educational resource

The idea of the Makercart is to work with libraries, education and the community and bring about the opportunities for the young and perhaps not so young to engage with digital technology in a way which is perhaps not achieved by normal classroom based learning.

Putting the tools in the hands of learners and giving them the opportunity helps them see the relevance and perhaps possibilities that can be opened up by learning and using technology.

The Makespace and Makercart technology is relatively inexpensive –¬†some of its roughly the same price or less than a new video game. Obviously the 3D printer and cutter are costlier but still cheap compared to larger commercial alternatives and the majority of it is easily transported.

Another benefit is that the technology and software is Open Source meaning its community based, and can be shared, modded and reused freely. For the Librarian the Makercart and Makerspace relate in many ways from giving free access to information or tools.

The idea of Digital Inclusion that I previously mentioned and providing access to Digital Technology for those that don’t have access themselves. It provides an opportunity for the consumer to become the creator, reusing open tools to make and create¬†things which can then be shared and reused by others.

It also offers an opportunity for communities to create solutions to local problems Рwhy buy in parts when you can 3D print them to your specification?

Again it allows for community engagement, something which Libraries are always aiming to do, providing a safe environment for family friendly activities and learning. Makerspaces facilitate sharing knowledge, through showing and telling, learn by doing, and provides an opportunity to use the library as space for information and engagement.

Its also about empowerment and enablement of the user, just as Librarians aim to teach patrons about Information Skills which they can apply in the real world, Makerspaces provide the opportunity to learn Informational and practical skills, such as coding, circuits and communicating.

The Information Architecture of Makerspace

Lastly, from the perspective of our Digital Information Technology and Architecture (DITA) module. In DITA we have looked at how web and data technologies have changed the way we interact with information. Much of the technology we used in the session run on software that either can be downloaded or even runs in the browser, from websites built with html, css or php and MySQL.It also uses APIs for easy interaction and connection between PC and equipment.

Other resources use programming languages or coding which transforms physical information into digital information and back again.

3d printing convert digital information into physical information

 Openness in Education

At its core the idea of the Makerspace and Makercart is about bringing down the barriers. Just as Open Access was born out of the desire to enable access to information and allows for reuse so to does the Makerspace and Makercart facilitate access to new ideas, information and technology and allowing it to be reusable, free of charge and restrictions.

I leave you with this video of the banana piano from its creators.

Thanks for reading, Happy Hanukkah and Merry Christmas.


  1. Kroski, E. (2013). A Librarian’s Guide to Makerspaces: 16 Resources | OEDB.org. [online] OEDB.org. Available at: http://oedb.org/ilibrarian/a-librarians-guide-to-makerspaces/ [Accessed 8 Dec. 2015].
  2. Tweets from #citylis cohorts

Links and Resources

Fablabs UK – Fablabs –¬†http://www.fablabsuk.co.uk/

How to Build Your Makerspace https://www.edsurge.com/research/guides/research/guides/how-to-build-your-makerspace

Arduino  Рopen source software and hardware https://www.arduino.cc/

Arduino blog creative technology classroom ‚Äď featuring a post about the robot that was featured in the session ¬†https://blog.arduino.cc/2015/11/30/mbot-the-easiest-educational-robot-for-kid-atheart/

Makerspace and Kickstarter ‚Äď Makerspace projects seeking Kickstarter funding¬†https://www.kickstarter.com/discover/categories/makerspaces

MakeyMakey- for fruit orchestra’s and more

Public Libraries Online ‚Äď Do it yourself Raspberry Pi OPACS

Blog post about how US Libraries are using Digital tools and Makerspace to engage with and support community

Nesta – Top findings from the open dataset of UK makerspaces http://www.nesta.org.uk/blog/top-findings-open-dataset-uk-makerspaces

TheWorldBank ‚Äď Communities of “Makers” Tackle Local Problems

Back to school

Back to school

After many years of working in a Library, I have finally embarked on my journey to become a fully qualified Librarian. Last week I began my lectures for an MSc Library Science at City University London #citylis

This has been an almost overwhelming experience of meeting new people, finding my way around, and not just learning new things such as the history of documents with Lyn Robinson, but learning to think differently about the way Information is organised structured or represented.

Part of this journey that I’m undertaking is going to be not just learning theories, but also finding my learning style, how much to write in lectures, getting back into reading around a topic (study skills).

Today’s students (including myself) are exposed and have access to more information than ever, with the advent of new technology and platforms such as Twitter, Facebook et al, which can be both a blessing and a curse. Its a new world where blogs, twitter and more count as much as textbooks and journal articles, learning to navigate this stream will be as much a part of the Academic experience as the writing essays, going to lectures and making notes.

#citylis logo City University

Facebook and wordpress integration

Having read a useful article about integrating your wordpress blog onto your facebook profile I thought I would give it a try. So I followed all the steps of registering a new application on Facebook and entering all the settings, and then… when I went to add the application onto WordPress I discovered it doesn’t work on WordPress.com blogs only .org blogs!

Having trawled the forums on wordpress.com I discovered that I wasn’t the only one to have discovered that I had the “wrong” kind of wordpress blog. Happily though an enlightened forum member showed the way with the following instructions for Facebook users:

1. Under Applications, Choose Notes.
2. On the right hand side of the screen, choose “Import a
3. Enter your URL (the full web address) of your blog.

Now when you post on your blog, it will also post on Facebook.

Visit SmashingMagazine for the orginal article and the WordPress.com forums for more information.