Treating the Traité

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Experiments with digital iterations of The Book on the Book.

Le livre sur le livre

Developers, designers, artists, theoreticians, writers, archivists and copyleft-activists are welcome to join a 2 day booksprint/hackathon based on Paul Otlet's 'Le Traité de documentation: Le livre sur le livre' which entered the Public Domain in 2015.

This dense publication combines the genres of manual, encyclopedia, pamphlet and science-fiction to include many of Paul Otlet's visions on the practice of documentation and the future of books. Lemma's on the current state of censorship, the history of the alphabet or "inventions to be made" alternate with precise descriptions of how to reference a book on an index card, or what would be the ideal working conditions for a documentalist.

Drawing on the work done on wikisource we will experiment with form, materiality and content of the 'Traité de documentation' to create a digital re-edition of The Book on The Book.

Organised by Constant (Mondotheque) in collaboration with Arts2 and The Mundaneum archive center.

More details (in French)

1989 Facsimile

From the Public Library of Schaerbeek, Yves Bernard borrowed this rare 1989 edition, published by the CLPCF (the association which inherited the archives from Les Amis du Palais Mondial/Mundaneum).

Introductions by Robert Estivals and André Canonne: File:TDD ed1989 preface.pdf

Scan Tailor

Tomislav Medak spends two days with us at Akademie Schloss Solitude to demonstrate a workflow for digitizing books. I use the opportunity to look at the Traité through the lens of Scan Tailor, "an interactive post-processing tool for scanned pages"[1].

I import the image files exported from the pdf into Scan Tailor and let it treat the Traité with all options set to 'automatic'. It produces exciting artefacts:

Printing the Traité

The Traité de documentation : le livre sur le livre, théorie et pratique is an almost hypertextual book on documentation, written in the 1930's by Paul Otlet. It has many cross-references, tables and illustrations; at times it is written in encyclopedic style, turns into a passionate manifesto, speculative fiction, and a practical manual for librarians. The pdf I have is badly OCR-ed and too heavy for reading comfortably on a digital device. So this morning I transformed the digital version into something that I can print at a copy shop.

I started with extracting the images from the pdf with the help of the imagemagick convert command:

$ mkdir spreads

$ convert Traite\ de\ documentation\ -\ Paul\ Otlet.pdf spreads/%03d.jpg

Next I removed front- and back-cover (they will be treated separately), and also 113.jpg (pages 118-119 are repeated), then cut each spread in half:

mkdir pages

convert spreads/*.jpg -crop 2x1@ pages/%03d.jpg

The properties of the original pdf mention a paper size of 200 × 260 mm (and also that the file was created with ABBYY FineReader on Monday December 3, 2007 16:25:51 CET (This file is already 6 years old ...). I am not sure if the measurements refer to the size of the spread or the single page, but from the detailed description in the catalog of the Universiteitsbibliotheek Gent [2] I gather that pages are 26cm high, and will fit comfortably on an A4: 431, [12], viii p. : illus. ; 26 cm.

I then simply put all images back into a new pdf:

convert pages/*jpg traite.pdf

Tomorrow I'll have the document printed and bound. Can't wait.

Transcribing the Traité

in progress on Wikisource


Original scans OCR


L'index Traité de documentation permet d'indexer n'importe quel extrait issu du Traité de documentation[3]. cité ou référencé sur Mondothèque. Il constitue un nouvel index collaboratif du texte d'Otlet, numérique et mouvant.