School of Information
  (Previously School of Library & Information Studies)

  Michael Buckland

  The Concilium Bibliographicum

    The Concilium Bibliographicum, one of largest science information initiatives of the early twentieth century, was created by an idealistic American zoologist, Herbert Haviland Field in Zurich, Switzerland, in 1895.
    The objective was to provide complete coverage of the scholarly literature on zoology in all languages using the most sophisticated techniques then available: catalog cards for flexibility, rapid search, and constant updating; and quick search and rigorously detailed subject description using the Universal Decimal Classification being developed at the International Institute for Bibliography by Paul Otlet and Henri LaFontaine in Brussels, Belgium, also established in 1895. The plan was to provide a bi-monthly or monthly subscription service on cards which could be filed cumulatively by subject to provide an always up-to-date bibliography on zoology and related literature. It was a controversial move away from printed lists (hard to update) and the provision of abstracts.
  The sample card above is an entry for a Polish article on the production of spermatozoa by the edible snail (escargot, Helix pomatia). Since few zoologists understood Polish a translation is provided, in this case into German then understood by all serious scientists. The UDC subject coding is at the top right.
    Zurich, Switzerland, was chosen as the location instead of the United States because it facilitated access to leading libraries and was symbolic of Field's desire for interntional science to promote world peace.
    The Concilium Bibliographicum was initially financed by Field from his personal and his family's funds. Although by the 1903 some 13,000,000 cards had been sent to over 600 subscribers, making the service financially self-sustaining from subscriptions to sets of cards was never achieved. Seeking funding from grants and subscriptions proved difficult and was chronically insufficient. Funding agencies tended to support national rather than international enterprises. Much labor was donated by volunteers but the high costs of printing entries on cards and storing the supply of spare cards before the days of one-off printing was a major burden.
    After Field died in 1921, the Concilium Bibliographicum continued with great difficulties until it closed in 1940 amid wartime disruption.
The only detailed account is: Colin B. Burke. Information and intrigue: From index cards to Dewey Decimals to Alger Hiss. MIT Press, 2014.
Herbert Haviland Field. The Work of the Concilium Bibliographicum, The American Naturalist 32, no. 384 (Dec. 1898): 925-928.
Murray, Katherine O. History Of Some Attempts to Organize Bibliography Internationally, in Jesse J Shera and Margaret Egan (eds.) Bibliographic Organization, 24-53. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1950.
Additional sources are listed on Colin Burke's website
with an extensive bibliography at
- Colin B. Burke and Michael K. Buckland. Herbert Haviland Field (1868-1921): Bibliographer of Zoology. Bulletin of the Association for Information Science and Technology 42, no 6 (August/September 2016): 10-14. pdf
- Michael K. Buckland and Colin B. Burke. Precise Zoological Information: The Concilium Bibliographicum, 1895-1940. Bulletin of the Association for Information Science and Technology 42, no 6 (August/September 2016):15- 19. pdf.
Also Wikipedia: Concilium Bibliographicum and Herbert H. Field.
Go to History, or to Michael Buckland's Home Page.