School of Information
(Previously School of Library & Information Studies)
The Concilium Bibliographicum
The Concilium Bibliographicum, one of largest
science information initiatives of the early twentieth century, was
created by an idealistic American zoologist,
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
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
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
Additional sources are listed on Colin Burke's website http://userpages.umbc.edu/~burke/
with an extensive bibliography at http://userpages.umbc.edu/~burke/fieldbib716pdf.pdf
- 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
or to Michael Buckland's