Today a knowledge industry entrepreneur was born.
One of the many changes in America after the Civil War was the proliferation of public libraries. Once the purview of the wealthy, access to books came to be seen as a needed tool for individual empowerment and social improvement. Women’s clubs led the charge in their communities, bolstered by industrialist Andrew Carnegie’s largesse; by 1920, his estate had built 1,700 libraries in towns across the U.S., many of which had never before been connected to the nation, or to the world at large, by anything more tangible than Bible verse and the occasional visit of a tax collector.
Melvil Dewey, who was born on this day in 1851, created the operating system for this new information network. Having embraced the latest technology of his day while still in college (he’d founded a company to sell index cards and filing cabinets), he created his Dewey Decimal System to organize content. Classification was based on substance, not on popularity or utility, and its ultimate hierarchical bias was simply the order of the alphabet. Though copyrighted in 1876, searching through card catalogs was common behavior even when I was a student. Dewey’s OS was based on a system created by Sir Francis Bacon in the 17th century.
URLs written on cardboard were quite the advancement over personal notation written by quill pen on parchment.