Documentation science



Documentation science, documentation studies or just documentation is a field of study and a profession founded by Paul Otlet (1868-1944) and Henri La Fontaine (1854-1943). Professionals educated in this field are termed documentalists. This field generally changed its name to information science in 1968, but some uses of the term documentation still exists and there have been efforts to reintroduce the term documentation as a field of study.

“The term documentation is a neologism invented by [Paul] Otlet to designate what today we tend to call Information Storage and Retrieval. In fact it is not too much to claim the Traité [Traité de Documentation, 1934] as one of the first information science textbooks" (Rayward, 1994, s. 238).

Berard (2003, p.148) writes that the concept ”documentation” is still much used in the French speaking areas and that it corresponds to information science in general. One explanation of why this concept is well established in French-speaking countries is that there is a clear division of labour between libraries and documentation centres in those countries. The personal employed at those different kinds of institutions has different educational backgrounds. The differences in roles between libraries and documentation centres have, however, become less clear during recent years.


1931: The International Institute for Documentation, (Institut International de Documentation, IID) was the new name for the International Institute of Bibliography (originally Institut International de Bibliographie, IIB) established on 12 September, 1895, in Brussels.

1937: American Documentation Institute was founded (1968 nameshift to American Society for Information Science).

1965-1990: Documentation departments were established in, for example, large research libraries with the appearance of commercial online computer retrieval systems. The persons doing the searches for clients were termed documentalists. With the appearance of first CD-rom databases and later the Internet these intermediary searches have decreased and most of such departsments have be closed or merged with other departments. (This is perhaps an European terminology, in the USA the term Information Centers was often used).

1986: Information service and - management started under the name "Bibliotheek en Documentaire Informatieverzorging" as third level education in The Netherlands.

1996: “Dokvit”, Documentation Studies, was established in 1996 at the University of Tromsø in Norway (see Windfeld Lund, 2007).

2002: The Document Academy, an international network chaired and cosponsored by The Program of Documentation Studies, University of Tromsoe, Norway and The School of Information Management and Systems, UC Berkeley.

2003: Document Research Conference (DOCAM) is a series of conferences made by the Document Academy. DOCAM '03 (2003) was The first conference in the series. It was held August 13-15, 2003 at The School of Information Management and Systems (SIMS) at the University of California, Berkeley.(See ).

2004: The term Library, information and documentation studies (LID) has been suggested as an alternative to Library and information science (LIS), (cf., Rayward et al., 2004)

Document versus information

In information science and library and information science there has been a tendency to replace "document" with "information" as the basic theoretical construct in the field. This tendency is evident, for example, by the nameshift of the American Documentation Institute in 1968 to American Society for Information Science (in 2000 again nameshift to American Society for Information Science and Technology) and the associated shift from documentation science to information science.

Especially since the 1990s there has, however, been strong arguments put forward to revive the concept of document as the basic theoretical construct. Buckland (1991), Hjørland (2000) and others have for years been arguing that the concept of document is the most fruitful one to consider as the core concept in LIS. The concept of document is understood as “any concrete or symbolic indication, preserved or recorded, for reconstructing or for proving a phenomenon, whether physical or mental (Briet, 1951, 7; here quoted from Buckland, 1991). Recently additions to that view are Frohmann (2004), Furner (2004), Konrad (2007) and Ørom (2007). Frohmann (2004) discusses how the idea of information as the abstract object sought, processed, communicated and synthesized sets the stage for a paradox of the scientific literature by simultaneously supporting and undermining its significance for research front work. Furner (2004) argues that all the problems we need to consider in information studies can be dealt with without any need for a concept of information. All these authors assume that the concept of document is a more precise description of the objects that information science is about.

See also


Berard, R. (2003). Documentation. IN: International Encyclopedia of Information and Library Science. 2nd. ed. Ed. by John Feather & Paul Sturges. London: Routledge (pp. 147-149).

Bradford, S. C. (1948). Documentation. London: Crosby Lockwood.

Bradford, S. C. (1953). Documentation. 2nd ed. London: Crosby Lockwood.

Briet, Suzanne (1951). Qu'est-ce que la documentation? Paris: Editions Documentaires Industrielle et Techniques.

Briet, Suzanne, 2006. What is Documentation? English Translation of the Classic French Text. Transl. and ed. by Ronald E. Day and Laurent Martinet. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press.

Buckland, Michael, 1996. Documentation, Information Science, and Library Science in the U.S.A. Information Processing & Management 32, 63-76. Reprinted in Historical Studies in Information Science, eds. Trudi B. Hahn, and Michael Buckland. Medford, NJ: Information Today, 159- 172.

Buckland, Michael (2007). Northern Light: Fresh Insights into Enduring Concerns. In: Document (re)turn. Contributions from a research field in transition. Ed. By Roswitha Skare, Niels Windfeld Lund & Andreas Vårheim. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang. (Pp. 315-322). Retrieved 2011-10-16 from:

Farkas-Conn, I. S. (1990). From Documentation to Information Science. The Beginnings and Early Development of the American Documentation Institute - American Society for information Science. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.

Frohmann, Bernd, 2004. Deflating Information: From Science Studies to Documentation. Toronto; Buffalo; London: University of Toronto Press.

Garfield, E. (1953). Librarian versus documentalist. Manuscript submitted to Special Libraries.

Graziano, E. E. (1968). On a theory of documentation. American Documentalist 19, 85-89.

Hjørland, Birger (2000). Documents, memory institutions and information science. JOURNAL OF DOCUMENTATION, 56(1), 27-41. Retrieved 2011-10-16 from:

Konrad, A. (2007). On inquiry: Human concept formation and construction of meaning through library and information science intermediation (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). University of California, Berkeley. Retrieved from

Otlet, P. (1934). Traité de Documentation: le livre sur le levre, theorie et pratique. Bruxelles: Editions Mundaneium (reprinted 1989).

Rayward, W. B. (1994). Visions of Xanadu: Paul Otlet (1868-1944) and hypertext. Journal of the American Society for Information Science, 45(4), 235-250.

Rayward, Boyd; Hansson,Joacim & Suominen, Vesa (eds). (2004). Aware and Responsible: Papers of the Nordic-International Colloquium on Social and Cultural Awareness and Responsibility in Library, Information and Documentation Studies. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press. (Pp. 71-91).

Simon, E. N. (1947). A novice on "documentation". Journal of Documentation, 3(2), 238-341.

Williams, R. V. (1998). The Documentation and Special Libraries Movement in the United States, 1910-1960. IN: Hahn, T. B. & Buckland, M. (eds.): Historical Studies in Information Science. Medford, NJ: Information Today, Inc. (pp. 173–180).

Windfeld Lund, Niels, 2004. Documentation in a Complementary Perspective. In Aware and responsible: Papers of the Nordic-International Colloquium on Social and Cultural Awareness and Responsibility in Library, Information and Documentation Studies (SCARLID), ed. W. B. Rayward. Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press, 93-102.

Windfeld Lund, Niels (2007). Building a Discipline, Creating a Profession: An Essay on the Childhood of “Dokvit”. IN: Document (re)turn. Contributions from a research field in transition. Ed. By Roswitha Skare, Niels Windfeld Lund & Andreas Vårheim. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang. (Pp. 11-26). Retrieved 2011-10-16 from:

Windfeld Lund, Niels (2009). Document Theory. ANNUAL REVIEW OF INFORMATION SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY, 43, 399-432.

Woledge, G. (1983). Bibliography and Documentation - Words and Ideas. Journal of Documentation, 39(4), 266-279.

Ørom, Anders (2007). The concept of information versus the concept of document. IN: Document (re)turn. Contributions from a research field in transition. Ed. By Roswitha Skare, Niels Windfeld Lund & Andreas Vårheim. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang. (Pp. 53-72).

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