Hyperdocumentation: origin and evolution of a concept

Published date26 September 2019
Date26 September 2019
AuthorOlivier Le Deuff,Arthur Perret
Subject MatterLibrary & information science
Hyperdocumentation: origin
and evolution of a concept
Olivier Le Deuff and Arthur Perret
Bordeaux Montaigne University, Pessac, France
Purpose The purposeof this paper is to provide contextand raise interest for the termhyperdocumentation
in the context of document theory.
Design/methodology/approach The origin of the term is established through etymology and
bibliographical research. The term is contextualized with conceptual research on the nature of documents and the
construction of social reality through documentation.Prominent uses of the termoutside of traditionalresearch
on documents is investigated.
Findings The authors describe what hyperdocumentation translates to in terms of experience as of today
(the different types of hyperdocumentation). Comparison to the initial definition underlines a key issue: the
absence of a social contract that would define hyperdocumentality.
Originality/value This paper presents nove l research on the term hyp erdocumentation, inc luding
its origin before hypert ext, its use outside of t raditional document sc ience and its implicat ions for
document theory.
Keywords Information science and documentation, Documentation, Theory, Documents, Epistemology,
Paper type Conceptual paper
1. Introduction
What do documents tell us about humanity in the twenty-first century? Since 1900,
document production has increased significantly, with a variety of new formats, the advent
of mass media and the reinforcement of bureaucracy (Gitelman, 2014). Nowadays,
documentation remains an important part of our lives and societies. Global networks and
digital devices allow us to further document who we are and what we do, but also to track,
analyze and act upon this abundance of data (Ferraris, 2014a). In an important evolution, the
production of documents is no longer the prerogative of administrative entities alone, but
more and more in the hands of individuals.
This leads us to consider different types of documentation according to the ways we
interact with documents and information. In particular, social scientists have worked on
new categorizations based on access to information and strategies regarding documents,
such as undocumented or under-documented people, as opposed to hyperdocumented.
Hyperdocumentation is a strong concept, with an interesting history, but it is most often
used in scientific literature or the press in a broad sense which omits much of its origin. The
term was coined by Belgian bibliographer Paul Otlet in his 1934 Traité de documentation,
among several striking depictions of systems which are now considered precursors to our
contemporary digital tools and platforms.
The aim of this paper is to provide context and raise interest for the term
hyperdocumentation, presenting its origins, its developments alongside information science
and its usefulness in studying human society in the twenty-first century. First, we present
Otlets ideas, based on a selection of translated excerpts of his publications. We then
establish the etymology of hyperdocumentation in that context and discuss the use of the
term and its derivatives in scientific literature. We confront recent theories (documentality)
to ascert the relevance of Otlets vision in our current paradigm and then discuss the
contribution of hyperdocumentation to document theory and future projects. This research
is based on Paul Otlets published works, his archives in the Mundaneum (Mons, Belgium)
Journal of Documentation
Vol. 75 No. 6, 2019
pp. 1463-1474
© Emerald PublishingLimited
DOI 10.1108/JD-03-2019-0053
Received 25 March 2019
Revised 29 May 2019
Accepted 30 May 2019
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on Emerald Insight at:
Origin and
of a concept

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