There are hybrid institutions, unclassifiable or mysterious, located at the crossroads of disciplines, knowledge and cultures. Because of its history and development, the Mundaneum is one of them.
Known as the International Office of Bibliography in 1895, it organises an unpublished international catalogue that centralises information on books through a working methodology, the universal decimal classification. If the stated objective is to facilitate access to books, the initiative was not limited to making and improving the catalogue of only libraries. The nature of information exchange carries unheard-of values of sharing as progress towards peace. The approach goes beyond the usual framework of libraries. Gradually, the traditional interest of users gives way to a professional approach and new models of cooperation both for publishing and dissemination. Behind the bibliographic objective, other fields of application are discussed. Politics and new ideologies such as pacifism, feminism or internationalism, embody it in turn.
Because documentation and, by extension, information or data, are at the very heart of the challenges of a changing society. Progress is defined here as a blessing for the whole of society and nourishes the projects of new democracy. International intellectual cooperation is one of the natural modes of expression. The second phase therefore invites a political dimension thanks to an unknown institution coming from the Mundaneum: the Union of International Associations. From 1910, the International Museum represents this initiative around knowledge and pacifism. After the war, this international intellectual centre takes place in the Centre of Brussels, at Cinquantenaire more precisely, in the optimistic context where the worst was history.
Under the name of Palais Mondial-Mundaneum, it is these different realities and dimensions that are now manifested in a museum where internationalism unfolds. The rooms of the Palais Mondial are thematic, like the universal decimal classification. Each country has at least one room that looks like an encyclopedia. Moreover, this term clearly evokes the cultural model imagined by these philanthropists at the service of the universality of knowledge, Paul Otlet and Henri La Fontaine.
Having become a private archives centre in 1993 whose heritage is made up of collections and archives that have marked European history in its intellectual and scientific dimension, the Mundaneum is located in Mons, the European Capital of Culture in 2015. Its Directory Bibliographique Universel (RBU) has been listed in the UNESCO Memory of the World Register since 2013 for its exceptional and unique character. A cultural space, a place for debate, a place of history, the Mundaneum relies on its historical heritage to organise exhibitions, symposiums and conference-debates that highlight its history in relation to the organisation of knowledge, minorities, feminism, pacifism.
Five distinct sections form the historic Mundaneum: the Collective Library of Learned Societies, the Universal Directory of Documentation, the International Press Museum, the International Office of Photography (OIP) and the Atlas Universal or "Encyclopaedia Universalis Mundaneum".
The Mundaneum is since 2016 a European Heritage Label. Within this context, the roots of intellectual history combine to present a different story: that of a "laboratory of peace through culture". In this year 2018, the Mundaneum will flourish in collaboration with the Peace Palace in The Hague in a celebration of the end of the First World War. The reality is multiple. It leads us to rethink the technical and ideological innovations initiated by the Mundaneum. Scientific projects carried out in collaboration with the universities, among which "HyperOtlet" or "Tic Belgium", opened up new fields of reflection at the confines of the disciplines: history, librarianship, social sciences, architecture and new technologies.