Suzanne Briet, Qu'est-ce que la documentation?

Translated by, Ronald E. Day, Wayne State University and Laurent Martinet, Paris.

Preface to the translation

Suzanne Briet ("Madame Documentation") was an important French Documentalist just before and following the Second World War. Though others preceded her, Briet was unique in so strongly attributing to documentation and to documentary signs a cultural origin and function. In this she followed the founder of European Documentation, Paul Otlet, but she differed from Otlet in that she understood "science," "culture," and thus documentation more in the context of military-industrial post-war capitalist economies and in terms of the global "development" of the time than in terms of the harmonious world of global "knowledge" that Otlet had envisioned. In this way, Briet stands between Otlet's information utopia (reminiscent of the world industrial exhibitions of the 19th and early 20th centuries) and information theory and cybernetics in the United States which saw human culture and language as troublesome mediums for successful communication and information transmission.

In Qu'est-ce que la documentation? Briet brilliantly defined documents in terms of indexical signs. In this, she was adopting an argument that previous documentalists of her time had suggested and which was present in the cultural air, as she states, through "linguists and philosophers," surely in the form of structural linguistics and semiotics. Beyond this, however, Qu'est-ce que la documentation? is unique both in the breadth of institutional scope that she attributed to such networks of signification (thus foreshadowing many elements of Actor Network Theory (Latour, Callon, and Law), as well as other recent sociologies of science) and in the manner through which she folded the notion of the documentary sign back upon the definition of professionalism in documentation and librarianship. Briet's characterization of the documentary sign in terms of such institutional and cultural contexts still stands as an open challenge to positivist and simple quantitative notions of "information" within information theory, information science, and information culture, particularly in the United States, since the Second World War.

It is our hope that this translation will bring to the English speaking world some of the richness of Briet's work and of other similar works of this period. Beginning with her opening salvo, Briet's work mixes pedantic "practical" arguments with stunning (and sometimes to our contemporary eyes, disturbing) "theoretical" claims about the relationship of documentation and professionalism to culture and post-war society. This rhetorical form, however, makes her work all the more interesting in that it shows the deep intermeshing of professionalism and culture in modern societies, an intermeshing which makes dubious any simple "practical"/"theoretical" distinctions in information science or any naïve understandings of "science," at least in regard to information's definition and role in 20th century modernity.

Further information on, and articles discussing, Briet's work can be found through web reprints of various print articles:

This translation will be posted as it progresses. Comments or suggestions can be sent to: or

Suzanne Briet, What is Documentation ?. Paris: Éditions Documentaires Industrielles et Techniques (EDIT), 1951

Chapter 1: A Technique of Intellectual Work

For Julien CAIN (1)

Latin culture and its heritage have given to the word document the meaning of instruction or of proof. RICHELET's dictionary, just as LITTRE's, are two French sources that bear witness to this. A contemporary bibliographer who is concerned about clarity has put forth this brief definition: "A document is a proof in support of a fact."

If one refers to the "official" definitions of the French Union of the Bureaus of Documentation [l"Union Francaise des Organismes de Documentation], one ascertains that the document is defined as: "all bases of materially fixed knowledge, and capable of being used for consultation, study, and proof."

This definition has often been countered by linguists and philosophers, who are necessarily infatuated with minutia and logic. Thanks to their analysis of the content of this idea, one can propose here a definition, which may be, at the present time, the most accurate, but is also the most abstract, and thus, the least accessible: "all concrete or symbolic indexical signs [indice], preserved or recorded toward the ends of representing, of reconstituting, or of proving a physical or intellectual phenomenon."

Is a star a document? Is a pebble rolled by a torrent a document? Is a living animal a document? No. But some documents are: the photographs and the catalogues of stars, stones in a museum of mineralogy, and animals that are cataloged and shown in a zoo.

In our age of multiple and accelerated broadcasts, the least event, scientific or political, once it has been brought into public knowledge immediately becomes weighted down under a "veil of documents" (Raymond Bayer). We admire the documentary fertility of a simple originary fact: for example, an antelope of a new kind has been encountered in Africa by an explorer which has resulted in the capture of an individual that is then brought back to Europe for our Botanical Garden [Jardin des Plantes]. A press release makes the event known by newspaper, by radio, and by newsreels. The discovery becomes the object of an announcement at the Academy of Sciences. A professor of the Museum mentions it in his lectures. The living animal is placed in a cage and cataloged (zoological garden). Once it is dead, it will be stuffed and preserved (in the Museum). It is loaned to an Exposition. It is played on a soundtrack at the cinema. Its voice is recorded on a record. The first monograph serves to establish part of a treatise with plates, then a special encyclopedia (zoological), then a general encyclopedia. The works are cataloged in a library, after having been announced at publication (publisher catalogs and the French National Bibliography). The documents are recopied (drawings, watercolors, paintings, statues, photos, films, microfilms), then selected, analyzed, described, translated (documentary productions). The documents which relate to this event are the object of scientific sorting (fauna) and of ideological sorting (classification). Their ultimate conservation and utilization are determined by some general techniques and by sound methods for assembling the documents--methods which are studied in national associations and at international Congresses.

The cataloged antelope is an initial document and the other documents are secondary or derived.

GUTENBERG's invention has created such a voluminous and intense typographical production, especially in the last one hundred years, that the problem of the conservation and utilization of graphic documents(2) became acute. Since the 17th century, the abundance of written documents has required a scientific method of surveying [prospection] and of classifying books and manuscripts--of bibliography. Louise-Noelle MALCLÈS has defined "bibliography" thus: "Bibliography is the knowledge of all published or copied texts. It is founded upon the research, the identification, the description and the classifying of documents, in view of organizing services or building instruments which are aimed toward facilitating intellectual work. One particular technique unites these different steps…the four successive operations constitute the technique, or the science, of bibliography, and they result in catalogs which are themselves called bibliographies…. It appears necessary, then, to recognize two senses of the word and to distinguish a bibliographical theory which establishes rules of research and of classification, and a bibliographical practice which applies such rules to the production of tools of research, which are themselves bibliographies."

The central reserves which constitute the great national libraries (Paris, 7 million imprints, Washington, 8,700,000) cannot dominate--or, we would gladly say, tame--their riches and place them at the disposal of a wider and wider public thanks to tools which permit access to the documents which are collected there. Current catalogs, retrospective catalogs, and collective catalogs are obligatory documentary tools, and they are the practical intermediaries between graphical documents and their users. These catalogs of documents are themselves documents of a second degree.

With the specialization of studies and the multiplication of all kinds of activities which we see proliferating throughout our society, relations and points of view have taken on greater mobility and more variety (BLISS). "Knowledge and studies, science and practice, could not happen but for the efficient exploration of documents and a rigorous organization of documentary work."

Out of such a need appear centers and services of documentation, which are the most dynamic organizations [ organismes] of documentation(3). Directories of documentary organizations have appeared in many countries. (France 1935, 1942, 1948, 1951; Great Britain 1928; the Netherlands 1937; Belgium 1947; Switzerland 1946).

Thus, a new profession is born-- that of the documentalist--which corresponds to the functions of the person who documents someone else. The documentalist is that person who performs the trade of documentation. He must possess the techniques, methods, and tools of documentation. It is now possible for this person to become a licensed technician: a state diploma exists in France since the founding of the National Institute of Documentary Techniques [l'Institut National des Techniques de la Documentation (INTD)] (Decree of December the first, 1950).

Little by little, the theory of documentation has developed since the great period of the typographical explosion which began in the third quarter of the 19th century, which corresponds to the development of the historical sciences as that of technical progress. OTLET has been its magus, the international leader, with his Institute of Bibliography in Brussels, his universal decimal classification system, his Council of Scientific Unions, and his Mundaneum. Others, less ambitious --or, more prudent--plowed the furrows of a culture which failed, in Otlet's circle, to descend from the clouds. Documentology lost nothing in alleviating itself of a Universal Bibliographic Catalog which everyone had treated as a dream and which did not offer a comparable attraction to the most localized of collective catalogs.

While the book, originally issuing from the leaf, presently tends to burst in its constitutive elements because of the need for mobility, other documentary forms appear through modern inventions and enrich the collection of human tools thanks to documentary works. One is no longer content with the book, with the printed fragment, the review article, the newspaper-clipping, the archival copy. One transfers an entire work with its illustrations onto microfilms, microfiches, and onto "microcards." A dense collection slides away, microfilmed, into a vest pocket. An entire library is contained in a handbag. The scientific quest extends itself to documentary items of all types, iconographic, metallic, monumental, megalithic, photographic, radio-televised. The selection of documents annexes to itself the newest techniques. "Pre-documentalist" techniques themselves set off along this race toward the documents. The young generation of archivists and museum specialists decipher ancient texts with the microfilm "reader" and create photo-fiches where the image of the museum piece neighbors its scientific description (as at the Documentation Center for Egyptology and at the Carnavalet museum). The most venerable museums annex to themselves offices of documentation and photographic laboratories, such as the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris which shows its productivity in the areas of microfilm and color photography. Enormous collections of films and photographs are amassed in Washington at the Library of Congress and at the State Archives.

Documentary unity tends toward the elementary idea, toward the unity of thought, simultaneously and proportionally to the multiplication of documentary forms, to the increase of documentary mass, and to the improvement of the documentalist's technical skills.

Documentation for oneself or for others has appeared in the eyes of a good number of people as "a cultural technique" of a new type.

This technique has prospered, first of all, in the area of scientific research, properly speaking, that of the sciences and their applications. The human sciences adopted it more belatedly. One can easily understand the reasons for this. Indeed, in the fields of science and technology [techniques], documentation is almost constantly renewed, in a very narrow time span; this or that invention or discovery have become outmoded facts, and thus, too well known to be used as the object of new studies. In contrast, in the fields of the human sciences, documentation proceeds by accumulation: literature, history, philosophy, law, economics, and the history of the sciences itself are tributaries of the past. Erudition is conservative. Science is revolutionary.
The evolution of human knowledge is a permanent compromise between two mental attitudes [attitudes d'esprit]. Invention and explication, reflection and hypothesis divide the field of thought. Documentation is their servant: blithe as a milkmaid, or sumptuously dressed according to the wishes of its masters, the scholars.

The evolution of intellectual work manifests itself on the scholar's worktable.  The conditions and the tools of mental work today are very different from what they previously were.  MONTAIGNE retired in his round tower, BOSSUET to the gardens of the bishop, DESCARTES in his secret dwelling, EDISON locked himself away.  Spinoza only had sixty books.  In Louis the XIV's France, only seventy books a year were published.  Now there appears an average of 12,000, not counting reprints.  In 1947, five billion volumes had been published in the United States, of which 40% were scholarly.  Seven million diverse documents come in each year to the Library of Congress in Washington.  Important centers of documentation receive and regularly abstract from 100 to 2,000 journals.  The references of the Bulletin de Documentation Bibliographique, the current French bibliography of bibliographies, are in the area of  2,000 to 2,500 per year.

800,000 periodical articles had appeared before the last world war.  The Periodical Department (4) handles more than a million French and foreign pieces a year, some of which duplicates that which is in the French national deposit.

French legal deposit     1939           1948           1950
French National Works…9,908         14,143          9,943
Translations……………     851           1,088          1,009
Non-French publications  1,767              789             797
                                      12,526       16,020        11,849

BRADFORD has shown that the analyses of scientific articles find themselves restated in several periodicals, most often two or three times, while missing in the important proportion of half of the periodicals.  The same BRADFORD (thanks to some statistical polls which allowed him to formulate the so-called "Bradford's law") has had the merit of specifying the percentage (33%) of note-worthy articles on a particular subject that could be found in journals specializing in another subject.  Moreover, a detailed study of the work of analytical journals led him to the conclusion that in principle the two-thirds of the collections of specialized documentation centers did not directly relate to their subject, and that nonetheless, the totality of the documentation of interest to the specialty couldn't be found anywhere.

The cumulative documentation at the disposal of the human sciences overwhelms in importance and in quantity the figures, however impressive, of, properly speaking, scientific production. It seems that an Ariadne's thread may be still more important to a humanist than to a scientist.  The immense libraries with which the scholar surrounds himself, and those which he consults beyond his abode, are for him a field of exploration, partly untapped.  The systematic use of witnesses of the past is not possible.  The investigation, here, is freer of pace [allure] than in the scientific domains.  "The margin for personal choice" is larger (PAGÈS).

Still, the tools of intellectual work have deeply transformed the attitude of the scholar, whatever may be his specialty.  The factors of space and time intervene much more than in the past.  The date-book, the telephone, the microfilm reader, the typewriter, the dictaphone, and the teletype give to intellectual work a different rhythm.

"At the beginning of knowledge there is the examination of facts," said BACON.  CARNEGIE advised to never undertake an enterprise "before having thoroughly examined all the works" which may have already been done on the subject in question.  The problem may be, rather, of selecting the best works.  It is upon this problem that a competency is necessary.  It is there that a rigorous method comes to the rescue of the researcher.  "Order is the rarest of things in the operations of the mind [l'esprit]" said FÉNELON.  Order, marking, selection: three essential steps in intellectual occupations.

In the task of "collectivizing" knowledge, which is truly of our time, the documentary analysis or "abstract" has appeared as one of the most rapid and most sure means of announcing and communicating thought.  It is the role of specialized libraries, of centers of documentation, of technical journals to put on the desk of the specialist an analytical and sometimes critical analysis of new things that interest him, and which permit him to reference the sources that he can, if he so desires, utilize by way of reading the material directly or by way of photographic reproduction.  Data-processing responds to the needs of a research that works upon masses of documents with easily codified statistical indices.

At the forefront of scientific and technical research, modern documentation has become one of the most effective factors of productivity throughout all areas. It will suffice to take two examples: that of the C.N.R.S. and that of NEYRPIC. The National Center of Scientific Research [C.N.R.S] with its teams of abstractors and specialized translators, with its journal collections and its microfilm service, has established itself in the minds of our scholars as an institution that one would not know how to do without. The NEYRET-PICTET firm, with its documentation service very strongly pronounced in the activities of the laboratories, of the shops and of the research units, made immense progress in the application of hydraulics throughout the world.

Some orientation guides have made known those possibilities which are available through conservators and distributors of documentation or information. They have been nationally established for the whole of scientific interests and activities, or for a group that is more or less widespread throughout a country. Some Manuals of Documentary Research have been created in France for leading the researcher to the best collections, periodical article, centers and associations, libraries and museums, and specialized publishers.

Scientific research became aware of itself in nearly all fields. In order to leave behind "chaos" and documentary bottle-neck, collective undertakings of research and documentation were organized. The documentalist became a "team player" [homme de l'équipe] (VERNE). He has played his role in the solution of the problem which consists in "giving rein" to the "individual and subconscious investigating faculty of each, while placing at the disposal of all that documentation which interests a group of researchers" (WIGNER). The documentalist freed the individual labor of the scientist from ponderous servitude. Under any circumstances, this requires that the documentalist know the specialty that he professionally assists and it requires that he gather the bibliography, or better, the accumulated documents of the researchers themselves. Files on the competencies, interests, and gaps of the researchers may be of the greatest interest (documentation on the person and the possibilities for collective research).

Documentation, while it is intimately tied to the life of a team of workers or scientists or scholars--or while it participates in an industrial, commercial, administrative, teaching activity, etc…., can in certain cases end in a genuine creation, via the juxtaposition, selection, and the comparison of documents, and the production of auxiliary documents. The contents of documentation are, thus, interdocumentary.

There are other problems of documentation which scholars lately have underlined with a certain vehemence. Namely, in regard to the speed of service and to the completeness of documentary information. The American professor, BURCHARD, while recognizing the dynamism and efficiency of librarians in his country, reckons that science found its Waterloo in the libraries. According to him, inter-library loan is a process of delayed action. The collective catalog entrails a long waiting period. For several years, even if one is in a better position for rapidly obtaining a photo or microfilm the time factor still  remains no less formidable for the time-pressed scholar. The fleeting nature of scientific information imposes upon the worker in this area a certain intellectual behavior and it demands adequate tools. As ever, the scholar obtains information by his personal relations, by his readings, and by the bibliographical citations which he finds there. But more and more, he becomes informed by abstracts and by reports. Microfilm transports to the scientific researcher in his laboratory, onto his writing table, the document itself, within a small volume and in its entirety.

Is the scholar confident of having the power to locate the entirety of that documentation which interests him? The centers and offices of documentation read it for him. Documentary work is organized collectively. The location, however, of an important part of scientific documentation remains secret, in certain areas at least. Jean THIBAUD has recently translated the anxiety of scholars before the fact that "science" now appears "as the most essential of warlike activities in a time of peace." The great EINSTEIN has given a cry of alarm: "the field of information shrinks without end under the pressure of military necessity." Secret documentation is an insult inflicted upon documentation.

The moment has arrived to prove that the exercise of documentation, with all its possibilities and all of its perfected means effectively constitutes a new cultural technique. Documentation is becoming more and more technical, as a specialized skill. M. Le ROLLAND has told us that the hand provides for thought, just as a task which is partly manual serves culture, that is to say, it enriches man. He cites Julian HUXLEY: "The hands receive a precise tactile image from the materials which they handle, the eyes receive a precise image from that which they see…The most complete definition of objects by conceptual thought has been followed by the most complete mastery of them by means of tools and machines." The hand has served the mind [l'esprit]; the tool has developed the brain. The brain in turn guides the hand. Such is the omnipresence of intelligence. "Documentation is to culture as the machine is to industry" (PAGÈS).

It is not too much to speak of a new humanism in this regard. A different breed of researcher "is in the making" [English in original]. It springs from the reconciliation of the machine and the mind [l'esprit]. Modern man may not repudiate any aspect of his heritage. Supported by the rich experiences of the past which have been passed on to him, he resolutely turns toward the world of tomorrow. The constant development [devenir] of humanity requires that the masses and the individual adapt. Here, technology [La technique] is the symptom of a social need. "One characteristic of modern documentation is that of the coordination" of diverse "sectors in the same organization."

Thus, documentation appears as the corrective to increasing specialization. Closed within the more or less spacious limits of his specialty, the researcher needs to be guided through the frontier regions of his particular domain. Orientation along the margins of a subject, prospecting for some of the sources in an area of research, determining expertise--these are the many requirements involved in the coordination of diverse activities.

[Trans. Note: In the original chart the alignment of terms between columns is not exact.  The following constitutes our best reading of Briet's chart. (5)]

"docere"* DOCUMENTATION Makes known :
1st degree (Instruction)
a. Facts or ideas

b. Objects or artistic creation

c. Persons or activities

d. Sources of facts

by means of: 
Information [Information] verbal:




direct or reproduced

live or recorded

Information [Renseignements]:

Inventories: Commercial or official editions

Consultation or Communication and the organized reading.

Pieces of Information.
Communiqués, journals, and reviews.



Catalogs - guides.


Catalogs - Programs.


Filing cards.
Year-books and directories.
Dictionaries and grammars.
Atlas and guides.
Treatise and manuals.
Legal, legislative, historical, and literary texts.

A, L, M.*
Firms of documentation.
Post - Press.

Cinema - Radio.


Schools and Universities.

Congresses - Fairs.
Exhibition Committees.
A, L, M.



Police - Statistics
Registry offices

Associations - Societies.
A, L, M.

Authors and Publishers.
Learned Societies




2nd degree

(Exploration) [Prospection]
The sources of documents

by means of:
bibliographic orientation:

Card Files.
Bibliographies and documentographies.
Research guides.
Lists of sources.
Lists of organizations.



3rd degree (Diffusion)
Collectively used or individually adapted documents
by means of:
Documentary production by selection, analysis, translation, reproduction, grouping, and distribution

Reports [Comptes-rendus]
Documentary editions [Editions doc.]



4th degree (Organization)
by means of:
Cooperation, standardization [Normalisation] and Documentary Orientation


(A Congress.
(L Associations.
(M Committees.
Schools of documentation 
Centers of documentology


*A, L, M, : Archives, Libraries, and Museums

[Translation notes for chart:
*docere: latin verb meaning to teach something to someone; to bring someone to a state of knowledge
*AFNor (Association française de normalisation) : French association of standardization
*UFOD (Union française des organismes de documentation) : French association of documentation centers
*FID (Fédération internationale de documentation) : International federation of documentation]


[Chapter] II

A Distinct Profession

 For Louis Ragey

"Homo documentator" is born out of new conditions of research and technique [technique].

While in certain countries, such as Great Britain, the archival trade is treated with good reason as a "new profession," modern archives are more and more closely connected to properly speaking centers of documentation, as RAGANATHAN has not failed to underline.  Most administrative actions are distributed in the form of type or print.  Most official publications take a periodical form.  The file, the memorandum, the report are treated as documentary elements, and not as library books.  Libraries, deprived of the more mobile forms of documentation (printed, typed, photographed, etc.) remain the distributors of documentation of the past, but they see research at all its stages escape from them, retaining only the exhibition of acquired facts.  Major instruments in the preservation and conservation of culture, general libraries follow with inevitable slowness the progress of knowledge and the progress of the technical approach to documents.  Specialized libraries are much closer to the centers of research, and for the most part they tend to transform into centers of documentation, with or without the name.  The "information" or "intelligence officers" that one has seen multiply in the industrial centers of Great Britain or the United States, are the first cousins of French "documentalists."  Trained or not in library schools, they are born out of the same specialized cultural environment as the institution of which they are part.  They satisfy all the requirements of  the creed by which the documentalist is: 1st, a specialist of the matter concerned [est un spécialiste du fond], that is to say, that he possesses a cultural specialization related to that of the institution where he is employed;-- 2nd, understands the techniques of the form of documents and their treatment (choice, conservation, selection, reproduction; --3rd, respects the documents in their physical and intellectual integrity; --4th, is capable of proceeding to a valuable interpretation and selection of the documents which he is responsible for, in view of their distribution or documentary synthesis.

Robert PAGÈS has put forward that the professions of the librarian, archivist, and museum conservator were "pre-documentalists" professions and, that the librarian was becoming in our time "a particular case of the documentalist."  This is absolutely not about precedence.  Graphic documentation being much more voluminous in the present as in the past, the traditional techniques of conservation and of the history of book collections and assimilated documents will maintain for a long time still a preeminence that is beyond dispute.  But already for the great collections of the past, the word "bibliography" is not appropriate, even if one could give to it a meaning that is large enough to cover catalogs of all types.  For the presence in a library of busts, medals, geographical maps, and personal souvenirs demand that one henceforth use the word "documentography."

It is not rare that the documentalist is found at the head of an establishment that contains a specialized library, a research section, an analytical and/or bibliographical newsletter, a photo-microfilm service, an exhibition hall, press clippings, and some translations.  Archivist, librarian, collection curator--our documentalist is all these at once.  He thus needs -- beside his initial cultural specialization -- to be knowledgeable about the professions he actually comes close to. Moreover, he creates secondary documents out of the originals (that are suitably called primary documents). The documentalist translates, analyzes, recopies, photographs, publishes, selects, compares, and coordinates such documents.  He is a "team player" in the research, organization, and implementation of actions that are foundational for a nation.  His profession, half intellectual, half manual, is that of an auxiliary to practical research; that is, of being a servant to the servants of Science.

SIMONS has compared libraries to a store of fertilizer that specialists would be responsible for spreading on the fields so as to make them fertile.  We say of documentalists that they are technicians of an improved fertilization of areas that are close or distant from scientific culture.  While public libraries are concerned with the edification of the masses, documentation addresses selected specialists.

Documentary work -- based on cultural specialization -- corresponds to an activity whose specificity no longer has to be demonstrated.  That which we call "documentary technique" is a combination of techniques that are originally combined [dosage original] and then multiply applied.  It goes without saying that one would not prescribe to the student of documentation the programs of the École des Chartes (6) and of the Diplôme Supérieur de Bibliothécaire (7).  If it is necessary to teach cataloging in fifty hours in a library school, one would be satisfied with five hours, for example, in a course designed for documentalists.

The conservation, exhibition, and maintenance of documents will have their place reduced in the [academic] calendar. On the other hand, the standardization, classification, the organization of work within an organization, and the diffusion to users, will occupy many more hours than in the neighboring programs.

It is necessary to underline here that the aptitudes and the tasks are not the same in the classification of the assistants and of the documentalist; this very useful distinction guides the professional training and the status of assistant documentalists and documentalists.

Let us proceed from an analysis of the programs of instruction to an analysis of the content of the profession.  Instruction pertains to the methods and instruments of documentation.  The methods are: standardization, documentary prospecting, bibliography, cataloging, sorting, classification, diffusion, and exposition.  The instruments or means of documentation are found in the catalog and its cards, files, newspaper clippings, typewriters, calculators, sorting machines, photography, microfilm, and remote transmission [la télétransmission].

It happens that the methods of documentary work are borrowed from old or neighboring techniques. All those that one may group under the common heading of collection or conservation, and more particularly, of cataloging, come from pre-documentalist professions.  In regard to standardization, or general rationalization, one has kept only those specifications that one would recommend in the field of documentation.  Sorting and classifying are of the greatest importance in the dynamic work of the documentalist.  But, it is in documentary distribution and what is conventionally called documentary production that there is a genuine professional creation.  Orientation toward resources, organizations [les organismes], and competencies gives to the totality of documentary activities its impulse toward turning and brilliantly circulating to the four points of the compass.

Documentary tools, like documentary methods, originate from independent inventions that have found their full employment in the new profession.

Let us now say a word on each of the methods and means that are disposed toward documentation.

Standardization has been interested in the methods and means of documentation from the eve of the last war.  The International Association of Standards (ISA) has done a study in some of its Bulletins (nos. 22 and 23) on the form of bibliographical references, the appearance of periodicals, the summary of reviews, and the formats of fiches and papers.  The French Association of Standards [AFNOR] has done its own study of the consequences on the national plan of directives of the ISA.  From this effort has appeared a French Commission of Documentation, created in 1940, which, having been restructured and subdivided into sections after the war, is dedicated to terminology, bibliographical references, the appearance of periodicals, to the furnishings and tools of documentary organizations, and to the appearance of papers.

Translators' notes:

(1)  Julien Cain was the general administrator at the French national library (Bibliothèque Nationale) and, thus, he was Suzanne Briet's superior while she was employeed there as a librarian.

(2)"Graphic documents" translates documents graphiques and, as is clear from the beginning of Briet's text and from the history of documentation up to her time, the term "graphiques" refers to all manners of documentary inscription: written, pictorial, sound, etc.. The English "graphic" is too narrow a meaning and has lost the French word's closer relationship to the Greek grapho, meaning to scratch, draw, or to inscribe.

(3) Throughout Briet's professional texts, the term "organismes" of documentation can be difficult to translate. Often Briet is referring to organizational bodies, but sometimes she is referring to the tools and to the techniques of documentation, and sometimes, to all three simultaneously (the "organs" of documentation, most broadly conceived). We have included the French term in brackets when the term may not be semantically full enough in the English.

(4) The Periodical Department of the Bibliothèque Nationale.

(5) In Briet's original chart, the terms, "Instruction," "Exploration," "Diffusion," and "Organization" name vertical brackets that join each of the four rows, respectively.  Due to the limitations of word processing, we have chosen to replace this design with the insertion of the term within the first column.

(6) École des Chartes ("School of the charters"): a very prestigious French "grande école" for archivists, founded in 1821, where students are taught to decipher and to keep ancient documents.  Its programs include intensive studies of medieval Latin and medieval history.

(7) Diplôme Supérieur de Bibliothécaire: an academic degree for librarians,equivalent to five years of university.  This degree no longer exists in the university. The reference librarian training school is now the Enssib (Ecole normale supérieure des sciences de l'information et des bibliothèques) founded in 1992, replacing the Ensb (Ecole nationale supérieure de bibliothécaire, founded in 1963).