What’s a Documentalope?

“Documentalope” is the silly Twitter handle I’ve adopted, based on the unofficial iSchool mascot.

Basically, all the incoming first years are required to read a great theoretical article, “Information as Thing” by Michael Buckland. In the article, he tries to determine what exactly information is, and he comes to the conclusion that everything, really, is potentially information. Everything has the potential to be evidence of something, and is thus information. The most famous example he uses is in a quotation from the French documentalist Briet:

“A wild antelope would not be a document, but a captured specimen of a newly discovered species that was being studied, described, and exhibited in a zoo would not only have become a document, but “the catalogued antelope is a primary document and other documents are secondary and derived. (“L’antilope cataloguée est un document initial et les autres documents sont seconds ou dérivés.” (Briet, 1951, p. 8). Perhaps only a dedicated documentalist would view an antelope as a document.”

We started using the word “Documentalope” to refer to this, but also to talk about how everything is information and everything is within our purview. We like laughing about it among ourselves, at least one professor has an antique print of an antelope on her office wall, and you can get a mug here: Documentalope Merch. (I have no affiliation with the mug.)