Jan 042011
This entry is part 3 of 11 in the series A Summer in Italy, 1929

Incidents at the Congress

Biblioteconomia exhibition

Braille materials (left) and photostat machine in the Biblioteconomia exhibition.

A few snippets illustrative of the Congress and Bob’s place in it:

It seems that some papers were read outside the official section meetings, to whatever audience could be assembled. Bob refers condescendingly to one read by “a little girl from the Morgan Library who … had written her paper as if it were a bedtime story”.1 This must be Meta Harrsen,2 whose paper was subsequently published as “The Countess Judith of Flanders and the Library of Weingarten Abbey”3 According to Harrsen’s n.1 the paper was given on June 19, which was the day of the meetings of Sections 3 and 6. Bob attended both of those, and so could only have heard this paper later in the afternoon or evening. He says the room was almost empty, so it couldn’t have been part of the Section meeting.

Bob indulged the off-colour side of his sense of humour in the account of this paper that he wrote for his friends in New York, pretending to confuse the word “codex” (a manuscript book) with a brand name which I did not realize dated to the 1920s:

… after she had read her paper for a few moments I started. Could I believe my ears? Yes, she had undoubtedly used the word, in a context I could not understand. I suppressed my blushes and tried to look indifferent, but then she used it again. It was terrible. She was talking about kotex this and kotex that, and how this kotex was derived from that kotex, and how the kotex Vaticanus was the oldest and the best. I shouldn’t think they would have it in the Vatican, and I was surprised to hear that the oldest was the best, but she went on and on. She says that other good kotices are to be found in the monasteries, and that she had found an especially interesting one at the Benedictine Abbey of Montecassino. I tell you, girls, it just proves that if one wishes to understand the Middle Ages one must come over here.4

Bob may have stretched the truth for the sake of the joke: the paper as published does not refer to a Vatican manuscript (though it does mention one from Montecassino), and it does not use the word “codex”, but rather “manuscript” or “MS”.

Sidney Cowell recounted in a 1982 letter that Bob met a photographer named Solomon at the Congress, whose use of 35mm film showed that such pictures could be greatly enlarged, and that this started Bob thinking that such a camera could be used to reproduce documents.5 This must refer to the famous photojournalist Erich Salomon, whose candid photos of officials at international conferences were widely published from 1927 on. At this point, however, Salomon was still using an Ermanox camera which took 4.5x6cm plates (he switched to a Leica after 1930). The advantage of the Ermanox was that it could take interior shots without studio lights (thanks to its large lens), which enabled Salomon’s paparazzi-style approach. I haven’t found evidence that Salomon was in Rome in the summer of 1929, but the shot of Mussolini (see part 2), as well as the shot of the Papal reception,6 are in his style, in that they are unposed and use available light. These seem to be official photos, though, for the Mussolini picture was also published with Koch’s account of the Congress in the Library Journal. If Salomon wasn’t at the Congress, it’s possible that Sidney’s memory was based on something Bob said about seeing Salomon’s work in a European magazine during that summer.

Though he does not much remark on it, Bob saw (or at least learned of) a revolutionary device in the Biblioteconomia exhibition: an apparatus for the reading and projecting of microphotographic images. At Stanford in 1925 he and his brother Charles had collaborated on the design of such a device and come close to applying for a patent (this will be the subject of a future posting in this blog). Now Bob wrote to Charles:

It will interest you to hear that the scheme for reproducing documents on movie film has been adopted by the Library of Congress for copying archives [a reference to Project A], and that a device not unlike the one we were playing with for reading by projection was exhibited here at the Library Congress. There is certainly a good idea in our old scheme, but it is equally certain that it will require more than we have to develop it. So I am now working to get the Bureau of Standards to develop something of the kind. Did I send you a copy of the memorandum I sent in on the subject.7

(It’s not clear whether Bob saw the apparatus or just heard about it. The exhibition was not well-attended, since it only opened on the final day of the Rome sessions, June 20.)8

The question is, what apparatus was exhibited? There were very few on the market in 1929. The only clue in the Proceedings is an entry among the French exhibits:

La Fotografia: Apparecchi di lettura e proiezioni di microfotografie.9

In other entries, the initial phrase in italics is the name of a library or company, suggesting in this case a French company named “La Photographie”. I haven’t found such a company making microfilm equipment at the time. My theory is that this is an error for a Paris company with the unfamiliar name “La Photoscopie”, whose product was called a photoscope.

Digression: History of “La Photoscopie”

The Photoscope

The Photoscope (1929)

La Photoscopie has not received the attention it deserves in the history of the development of microfilm. I have only begun to sort out the complex history of this company: it seems to have been connected with a Brussels company of the same name, founded in 1924 by Robert Goldschmidt (the co-author with Paul Otlet of the seminal 1906 article proposing microfiche books).10 Goldschmidt seems not to have put much of his own time into the company, being preoccupied in the late 1920s with his schemes for developing telegraph communications in the Belgian Congo; on Goldschmidt’s death in 1936, the company was taken over by his son Benedict. The relationship between the Brussels and Paris companies is mysterious: I haven’t found any source that alludes to both of them. The biography of Goldschmidt in the Belgian Biographie Nationale mentions that he “had activities in France parallel to those he had in Belgium, which deserve to be researched on the spot, but the traces they have left are vague and difficult to follow.”11 Perhaps La Photoscopie was among them.

Goldschmidt moved to Paris in 1930;12 but the Paris firm was already active as early as 1927, when it advertised a machine à lire that projected still images from standard cinematic film, and a collection of images on film to support courses in art history.13 At the same time Albert Crémieux, who seems to have run the Paris firm, published an article in Revue d’histoire moderne describing the company and the uses to which the photoscopic process could be put in the field of history: transcription of documents for personal use and collaboration, the creation of photographic archives (including by international collaboration), the publication of document collections, learned journals, etc., and for teaching.14 In 1928, La Photoscopie was visited by the Committee of Library Experts of the League of Nations International Committee on Intellectual Cooperation, who were investigating the potential of microphotography for reproducing texts.15 It issued its first catalogue of microfilm publications in December, 1928.16

La Photoscopie seems to have started a publicity campaign in the summer of 1929. In Paris, only a few days before the Congress began, L’Européen carried an account of a visit to the company offices in Rue Jouffroy. The company was now sponsoring lectures broadcast by radio from the Eiffel Tower, synchronized by the listener with a slide show of projected images. The reporter heard a lecture by M. Crémieux on the beauties of Chartres – “Advance to No. 4. Are you sure you’re on No.4?” By this time the company had 13,000 illustrations and 5,500 texts or notices in its collection, and was considering a press service that would send out photoscopic editions on subscription. The reporter considered it a revolution for libraries comparable to the effect of the invention of the airplane on transportation.17 The news was picked up by American papers; the Painesville (Ohio) Telegraph, for example, carried the story: “One foresees the straphanger enjoying his evening paper as projected on the back of his fellow traveler. And the tabloids will become lively motion pictures of the late murders, divorces and kidnappings.”18 The French popular science magazine La science et la vie carried a feature on photoscopie in October (the source of the photograph above).19 In November The British Journal of Photography mentioned the radio lectures synchronized with slide shows as a weekly occurrence in recent months. According to the brief note, “the Bibliothèque Nationale contemplates the installation of a special hall in which reproductions of original manuscripts and of rare books may be studied by this means, whilst avoiding any handling of the valuable originals. It is also intended to arrange an exchange of films with the other great libraries.”20

The entry in the exhibition catalogue uses the plural “apparecchi”, as if there were more than one apparatus on display. La Photoscopie seems to have produced at least two different projectors. One, illustrated above, used a rod clamped to the edge of a table to support a small projector, which could be directed downwards to the desktop or horizontally to a screen or wall. The other was more like a conventional slide projector, but was still capable of being turned downwards. It is not clear when they came to market with different versions, however. At the IXme Exposition de la Photo et du Cinéma in early 1932 they showed three models, but some at least were new.21 The best source of pictures I have found is eBay, where photoscopes are occasionally offered (one of which I purchased); but the machines themselves do not seem to carry dates.

My photoscope.
It is probably missing a film carriage mechanism. Other models seen on eBay have a brass water-cooling radiator on the front.

La Photoscopie did not find its way into the library market. From the 1930s on the company seems to have specialized in filmstrips (film fixe) for classroom use, which was where it started in the 1927 advertisement mentioned above.22 One of its filmstrips is viewable online at L’association pour la sauvegarde des films fixes en Anjou. It also seems to have developed a sideline in distributing cinema films, no doubt to build on its infrastructure for reproducing films.23 Bob found it difficult to get information about the company when compiling his two manuals on photographic reproduction in 1931 and 1936. He seems to have contacted only the Brussels company (which sometimes used the name “Cinescopie” — another question requiring investigation); in 1931 he reported that the company had agreed to do a sample newspaper page, but had not yet sent it.24

Meanwhile, the Brussels company was still active, though more difficult to trace online. In 1933 it participated in an experimental program of recorded lessons synchronized with slide shows, apparently similar to the Paris radio lectures. The results of the experiment are unknown.25

That is what I can discover about La Photoscopie. It is surprising that this company has not been given more coverage in the histories of microfilm, given the amount of press attention it received at a period when microfilm was in its infancy, and in particular its association with Robert Goldschmidt. The exhibition of Biblioteconomia at the Congress would have exposed it to librarians around the world, including Bob. But to establish that, I’ll have to find further evidence for my conjecture that “La Fotografia” in the exhibit catalogue is indeed “La Photoscopie” of Paris.

Goldschmidt’s long-time collaborator Paul Otlet, incidentally, sent a paper to the Congress but did not attend; it was read in Section 15 (Roland-Marcel’s section) on the same morning as the meetings of Section 3 and Section 6, so Bob didn’t hear it.26 Otlet gave a brief history and account of the current activities of his Institut International de Bibliographie.

After Rome: The Congress Resolutions

After the sessions ended in Rome on June 20, the Congress broke up into a series of exhibitions in Naples, Montecassino, Florence, Bologna and Modena, before reconvening in Venice on June 28. The Binkleys followed along to Naples during the break, but since their trip was not concerned with the Congress, it will be described in Part 4.

On their return to Rome Bob plunged into the business of the resolution on paper preservation again. He found that the text of the resolution as passed by Section 6, which he had given to a certain Mr. Liberma to have typed and forwarded to Koch, had not moved. Since the Congress had left Rome, Bob’s only option was to depart for Venice with the resolution in his pocket. This would get him to the plenary session where the Congress resolutions were to be adopted.

He left on the night train on June 27th. Traveling in 3rd class, he talked with a Sicilian mechanic and a Calabrian pastry cook, who taught him some Fascist songs and questioned him about opportunities in America. After those two got off in Florence, he slept until Bologna, where he had to change trains.

At Bologna someone came up and asked me in French if I knew anything of the program of the Congress. I said I didn’t, and that I didn’t believe there had ever been such a thing as a program of the Congress. Looking the man over, I saw he was an American, and changed the conversation with the customary “Hell, let’s talk English”.

The man turned out to be Hodgson, the American head of the library at the International Institute of Agriculture in Rome.27 While waiting for the Venice train, he and Bob attempted to cross the tracks to get a coffee, and were nearly arrested by a soldier. The train to Venice carried many Congress delegates, one of whom (a well-known figure in the library world) remarked to Hodgson as he debarked that his secretary had failed to join him in Florence, to his annoyance. Hodgson later told Bob that he and the secretary had worked together on an exhibit for the Congress, and that she had told him the prominent librarian expected her to become his mistress, and that Hodgson had advised a reproving reply by mail. Bob, as always, enjoyed the scandal and shared it with Frances in a letter he wrote at a Venice cafe on his arrival.28

Bob now found that the Congress schedule had changed again, and that the plenary session would be on the 29th instead of the 28th.29 Bob spent the day in the museums, then joined Hodgson and other congressisti for a gondola tour. When Hodgson was suborned into a committee meeting, Bob spent the evening walking around Venice with a Norwegian librarian, of whom there will be more to tell in Part 4.

Afterwards, Bob returned to Congress business:

Late at night I burst in on the drafting Committee to see how my resolutions were getting along, and found that they had incorporated only a part of them in a general resolution to be voted on in the plenary session. I was not satisfied, but couldn’t do anything about it.

The copy of the resolutions which Bob apparently passed to the drafting committe survives in the IFLA archives.30 It summarizes the actions proposed in Bob’s paper, including a reference to “reduced scale photography”.

Next day, in the Plenary session, they reduced the paper-preservation to a simple paragraph expressing approval of what the International Committee had done. This didn’t satisfy me, and when I found that they were reading other resolutions entire, I asked to have the resolution of Section six read also, but they said they would publish it in the minutes and that satisfied me. Koch says it is really adopted by the Congress, but I think its legal status is that of a resolution adopted by the Section, but not by the Congress. For my purpose it doesn’t make much difference, because the only use I wish to make of the resolution is to help in defining the movement in America.31

The final form of the resolution as adopted by the Congress was this:

4. That the governments take effective action on the recommendations of the League of Nations in 1928 as to the preservation of printed books and manuscripts.

5. That the International Commission [sic] of Intellectual Cooperation study the means of publishing each year a list of libraries possessing microphotographic and stereopticon equipment. [The French text has “appareils de microphotographie et de projection”.]32

This version adopted the two points that the drafting committee of Section 6 had added to Bob’s original resolution: adding reference to the 1928 recommendations of the Committee of Experts of the International Committee on Intellectual Cooperation on the use of durable paper, and referring explicitly to microphotography where Bob’s text mentioned only “copying that which cannot be preserved integrally”.33 These were both goals which Bob supported and had expounded in his paper, the last page of which was devoted to microphotography. His dissatisfaction with this formulation was probably because, by linking both issues to the International Committee’s past and future work, it left him with very little to take credit for: he had hoped to have his Congress paper be the centerpiece of the resolution, to establish his position as a leader in the campaign to address the problem of perishable paper in America. Assigning the initiative to the League of Nations was of little use to him. He had to console himself with the resolution adopted by Section 6, dubious as its legal status might be as a resolution of the Congress. He could take pride, though, in the fact that two of the fifteen resolutions of the Congress derived directly from his paper.

With the resolution disposed of as well as could be managed, Bob skipped the closing ceremonies and spent the rest of the day in the art galleries, “trying to find out how to tell a Tintoretto and a Veronese from a Titian. I couldn’t make it work very well, but at least I did get a pretty clear idea of the characteristics of Venetian art.”34 That night he left for Rome on the late train.

Outcomes of the Congress

Serpil da Costa in his brief history of IFLA counts the Congress as “something of a success”, despite its chaotic organization. It established the working structure of the new Federation and laid down its first fields of activity. The resolutions of the Congress and of the sections were to be taken up by the next annual meeting of the International Library Committee, now the governing body of IFLA, in Stockholm in August 1930. The new organization proved an effective promoter of international library cooperation even during the Depression.35

The aspirations of the Congress were lofty. The theme of contributing to world peace crops up frequently. At the beginning of the Congress, on the morning of June 16, the Congress delegates dedicated a garland at the tomb of the unknown soldier in the Piazza Venezia, with a minute of silence.36 Section 3 adopted a resolution introduced by Paul Gsell: “That in the selection of books for public libraries, a large portion should be made up of books that can contribute to understanding among peoples and the consolidation of peace.”37. Even Mussolini combined the theme of peace with his more fundamental goal of using the Congress as showcase for fascism in Italy. He closed his address with the words: “Thus, returning to your countries after this Congress, you will carry with you, I am convinced, a clear and exact vision of what Italy has been and of what it is and of what it wants to be, for the progress of universal culture and for the peace of the world.”38

The effect on Bob’s immediate concerns, durable paper and microphotography, is difficult to establish. The Congress certainly contributed to the growing attention that these questions received in the early 1930s; and it set Bob on a course that would dominate his career for the next 11 years, until his death. The contacts he had made in developing his paper, and the recognition he achieved for the paper and for the resolution, gained him an appointment as secretary to the Joint Committee on Materials for Research when it was formed the following year. Under his chairmanship, that committee guided developments and applications of microphotography in the social sciences in America through the 1930s.

Series NavigationA Summer in Italy, 1929 (part 2)A Summer in Italy, 1929 (Part 4)



  1. Report, p.3. []
  2. Harrsen’s registration: Proc. 1.80 []
  3. Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America 24 (1930) 1-13; it doesn’t appear in the Proceedings and isn’t mentioned in any of the Section reports. []
  4. Doc. 770, 1929-07-14. []
  5. Doc. 745, letter to John Binkley, 1982-03-16, p.6 []
  6. Proc. 1, opposite p.248. []
  7. Doc. 769, 1929-07-14. I haven’t identified the memorandum among Bob’s papers. []
  8. Hermann Fuchs and Hugo Andres Krüss, “Bericht über den Verlauf des ersten Weltkongresses für Bibliothekswesen und Bibliographie in Rom-Venedig vom 5.-30. Juni 1929,” Zentralblatt für Bibliothekswesen 46 (October 1929): 465-480, at p.471. []
  9. Proc. 6.112. Perhaps there is more information in the exhibition catalogue, which seems to survive only in the Bibliothèque Nationale; it may be that the exhibition volume of the Proceedings is simply a reprint of this catalogue. []
  10. François Stockmans, “Goldschmidt (Robert Benedict),” in Biographie Nationale publiée par l’Academie Royale des Sciences, des Lettres et des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, vol. 42 (Bruxelles: Établissements Émile Bruylant, 1981), 300-344, at col. 332-3. []
  11. “Robert Goldschmidt eut des activités en France, parallèles à celles qu’il eut en Belgique, qui mériteraient des recherches sur place, mais les traces qui’il a laissées sont vagues et difficiles à suivre.” (Stockmans, col. 338). []
  12. Stockmans, col. 336. []
  13. [Ad for Société centrale de photoscopie],” Historiens et géographes (Neuilly-sur-Seine) 18, no. 53 (November 1927). []
  14. Albert Crémieux, “Un instrument nouveau pour le travail historique,” Revue d’histoire moderne 2, no. 12 (December 1927): 401-411. []
  15. Hawkin, Production of Micro-Forms, vol. 5 pt. 1 p.7. []
  16. A copy in the Henri Gardoz Collection, University of Indiana at Bloomington. []
  17. Gaston Picard, “Sous le signe du photoscope,” L’Européen. Hebdomadaire, économique, artistique et littéraire, June 5, 1929, p.2. []
  18. “Use Pictures in Education: Revolutionize Work in French Classrooms,” Painesville Telegraph (Painesville, Ohio, August 2, 1929), p. 7. []
  19. Victor Jougla, “Grâce à la photoscopie un ouvrage filmé n’occupe que quelques centimètres cubes,” La science et la vie no. 148 (October 1929), 332-4. []
  20. L.P. Clerc, “Paris Notes,” The British Journal of Photography 76 (November 15, 1929): 681-2. []
  21. IXme Exposition de la Photo et du Cinéma: A Travers les Stands,” L’Informateur de la photographie. Organe officiel de la Chambre syndicale des fabricants et négociants de la photographie, no. 133 (March 1932): 29-36, at p.32. []
  22. Coralie Goutanier and Julien Lepage, “Le film fixe: une source à découvrir. Un exemple de sauvegarde en Anjou,” Histoire@Politique. Politique, culture, sociéte 4 (April 2008). []
  23. [Ad for film “Danton”],” Hebdo-film. Revue indépendante et impartiale de la production cinématographique 17, no. 42 (October 15, 1932), p.13. []
  24. RCB, Manual (1931), pp. 90-91; Manual (1936), pp. 162-4. []
  25. La radiodiffusion scolaire en Belgique,” Journal télégraphique 57, no. 4 (April 1933): 116. []
  26. Proc. 1.204; Otlet’s paper, “Rapport de l’Institute Internationale de Bibliographie”, is at 5.267-71. []
  27. Presumably James G. Hodgson, who is associated with the Institute in an article in the Rotarian, and who reviewed a history of the Institute with evident inside knowledge that accords with stories he told Bob: James Goodwin Hodgson, review of The International Institute of Agriculture: An Historical and Critical Analysis of Its Organization, Activities and Policies of Administration, by Asher Hobson, The Journal of Political Economy 40, no. 3 (June 1932), 405-9. []
  28. Doc. 1169 (RCB to FWB, [1929-06-28]; Report, p.5. []
  29. This may have been Bob’s mistake in the first place, for the conference schedule published in advance indicates the 29th; but it is possible that the flurry of changes issued by the organizers included a change that was later reversed. The fact that other delegates were taking the night train to Venice suggests that Bob was not alone in thinking the session would start on the 28th. []
  30. “A Resolution from the Distant Past.” Abbey Newsletter 15, no. 7 (November 1991). []
  31. Report, pp. 6-7. Bob’s mention of other resolutions being read whole probably refers to Roland-Marcel’s reading of the resolutions of Section 3, after the main list of resolutions had been voted on individually. These are numbered 9a, 9b, 9c, as if they were subsections of Resolution 9 in the main list, to which they belong. They were voted on and approved. Proc. 1.217 []
  32. Koch, “The First World Library Congress”, pp. 704-5 (English text); Proc. 1.215 (French text). []
  33. See the resolutions in the appendix to part 2 and in the IFLA document. []
  34. Report, p.7. []
  35. Serpil de Costa, “Foundation and Development of IFLA, 1926-1939”, The Library Quarterly 52, no. 1 (January 1982): 41-58, at p.47. []
  36. Proc. 1.247-8. []
  37. Proc. 1.133: “Que dans le choix des livres destinés aux bibliotheques populaires une large part soit faite aux livres qui peuvent contribuer à l’entente entre les peuples et à l’affermissement de la paix.” []
  38. Proc. 1.95: “Così, ritornando ai vostri paesi, dopo questo Congresso, porterete con voi, io ne sono convinto, una visione chiara ed esatta di quello che I’Italia è stata e di quello che è e di quello che vuole essere, per il progresso della cultura universale e per la pace del mondo.” []

  3 Responses to “A Summer in Italy, 1929 (part 3)”

  1. Quite amazing, these early attempts toward micro-photography for preservation of documents – another thing that got off track because of WW II, evidently.

  2. Are Binkley’s papers archived anywhere?

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