My BORGES/LIBRARY OF BABEL article on reading lists: British Columbia, Lehigh (PA), Aalborg (Denmark) + cited in JOURNAL OF DOCUMENTATION – etc!

I am pleased to report that the University of British Columbia, Canada,
has for the second time put one of my on-line articles on one of its course
reading lists. On 10 October 2005 I reported that this university had done so for
my essay on Walter Benjamin and the arcades.
Now, I discover at:
that, thanks to the good offices of Assistant Professor Jon Beasley-Murray,
the same university’s course on Introduction to Methods of Literary and Film Analysis
now includes my article:
‘Borges’ “Library of Babel” and the Internet’,
which is on-line at:
and has been published in:
IJOWLAC (Indian Journal of World Literature and Culture) (Kolkata/Calcutta, India), Vol. 1.1, January-June 2004, pp. 117-120.

NOTE ADDED 7 Jul 07: This essay was also included in 2005 on the course in “Library and Information Sector Media Theory and Media Practice” at the Danish Librarianship School in Aalborg  (instructors: Hans Jorn Nielsen and Rasmus Gron) – see course summary dated
21 Jan 05 at: **

The article examines the analogies between Jorge Luis Borges’ imaginary
Library of Babel, as imagined in his famous short story of 1941 ‘La biblioteca de Babel’,
and the Internet as we know it today – but also, and crucially, the differences.
NOTE ADDED 17 January 2008:
My same Borges essay was also included on the reading list for a course
on LITERATURE AND THE WORLD WIDE WEB, taught by Prof. Edward Whitley
at Lehigh University (Bethlehem, Pennsylvania) in Summer 2006. See:

Prof Whitley writes in the course desscripton:

July 6, 2006: Pretexts to Hypertext Two of today’s readings are pre-Internet texts that speculate on the possibility of hypertext. The essay by Bush was written in 1945 and proposes a “memex” machine that sounds surprisingly like today’s World Wide Web. The short story by Borges is a surrealistic account of an infinitely large library that, again, sounds a lot like what the Internet could someday become. The Rollason essay on Borges’ story explicitly makes this connection and the Jackson/Hill website humorously adapts the idea of a nonspatialized library into a web medium.

Vanaver Bush, from “What We May Think” (CD) Jorge Luis Borges, “The Library of Babel” (CD) Christopher Rollason, “Borges’ ‘Library of Babel’ and the Internet” Shelley Jackson and Christine Hill, The Interstitial Library Circulating Collection.

Assignment: Discussion board post. Do these readings change or confirm any of your preconveiced notions about the Internet?

** Further note, added 16 September 2008:

The essay has also been quoted in:

Journal of Documentation, 64(4), 2008
My text is quoted on p. 573, indeed as the clinching point at the article’s conclusion – I am indeed most grateful! –

‘While this paper began by comparing the web and the library of Babel, Rollason (2004) rightly points to a fundamental difference: the library found on the internet is written by us, as opposed to Borges’s creation, which could not be built upon. So, the ideal solution, the balance between “inordinate hope” and “excessive depression” is to explore further ways in which we can build our own access to the richness of information on the web. This will undoubtedly be the subject of much research to come.’

I further add that at:
is a long text on IT and teaching techniques published (no author name)
in April 2008 by the Information Technology Institute, Patras (Greece),
which cites the same Borges piece.
Note added 21 January 2010 – and more citations!!

I am pleased to say that my Borges article has been cited recently in two interesting essays on the Internet and spatial issues. In Brazil, a paper forming part of the University of São Paulo School of Architecture’s project TGI (Trabalho de Graduação Integrada), by Rodrigo Schmidt Seminari –

cites my piece in the context of a new architecture for libraries in the multimedia age. Also, the Italian scholar Maria Beatrice Bittarello (John Cabot University, Rome) cites my text in her article:

“Spatial Metaphors describing the Internet and religious Websites: sacred Space and sacred Place”, published in the on-line journal based in Portugal

Observatorio (OBS*) Journal, 11 (2009), 1-12, pp. 1-12 (citation on p. 3) –

an ambitious investigation of the sacral and religious connotations of the metaphor of the Internet as space. My thanks to both authors for referring to my work in two such stimulating papers!



Note added 28 September 2011:


The essay has also been used in a fresher English class at the University of Southern Maryland (Department of Languages and Literature) in the context of essay-writing skills and the nature of the Internet. My thanks for this recognition to Dr Marybeth Moore.



Here now is an extract from my essay:
‘The analogy with the Library of Babel is only partial. The Internet is, after all, also made by its users. The proliferation of websites and newsgroups has not descended from outer space: Borges’ library is presented as a pre-existing, immutable given (“La Biblioteca existe ab aeterno” – “The Library exists ab aeterno”), but the Internet is nothing of the sort. The virtual library now evolving in cyberspace differs from any previous library – real or imaginary, Alexandria or Babel – because it is also the creation of its readers. It includes, certainly, material which has been put there by society’s rulers, as well as pre-existing works by established authors of past or present; but the cybershelves also contain row on row of volumes written by the readers, who thus become not only readers but writers too, not just passive consumers but also producers. Anyone with an Internet account can start up their own website, or post a message in a newsgroup, without having to pass through a prior filtering, sifting or, indeed, censoring mechanism. The recent, and to some disturbing, growth of subscriber-only newspaper sites, even though it gives rise to a series of reserved areas within the great library and to that extent part-privatises a public good, does not fundamentally affect the nature of the Internet, since open-access sites continue to proliferate, in line with the medium’s founding spirit. The great library that is the Internet is continually expanding, and that expansion is the work of its ordinary, common readers as much as anyone else.
This phenomenon is without precedent in the annals of human history. It is quite true that much of the material in this library is of value to few but its producers; that some of it is harmful; and that parts of it have been privatised. However, these factors need to be counterbalanced against the massive gains being made in the collective potential of the human race for self-expression, communication, dialogue and democratic participation.
Borges’ fable contains an episode in which, back in the distant past, hundreds of the library’s dwellers thronged its shelves, each in pursuit of his “Vindication,” the book which would justify the existence of the individual who read it: “libros de apología y de profecía, que para siempre vindicaban los actos de cada hombre del universo” (“books of apology and prophecy which vindicated for all time the acts of every man in the universe”). The search was for the most part in vain, thanks to the vastness of the library: “Las Vindicaciones existen (yo he visto dos que se refieren a personas del porvenir, a personas acaso no imaginarias), pero los buscadores no recordaban que la posibilidad de que un hombre encuentre la suya, o alguna pérfida variación de la suya, es computable en cero” (“The Vindications exist [I have seen two which refer to persons of the future, to persons who are perhaps not imaginary] but the searchers did not remember that the possibility of a man’s finding his Vindication, or some treacherous variation thereof, can be computed as zero”). By contrast, in today’s real-virtual world, there is a simple answer to the problem: seekers who fail to find their personal vindication on the network can write the missing text themselves, and add it to the library at the click of a mouse – and there it is on the shelves, for anyone to read – or rewrite, improve, embroider, illustrate, refute, contradict, forget, or simply ignore.’

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