There’s a library with shelves of novels that have yet to be written and books that contain the cure for every disease, the answers to scientific mysteries and a detailed account of your very own future. It’s called the Library of Babel, and you’re welcome to peruse it — but don’t expect to find what you’re looking for.
The digital library received its name from Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges’ 1941 story of the same name. Borges imagined a library that held not only every book ever written, but also every possible 410-page book of a certain format and character set.
After reading Borges, Washington, D.C., resident Jonathan Basile attempted to create that very library. However, he soon discovered it would require more digital storage than the entire universe can hold, so he instead created a Library of Babel program that allows users to browse about 104677 potential books.
Visit the digital library and the algorithm will allow you to read randomly generated pages and books. You can also enter any text — your own name, a Bible verse, song lyrics — and the library will display all the pages where that exact text appears.
But while the library contains every possible page, it doesn’t currently have every possible combination of pages.
If it did, Basile told The Guardian, the library’s virtual shelves would house “every play, every song, every scientific paper, every legal decision, every constitution, every piece of scripture and so on.”
Even in its current form though, the Library of Babel is much like the one Borges imagined: There are so many variations of text that it’s statistically impossible to find rational text simply by browsing.
“The possibility for gibberish far outweighs the possibility of rationality,” Basile said. “After searching through endless books … the longest legible title I have found is Dog.”
Basile also notes that people who visit his Library of Babel are like the librarians in Borges’ work who hope to discover incredible knowledge.
“All of it is contained on one of the library’s pages — and the fact that one can find anything one looks for only makes it more frustrating. What we want is to find what we don’t know how to look for.”