Short Story Review: The Library Of Babel

“Monkeys hitting keys at random on a typewriter keyboard for an infinite amount of time will almost surely type a given text, such as the complete works of William Shakespeare.”

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be in a library that contained every possible book? To most book lovers this library would be paradise, or some form of heaven however, Jorge Luis Borges says otherwise. In his 4-page short story “The Library of Babel,” there is a library that contains every possible 410-page book of a certain set of characters.

 What that means is that every past conversation, everything that will ever be said or written will be in this library. As well as this article itself, or what you are thinking about right now. Even a book about your complete biography, your complete genetic sequence, and so forth, but this also means that everything that someone didn’t write or say will be in this library. Everything you didn’t do yesterday, or the day before.

This leads to a major problem, because some infinities are bigger than others. Consider the word “the”, if we arrange all the possible ways “the” can be arranged, then only 1 out of 6 arrangements will be meaningful to us, so imagine a 410-page book in the same way. The ratio of meaningful things to nonsense will be small.

This is to a degree the plot of the story. Librarians are assigned to search through certain sections to find anything meaningful. Some Librarians start destroying books that they deem useless, other librarians disappear and are never seen again. How can one determine what text is useless? For example, what if you just destroyed a book that is the perfect genome sequence?

The crazy part about this story is that this Library of Babel is real. A digital library of babel containing every possible page of 3200 characters exists online for free.

 Now knowing this, will you search for your perfect essay paper, or read Jorge’s short story and find out why you would go insane searching for anything?