The new library of Babel? Borges, digitisation and the myth of a universal library

Christopher Rowe


The growing capacity of digital encoding and storage has opened up vast new avenues for the archiving and distribution of texts in virtual space, prompting many to declare the imminent obsolescence of print media, the book included. An interesting correlate to this situation is the revival of interest in and support for the idea of the universal library, a collection of every text in existence, albeit reimagined as an immense database of digitised material with online accessibility. Drawing mainly upon two texts by Jorge Luis Borges, a short story and an essay, this article challenges the premise that such a project would be possible or even desirable, and problematises the perceived equivalencies between print and digital media, reading a book and reading onscreen text, and library and database.


universal library; Jorge Luis Borges; ebooks; digitization; Google Books; history of reading

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