The Library of Babel



The Library of Babel is undoudtedly on of the most fascinating places in the internet. If completed, it would contain every possible combination of 1,312,000 characters (for simplicity including only 26 lower-case letters, space, comma and period). Thus, in line with the infinite monkey theorem it would contain every book that ever has been written, and every book that ever could be - including translations of every book into every known and even unknown language (to an extent possible to encode them using a 26-letter alphabet), every biography of every human being ever lived on earth and will be living (plus every fake biography), every song, every scientific paper, every legal decision, every newspaper article (including news not yet happened), and so on. At present it contains all possible pages of 3200 characters, in total about 10 to the power of 4677 books! Consequently, also books about you and how you will die, books you have authored (divided in chapters of 3200 characters), books you have not yet authored and commentaries about all of them (plus commentaries and criticisms of all the commentaries). I think you get the point.


The layout of the Library is very simplistic and in principle allows to reach certain book pages in 3 ways:

You can target a specific hexagonal gallery, then select one of the 4 walls (2 are reserved for corridors to the neighboring cells like described in the Short Story, then one of the 5 shelves, then one of the 32 books on each shelf, finally one of the 410 pages each book has. Don´t have any hope to find something meaningful! But once on a page, you can “anglishize” – click on this term and the program will highlight all English words of three or more letters, plus the longest English words are shown as well.

You can enter up to 3200 characters - your name, your favorite quotes, a date in the future, whatever – you will be directed to the books containing them! Are you a writer? Search for something you yourself have written. Search for alternate scenes and endings.
Here is an example how a page looks like (on the left you see its location, hex room, wall, shelf and volume):
lib page.JPG

Or just open a book at random. From the library description: "Invent a code in which its letters are somewhat more meaningful (e.g. take every second or third letter, or the letter following or previous in the alphabet, etc.)"

Finally, the site contains information around the theory behind, possible physical structures of such a library, a link to a similar image library containing every possible image (with pixel grids with 416 rows and 640 columns) and a discussion forum.


The idea for this project originated from the short story “The Library of Babel” by the Argentine Author (and librarian) George Luis Borges (1899–1986), conceiving of a universe in the form of a vast library containing all possible 410-page books and how the inhabitants try to deal with this endless mystery. You can access a free pdf version here – it is a worthwhile read.
To those who had the patience to read until here, I give the explanation for how it is possible to store 10 to the power of 4677 books which would require far more servers than even NSA could ever possess. Once you search for a certain term, the corresponding book page will be programmatically generated and its hexagon gallery location is encoding for what you have searched. It is a little cheating, but nonetheless has its charme. I like the pilosophic aspects of this project. If you stroll through all the meaningless pages, can you be sure they are meaningless? Only because we cannot detect a meaning, can we say it is random? Is there a way to filter out e.g. a cure for cancer (by narrowing down just all pages with "cancer")? One could spend a life just doing this...


3 columns
2 columns
1 column