Data Hoarders, the Internet, and the Library of Babel ~ Searching for the Man of the Book

For the lazy, Skip to the point.

Even from before the internet, archivists have saved every piece of information they could get their hands on. These days, we would call them data hoarders, but there are even large organizations like the Internet Archive which try to save every web page, book, film, and song ever created. I commend the people who chose to take on this insurmountable task, but I fear that they are missing an important part of their collections, a guide.

The Library of Babel [Local Copy] , written by Argentine librarian Jorge Luis Borges, is a short story where people live in a massive library that has every possible book, but most of them are complete gibberish. Thousands of explorers comb through every book trying to find some semblance of meaning. Few succeed, but the idea that a book containing the secrets to everything must exist somewhere is enough motivation for people to keep trying. There are legends of a Man of the Book, a man who has found a guide to the library and knows where all the answers are, and it even turns into some kind of cult.

As a librarian, Borges understood that it is not enough merely to have all of human knowledge, you also to who know what's important. Places like Google or the Internet Archive have a search bar, but with how much information is out there, a simple search will get you thousands or even millions of results. These places are a Mini-library of Babel. If you know exactly what you are looking for, then you can easily locate specific documents that will help you find information, but if you don't, then the archive as a whole is overwhelming to the point of being useless. Of course, the person who created such an archive can act as a guide, but how about archives that outgrow a single person? There isn't one single person who knows all of what's on the Internet as a whole.

The internet is too large and search engines have failed us as librarians. We need a Man of the Book

The Point

I'm just going to get to the point now. Become the Man of the Book. Keep a list of the things that really matter. If you have a few websites or specific web pages that you like, keep a list of them. If you have hundreds of gigabytes of data, include a guide to the most impressive/best produced/ most culturally impacting documents. Not only are you potentially helping someone else make sense of everything you have so carefully archived, it will help you when you come back in the future to see what you saved. Isn't that the point of an archive? To save things for the future? I, personally, have a very bad memory, so I don't even know everything that I've saved over the years, and I don't even have that much. You should help yourself by making it as easy as possible to use. Write a guide, sort it into categories, whatever makes it easier to navigate your hoard. You could even get fancy and write a sentence or two about specific categories and why you like them. It doesn't have to be too large. Remember, the point is to not be overwhelming.

If you have a website, or even just a public place that reaches lots of people, you could act as a librarian for specific topics, like the botany of flowers, your favorite band, information about your town / city, whatever you want. Webrings sought to solve this problem while getting everyone involved. That could be in option.

I, myself, haven't been doing this, but I think I should start. The webring sort of does this, but it still is pretty disorganized. I may or may not add a list of cool stuff to the front page of my site. Keep a look out for it.