Virtual libraries and enigmatic librarians

First museums and art galleries, now libraries.

7 spectacular libraries you can explore from your living roomAtlas Obscura
Regular visitors to libraries may be missing the hush of the stacks, the smell of old books, and the welcoming atmosphere of the local branch. Many of these public, private, and academic spaces have closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But much like museums, libraries around the world have produced immersive, 360-degree tours of their interiors. These simulations can offer more than inspiring views of literary sanctuaries; often, they serve as interactive platforms that provide information about the library’s history and resources.

I particularly enjoyed wandering the ridiculously baroque Klementinum library in Prague, as well as Harvard University’s Widener Memorial Library, so grand it has its own Gutenburg Bible.

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From opulent libraries to perplexing librarians. Here’s an opportunity to delve a little deeper into the life and work of a man who knew his way around a library or two.

An Introduction to Borges with Henry EliotIdler
Jorge Luis Borges, the blind Argentinian writer and librarian, was a master of the short story. But despite their brevity, his genre-contorting tales can intimidate the first-time reader. How can we get to grips with the work of this giant of postmodern literature?

Join Penguin Classics Creative Editor Henry Eliot as he takes you through the life and work of Jorge Luis Borges. In this accessible and illuminating guide, Henry shows how Borges fundamentally challenged the way we think about space, time and identity. Beginning with Borges’s library desk in Buenos Aires and finishing at his grave in Geneva, Henry takes you through the span of the great writer’s biography and writing.

Is it a little pricey at £42 for about three hours of content? Whilst you’re deciding, you can read this for free, a collection of his books that you won’t find on any library’s shelves.

The Crimson Hexagon: Books Borges never wroteAllen Ruch (pdf)
The fiction of Borges is filled with references to encyclopedias that do not exist, reviews of imaginary books by fictional authors, and citations from monographs that have as much real existence as does the Necronomicon or the Books of Bokonon. As an intellectual exercise of pure whimsical uselessness, I have catalogued here all these “imaginary” books that I could find in the stories of the “real” Argentine. I am sure that Borges himself would fail to see much of a difference…

I remember reading about a few of these, including A First Encyclopaedia of Tlön and The Garden of Forking Paths, but many seem new to me. Perhaps I do need to shell out for Henry Eliot’s course after all.

But let’s end with a library that won’t require any kind of virtual tour, as the books it holds, like those in The Crimson Hexagon above, don’t actually exist except in other books.

The Borges Memorial Library: a brief survey of imaginary booksThe Paris Review
Which brings us to Borges himself, the patron saint of imagined books. Borges played every metafictional game imaginable, but what makes his bibliographic inventions so much fun is his interest in the books themselves. For Borges, whose translators collected his stories in a book called Labyrinths, what are a fictional footnote on A General History of Labyrinths and a fictional essay on “The God of the Labyrinth” except a wish list?

Every book imaginable, just not your book

Everyone has a book in them, they say. Well, perhaps not.

No, you probably don’t have a book in you
I am a literary agent. It is my full-time job to find new books and help them get published. When people talk about “having a book in them,” or when people tell others they should write a book (which is basically my nightmare), what they really mean is I bet someone, but probably not me because I already heard it, would pay money to hear this story. When people say “you should write a book,” they aren’t thinking of a physical thing, with a cover, that a human person edited, copyedited, designed, marketed, sold, shipped, and stocked on a shelf. Those well-meaning and supportive people rarely know how a story becomes printed words on a page. Here’s what they don’t know, and what most beginner writers might not realize, either.

Perhaps your book has already been written and is somewhere in the library?

Library of Babel
Borges’s short story The Library of Babel is a thought experiment: imagine every possible combination of letters printed out in 410 page books. The library would contain all knowledge and falsehoods, all of the great works of fiction and a true prophecy for everyone in the world. It would also contain all of these things, but with all the A’s and E’s switched, or with X’s between words instead of spaces. Jonathan Basile, a Ph.D. student at Emory University turned Borges’s idea into a (virtual) reality. Every possible book that could be found in the Library can be read online, but to stumble on something meaningful is near impossible, which makes it all the more exciting to try. (Via)

Borges box trees

Because you can never have enough Borges.

The Borges Labyrinth
The Borges Maze: 1 kilometer maze made up of 3,200 box trees, designed by Randall Coate. Look closely and you’ll see it is shaped like a colossal open book, with BORGES spelled out and reflected among his favorite symbols: a stick, an hourglass, a tiger, a question mark, all infoliated in a labyrinth.

Visualising Wikipedia

See, also: A collection of our favorite visualizations built on Wikipedia data
This is a collection of our favorite visualizations, infographics, and other projects built on open data from Wikipedia and other Wikimedia projects, curated by Stephen LaPorte and Mahmoud Hashemi.

I don’t know a great deal about the Wikipedia open data projects, but there are some great data visualisation examples here. One of them even mentions Borges, what more do you want?

So what is a library?

From Alexandria to Babel
the actual concept of the library as an institution where the whole resource constitutes something infinitely greater than the sum of the parts. The parts are the individual records left by individual writers; the whole is something far more ambitious: an instrument designed to preserve intact the memory of humankind.

Not just storerooms for books then. A great piece about the history of these cultural memory banks, though I was a little concerned towards the end that I hadn’t come across any references to Borges. But then there was one, so all’s well.