Skip to main content
Ages 13+
Under 13
Perspective shot looking down the center of a spiral staircase.

Borges’ "The Library of Babel" is Now a Digital Reality


It is hard to believe that it did not exist until now, but it is also difficult to conceive that somebody has created it: this is the hexagonal and dizzying labyrinthine Babel in a website.

All who have read Borges in the 20th century will have wondered what the writer would have said about the probable infinity of Internet. On hyperlinks, in particular, that function like footnotes and can send us to everything that has been written, is being written and will be written (and even digitalized) in the future. New York writer Jonathan Basile, a die-hard Borgesian, not only asked himself this, but is building an authentic digital Library of Babel.

Basile had to learn programming from scratch to create Borges’ Universal Library as a webpage. Until now the results are at the very least overwhelming; labyrinthine, interminable and sometimes metaphysical like the Borges story, and which in more than one sense could be a horror story. The programmer took as a structural guide the first paragraph of “The Library of Babel” that describes a vast architecture of interconnected hexagons, each one with four walls of shelves and passageways that lead to other identical hexagons.

When it is completed, the digital library will contain a possible combination of 1,312,000 characters, included the 24 letters of the alphabet, periods, commas and spaces. It will thus house every book that has ever been written and every book that could ever be written. It currently contains 1,024,640 volumes of apparent nonsense and which are sufficient to generate (data)vertigo in anybody.

But the relevant, the meaningful, would be to extract from the immense swarm of possible literatures something lasting, necessary, as the librarians of Borges’ story do, and who are condemned to review volumes to find sequences of meaning. Of all the finite combinations of 24 letters, periods, commas and spaces, finding something that provides significance; that is, one or a series of coherent words. And this is perhaps the best part of the digital version (perhaps enviable for the librarians of the story): Control-Find.

Needless to say, Basile’s ambition is an epic task, but somebody had to do it. It is important to mention that, given that it is an interactive and mobile website, it is no longer that “solitary, perfectly immobile and secret” library that Borges imagined. Furthermore, the fact that this digital library employs engineers, in this case Basile, but not a librarian, it leaves out one of the most beautiful aspects of the printed world: books are made by people and as a result each one possesses a marked individualism: by being generated randomly by a computer they lose that extravagance of none being like another (even two copies that are presumably identical).

But it also should be pointed out that the project is faithful to the alchemy of labyrinths, mirrors and texts belonging to the Borgesian universe. And it is a beautiful extension. We could also think ––and why not?–– that this cybernetic experiment is one of the possible universes within the “The Library of Babel,” one of the books that somebody imagined in the form of a complete library, hyperlinked and digital.

The project, more than can be explained here, is illuminated as one browses through it, but if you don’t know where to begin:

Search for your name (or favorite word) in one of the texts within one of the library’s hexagons:

Find a hexagon with your initials or lucky number:

Enjoy getting lost.

Related Articles