Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Grimmelmann's Library of Babel

Now that we're on the subject of Google I should recommend James Grimmelmann's excellent essay Information Policy for the Library of Babel to be published in the forthcoming edition of the Maryland Journal of Business and Technology Law.
"Borges’s 1941 short story The Library of Babel describes an unbelievably large library containing all possible books. Within the the “total” and “endless” reaches of the Library,”[t]here [is] no personal problem, no world problem, whose eloquent solution [does] not exist—somewhere …” but also “[f]or every rational line or forthright statement there are leagues of senseless cacophony, verbal nonsense, and incoherency.” As Borges describes it, the Library is the greatest imaginable source of information: it contains “The Vindications—books of apologiae and prophecies that would vindicate for all time the actions of every person in the universe and that held wondrous arcana for men’s futures.”

But the Library’s vastness and disorganization also make it almost completely useless: “[T]he chance of a man’s finding his own Vindication … can be calculated to be zero.” The image of the Library is haunting and suggestive. What would we do if we took it at face value? In this bagatelle of an essay, I propose to do just that: set out a few principles of sensible information policy for the Library of Babel."

[James Grimmelmann. 2007. "Information Policy for the Library of Babel" Maryland Journal of Business and Technology Law
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