The Library of Babel

The Library of Babel Study Guide

"The Library of Babel" is a short story written by Jorge Luis Borges. The story was originally published in Borges' 1941 collection El Jardín de senderos que se bifurcan, translated as The Garden of Forking Paths. It was later also included in the popular collections Ficciones and Labyrinths.

"The Library of Babel" is only seven pages long. The story is told in first person point of view by a narrator who is one of many librarians in a vast, perhaps infinite library which represents the universe. Every room in the library is identical, and all the books in the library are made up of random assortments of twenty-five symbols. The narrator, who is nearing the end of his life, hopes that there is an order to the library at some level and that someone in the library has the chance to read a book called the "catalog of catalogs" (112).

Borges himself was a librarian, and "The Library of Babel" is one of multiple stories where the library is a setting or symbol. The story also builds upon symbols and themes from previous literary works by Borges including infinity, language, labyrinths, and religion.

In writing "The Library of Babel", Borges built upon the ideas of Kurd Lasswitz, author of The Universal Library, as well as Émile Borel, author of Statistical mechanics and irreversibility, which famously included the idea of monkeys at typewriters typing randomly until something intelligible, such as Hamlet, is produced. In turn, many authors and artists based later work on Borges's story; these include Umberto Eco, Terry Pratchett, and Christopher Nolan. The work has also been explicitly extended; William Goldbloom Bloch's The Unimaginable Mathematics of Borges' Library of Babel gives mathematical perspective on the library in the story, and Jonathan Basile established a digital version of the library at that can be explored and manipulated by any visitor.