the Library of Alexandria Again
Stephen W. Carson
"...the Library at Alexandria was charged with collecting
all the world's knowledge. It did so through an aggressive and well-funded
royal mandate involving trips to the book fairs of Rhodes and Athens
and a policy of pulling the books off every ship that came into
port. They kept the original texts and made copies to send back
to their owners." (Wikipedia)
We have it in our grasp to realize the original mission of the
Library of Alexandria, "collecting all the world's knowledge",
but with significant improvements on the original plan:
- Multiple, redundant, perfect copies.
- Copies in multiple physical locations, (to avoid the problem
of, say, one central location being burned down and losing the
- Storage of not only texts, but images, audio recordings (music,
spoken word, etc.), and video.
- The ability to search all of this knowledge comprehensively
yet instantly that the librarians of Alexandria could not even
have imagined (but would have loved!)
- The ability to interconnect between all these texts and other
media so that connections between them can be made explicit and
- Access to all this from almost anywhere in the world, rather
than scholars having to travel to a single location in Egypt.
- Participation by all scholars (or anyone with something to share)
from all over the world, rather than a relatively small group
of scholars funded by a single government.
- And all of this based on a voluntary process of sharing. No
breaking in and stealing originals from anyone. If anyone wants
to keep something to themselves they simply refrain from sharing
it and this great project will leave them in peace.
Before we consider the threats to this new "Library of Alexandria"
that we call the Internet, let's pause for a moment and consider
the historically unprecedented opportunity that lays before us.
To help us, let's enlist a librarian from the Library of Alexandria
by transporting him to our time. Let's bring Zenodotus, the first
superintendent of the Library, pioneer of the alphabetical storage
of texts and metadata to mark texts for easy retrieval.
Once getting over all the other various shocks of coming to our
time, he would be curious how we now deal with his own passion:
scholarship and the preservation of the great texts.
We would show him how, rather than spending months making a copy
of a text by hand, we are able to make a copy of a text instantly
by copying from one computer to another. Furthermore, the source
and destination for this copying need not be anywhere near each
other but can be on opposite sides of the world!
We would then show him how all this information, stored all over
the world, is instantly searchable. Perhaps we would do a "vanity
search" for him and show him the thousands of results containing
the word "Zenodotus" in texts on computers all over the
We could then show him how articles on him contain references to
other texts with information on the history of the Library of Alexandria
and the librarians who came after him. How each text links to another
in a vast interconnected web of knowledge.
inevitably, in showing him information on the Library of Alexandria
he would see that eventually the Library was burned. Though some
of the work of the Library was preserved, much was lost. In the
long term, the project was a failure.
And after showing Zenodotus the astounding opportunity to resurrect
his project and improve on it greatly, how would we explain to him
that making copies of information is increasingly under threat?
That people who make copies of information have been sued and jailed?
That unauthorized copies are hunted down and destroyed constantly?
How do we explain to him that we were this close to realizing the
dream of the Library of Alexandria but decided to burn it down instead?
W. Carson [send
him mail] works
as a software engineer, occasionally writes about political economy
and is the proud father of five children. See his reviews of Films
on Liberty and the State. More articles are available at his
Web Site. He blogs
at Radical Liberation.
© 2012 by LewRockwell.com. Permission to reprint in whole or in
part is gladly granted, provided full credit is given.
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