Modelling Borges's Library of Babel in Sketchup

Originally published at:


/reaches out to first book, stumbles, breaks glasses


In Kevin Kelly’s book Out of Control (1994), he devotes a few chapters to the Library of Babel. If I’m not mistaken, he does an excellent job of explaining how the library can contain every book ever written, albeit some books would have to be split up into parts. Here’s the first chapter to deal with it.

[ETA] Turns out I was thinking of Infinity and the Mind by Rudy Rucker. Both are worth a read, though.

Well Borges did describe it looking rather futuristic, but if it was my infinite library it would be a Beaux Arts monstrosity, all Ionian columns and red brick, with a structure designed by Escher, an endless maze of rooms, no two alike, impossible to map let alone catalog. My infinity is not sleek and glossy. It is a teratological Julia set made of mahogany with green brass fittings.


I find myself surprisingly bothered by the huge inefficiency of these designs. Real research libraries are MUCH more efficient.


And catering. Borges library lacks cafeterias. It’s also not clear where new librarians come from.


Many of us were hatched as failed English and History majors.


Somewhere in the Library of Babel there are books containing ASCII-art renderings of this model of the Library of Babel from every possible point-of-view.

You can find this comment there, too, of course.

Some books’ pages may appear incomprehensible, but that’s only because you haven’t yet found the book containing the correct decoding instructions.

You can never trust anything you read in the Library of Babel.


So then you doubled down with an MLS?


I loved reading that story. Just like in normal life corpus diversity increases with distance.

When you say “inefficient.” What do you mean by this?

  • Books per square foot?
  • Search/selection speed?
  • Cost of construction?
  • Cost of climate control?
  • Number of simultaneous users?
  • Books per volume measurement of structure?
  • Safety features of structure (eg. unobstructed egress in the case of fire?)

Yep. When in doubt, go get another degree. That’s the motto around our house; it’s how my husband and I have ended up with 7 degrees between the two of us. And now I’m considering finally getting PhD starting next fall. The sick cycle never ends.




How many Sketchup models are there laying out Noah’s Ark in all its neccessities…


Umberto Eco was inspired by Borges for the abby medieval laberynt/library in “The name of rose”.

Surely the use of some sketchup textures could give the design an ancient look.

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This wins my quote-of-the-week. :slight_smile:


Interestingly enough, if you had a real library with an infinite number of books, you would never be able to read any of them. Selecting a book to read from the library would take literally forever.

L-space is already infinite by design. It always contains the entire contents of every library that has ever existed, all libraries that currently exist, and all possible libraries that will exist in the future. Navigating in L-space is somewhat difficult, as it appears you have to know what you wish to learn or at least an idea of what you wish to learn.
Apologies to Mr Pratchett if I got this wrong.

Alternatively, it can be said that L-space manifests in our world in those obscure, hidden bookstores that, logic and the laws of physics insist, cannot possibly be as large on the outside as they appear on the inside. Somehow, after scraping one’s shoulders against the improbably small door, one finds one’s self turning one unseen corner after another, seemingly going on forever into further and more obscure sections as yet unobserved by human eyes. The town of Hay-on-Wye, known for having more bookshops per square mile than anywhere else in the world, contains many examples of this, and may be a substantial access point to L-space. Essentially, all bookstores are potentially infinite in extent; gateways into literary hyperspace: "[a] good bookshop is just a genteel blackhole that knows how to read."


This reminded me that Umberto Eco died this year, and now I’m sad. God fucking dammit, 2016.

So - we can now be sure there are no biology books in the Library of Babel.

Perhaps there’s another infinite library of DNA fragments in a nutrient soup, from which sooner or later every possible librarian will emerge.

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