It’s a virtual library that, when finished, will contain every possible combination of 1,312,000 characters, including lower case letters, spaces, commas, and periods.
That means that this blog post would already reside there even though I am just writing it now. That’s not quite accurate because this post already contains a question mark and an apostrophe, which are not currently included in the works of the Library of Babel.
How does it work? The Library consists of hexagonal rooms. Hexagonal so that the rooms can be butted up against each other with no space in between (like a honeycomb). Four walls are used to store “books”. Of the four walls used for books, there are five shelves on each wall. On each shelf are thirty-two books. Each book has four hundred and ten pages. Each page has forty lines. Each line has approximately eighty characters.
To find a particular book, you will need to know where it is stored. It uses a system, like any library. In order to find your way around in the Library of Babel, you will need to follow its own special version of the Dewey Decimal System.
You will need to know the hexagon, wall, shelf, and book number.
What I have typed above, therefore, is not my original work even though I just thought of it now. It already exists many multiple times in the Library of Babel (excluding special punctuating characters, like apostrophe and question mark that I mentioned earlier). Let me explain. Everything above the horizontal rule will appear in its exact form (excluding special punctuation) on page 89 of a book titled “tnvs.ohlis,boukq kai” which resides on shelf 3 of wall 1 of the hexagon room with the code:
That is a very long code. That’s because of the sheer number of hexagons in this library. An exact match of what I wrote above appears 1029 times in the library. And those are just in the books where my “original” work stands alone in a book with no other characters, i.e. an exact match. There are many orders of magnitude more books where my “original” work above is sandwiched between random characters or books where my work is sandwiched between actual English words.
Sorry aspiring authors – if your book is less than four hundred and ten pages of forty lines per page, it already exists in full (minus special punctuation) in the Library of Babel.
Don’t believe me? Paste any text into the Library of Babel search. You will receive several references to your original work, that you could easily share with anyone (as I did above) and that person would be able to navigate back to your text.
The search results are categorized by exact match, exact match plus random characters, and exact match plus real English words.
To look up a hexagon, wall, shelf, book, page reference (known in the Library of Babel as a Reference Hex), simply navigate to this page and enter the information. Paste the long hex code and hit enter. Then use the dropdowns to find your wall and shelf number. Click the appropriate book on the visual diagram of the shelf. Enter your page number in the dropdown. Voila!
The first time I figured out how this “library” actually works, it blew my mind.
It’s a great way to send a coded message to a friend, although anyone who recognizes the data as a Library of Babel Reference Hex would just be able to look it up. You could always keep the page number secret or something like that.
If you haven’t already heard of the Library of Babel, I encourage you to check it out. If it still doesn’t make sense, drop me a line in the comments section. I may not have done the best job explaining it and I would love to try again.