Sunday, January 25, 2015

Is it Time to Dispose of the Library of Alexandria?

First and foremost – I am in no way advocating any burning or destruction of any library anywhere. And nothing I say here pertains to the current institution of the same name.

The target of my intent is the mythical Library of Alexandria that lives in our heads and upon which we throw so much meaning and substance.

My attention to the topic of the mythical Library of Alexandria comes as a result of reading the recent New Yorker article “The Cobweb” on internet archiving and the Internet Archive in particular. In it, Brewster Kahle talks about building the Internet Archive in terms of building the “Library of Alexandria Two.”

The Library of Alexandria? Isn’t that the library that was burned down or looted and nothing of it remains? That seems like an odd, and by “odd” I mean bad model for an archive that wants to preserve things.

I am the furthest thing from an expert on the historical Library of Alexandria, but from my scant knowledge my understanding is that the library collection was built on greed and theft (or you could call it aggressive intellectual curiosity) and it’s centralized collection was destroyed possibly through a combination of administrative looting and burning by opposing armies.

Maybe I’m missing something, but it seems to me that the Library of Alexandria is at best a negative example, an example of what not to do. Okay, the intellectual curiosity and desire to collect has some noble intentions, but as a model for preservation or even just as a throw-away comment about the good old days, the mythical Library of Alexandria needs to be burned to the ground.

Addendum:
I should have mentioned and linked to a much more worthwhile read (more worthwhile than this post) responding to the New Yorker article on the Inkdroid blog.

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