I had always imagined Paradise as a kind of library.
– Jorge Luis Borges
Out of all the pages of all the books in this world, you picked this one. Perhaps you are a person who passionately seeks out knowledge and your voracious pursuit has brought you here; or perhaps you are just a lucky soul. Either way, I have the pleasure of telling you the truth of this world and your place in it.
This universe of words, this Library where we exist, is it not beautiful? Like a honeycomb, the Library is comprised of an eternal series of hexagonal chambers. Side by side, above as beneath, the chambers extend endlessly. Each chamber has many levels of shelves, linked together by stairs which criss cross the entire structure. All wall space is occupied by books. At the top of each chamber, on two opposite sides, is a door into a corridor, a passageway leading to another chamber and thus are all of the galleries in the universe connected.
Every wall of the Library contains several shelves and every shelf contains several books. Some of the books have names on them, some do not. Those with names are not always clearly identifiable by the names they bear. You could, for example, pick up a book bearing the name of a fruit and find yourself reading about ancient technology.
We the Librarians, are the keepers of the Library, or perhaps it is better said that the library keeps us. We wander the library, consuming its knowledge, or perhaps we are the ones who are consumed. Life is endless walking and reading. The balance between the two is key, but as you no doubt know, there are those who take things to the extreme. The Walkers, as they are known, are those in perpetual motion. They walk continually, up and down stairs, through passageways, shunning the books, shunning knowledge. It is said that the original Walker experienced something so deeply traumatic in a book that she vowed never to read again. Somehow, she convinced some others that her way was one of enlightenment. The origins of the Deep Readers is an equally sad tale.
In the time before, reading the way you are now, book in hand, staring at letters on a page, was by far the most common form of reading. But as you well know such reading is considered passe, old fashioned at best and deviant at worst. The majority of books in the Library are read in the normal way: you pick up a book, open it, and the world of the book materialises around you. To an observer you look to be scanning and turning the pages but you are in fact in a corporeal realm generated by the book. A feat of engineering but there were some unexpected consequences. In the early days, we came to realise that there were people reading the same book for years. There was speculation that the books they were reading contained the secrets of the universe and that they were caught up in ecstasies. Others argued that they had ventured to deep into a labyrinth; that they were in books, reading books, and in those books reading yet more books. The Deep Readers are stuck, whether intentionally or against their will, and we have no way to release them.
At one time, I would try to teach people about the importance of balance. But the universe is too vast. My words are drowned out by the great forests of words that separate us. I have wandered far out now. Perhaps now great galaxies of words separate me from the next living, breathing librarian. As I write of these distances, you might conclude, as many have done, that the Library is infinite. It is in fact finite, but indeterminate and growing. To understand this, you need to understand the nature of the books.
There are three kinds of books in the Library. First, there are those written in the time before. Secondly there are those written by the First Librarians. Lastly, there are those being written as we speak. You see every person in the Library, some knowingly but most unknowingly is adding to this vast compendium. Your every journey through this Library and through every book you read is being recorded in yet another book. Once the maximum number of words has been completed, the book is added to the Library and a new book begins. Every moment of every life lived is written in a book, and every life relived is written in a book. This living and reliving, writing and rewriting has served to bury the truth of the Library.
This threefold classification also explains the seemingly indecipherable books that have at times been found in the Library. I recall once hearing from travelers who had passed through that region of the Library where librarians are in the habit of wearing gloves. The travellers told me of a woman who had found a book containing only ones and zeros repeated in combinations across all of its pages. I explained to them that those lines and circles were the original language of the Library, that everything they saw around them was made up of them. They laughed. And then they continued talking on other matters. Some simply did not believe me whilst others just could not understand. I realised then the futility of telling the truth. And yet, I persist.
When I was still wandering chambers that had other people in them, I encountered a number of legends that had sprung up about the origins of the Library. My favourite is the Tree of Life story. It is said by some among you that a book fell on good soil, magical soil, and that from there more books grew until this library was formed. This seems to be the way of the world now. Truth is either hidden, forgotten or wrapped tight in metaphors.
You may be wondering how I came to know all of this. Well, I am one of the First Librarians. I am sure that by now that even the legend of us remains as barely a whisper. Nevertheless we are the ones who built these chambers, this universe. In the time before, we were not known as librarians, we were known as humans. We looked, just as you see yourself now, a bipedal being, intelligent but hungry for more. We originated on a planet called Earth, and explored our universe. First in noisy, dirty rockets but before long, in great starships, travelling faster than the speed of light. As we travelled, we changed. Several millennia after we first stepped off Earth we evolved beyond the need for physical form. We could now exist infinitely but still we were still travellers, explorers.
We worked hard to go faster and further, until we reached the Edge. When humanity reached the edge of the universe, we found the Outer Darkness, an impenetrable abyss with nothing beyond it. At first, the discovery provoked great jubilation. It was mankind’s crowning achievement. All humans felt themselves victorious partners in this collective effort of discovery and exploration. There was no corner of the universe that had not been forced to reveal itself to us. The universe had been transversed, mapped, tamed, contained. Parties and ceremonies of celebration were held. Then came the Great Depression. A crippling realisation began to dawn on many, humanity was alone, trapped. There was nowhere else to go.
For decades a deep malaise fell over humanity. There were great pilgrimages to the Edge. People would sit gazing at the Outer Darkness for days, months. Some claimed to receive revelation. Others became unstable, incapable of communicating with others and finally flinging themselves against the Edge. This senseless act brought no release, only injury and more misery.
For decades sorrow consumed humanity. Everyone, that is, except a small group of us known as the Librarians. We were the keepers of humanity’s knowledge. This knowledge was our universe, information and imagination compiled and recorded, ripe for endless exploration. We realised that we could build a new world. A place of everlasting discovery. We expanded our existing library program. We created interface technology to let people enter the Library. We thought that we were solving a problem, bringing joy back to humanity. In fact, what we were doing was much more fundamental; it was the next step in humanity’s evolution. We had already moved from corporeal to incorporeal, now we passed from incorporeal to incorporeal-digital.
Suffice to say, I have been in the Library for a very long time. Exactly how long, I cannot tell. There is no accurate way to tell time in the Library. Knowledge and storytelling induce a sort of suspended animation. My natural memory stretches back millenia, but it is getting increasingly harder to recall everything in the high fidelity I once could. I am very old and I am greatly changed. In the beginning, I was a revered leader, a pioneer. Then I became a priest, protector of an aging holy order. Time passed and I became a prophet, a bearer of incredible secrets. Now, so few remember the things that were, so I am a writer, a storyteller, penning this tone in the vain hope that someone will read and these truths enter a living mind once more.
Nevertheless, I have some fear in completing this book and placing it on these shelves, I worry that a reader of a book, about a reader of a book, about a reader of a book, about a reader of a book, about a reader of this book might be unable to grasp the purity of what I have set out to do here, Even more, I fear returning to this book some millenia from now, even more advanced in age and my memories of the time before faded, reading these words as the fanciful jottings of an imaginative wordsmith.