Acronyms, Acrimony and the Library of Babel

Yesterday I overheard one of my colleagues letting off a full broadside against the fact that a certain room in the school is known as the SAC. He said he had no idea what SAC stood for, although he supposed the ‘S’ to stand for student. He said, further, that he had once worked at a school where the library was known as the LRC, standing for learning resource centre. Why, he wondered, could they not just call it the library?

He has a point. I think, however, he would have risen still more roundly to his theme had he known that SAC stands for self-access centre. I think he would have started to spot a pattern. Rooms are not rooms in the modern workplace: they are centres (at least, if they are not syndicate rooms). A library, we must suppose, is where you doze off after lunch; a centre is a networked space.

There is no reason, in fact, why a library cannot offer both self-access (one of the principle functions of a library, I would think) and a variety of learning resources, including computers. And anyway, the library of libraries has now moved online.

Self-Access Centre Étienne-Louis Boullée - The Library of the King

Self-Access Centre – Étienne-Louis Boullée, The Library of the King

I refer of course to Jorge Luis Borges’ Library of Babel, which contains a copy of a book of every possible combination of 25 characters (22 letters, the full stop, the comma and the space), each book of 410 pages (if I recall), arranged on the shelves of identical hexagonal rooms. In theory, the library must contain every book ever written or that ever could be written (always assuming a maximum page length of 410 pages), including an index and catalogue of every book in the library, the biography of everyone alive or potentially alive, the correct answer to every question conceivable (assuming it can be expressed in alphabetic script) and so on.

Unfortunately, just a single authentic book, alongside all possible variants of that book containing either one, two three, or four misprints, would fill the space of the known universe.

Just as well then that Borges situated his library in an adjacent universe, so to speak, that of the limitless imagination; and now a version (or variant) of his library exists in yet another adjacent universe, that of the Internet. If you look long enough you will certain find a book that explains what SAC and LRC stand for, and why they are better handles than ‘library’.

Have a browse through the Library of Babel, here.

Advertisements