Universal library
A universal library is a library
In a traditional sense, a library is a large collection of books, and can refer to the place in which the collection is housed. Today, the term can refer to any collection, including digital sources, resources, and services...

 with universal collections. This may be expressed in terms of it containing all existing information, useful information, all books, all works (regardless of format) or even all possible works. This ideal, although unrealizable, has influenced and continues to influence librarians and others and be a goal which is aspired to. Universal libraries are often assumed to have a complete set of useful features (such as finding aids, translation
Translation is the communication of the meaning of a source-language text by means of an equivalent target-language text. Whereas interpreting undoubtedly antedates writing, translation began only after the appearance of written literature; there exist partial translations of the Sumerian Epic of...

 tools, alternative formats, etc).


The Library of Alexandria
Library of Alexandria
The Royal Library of Alexandria, or Ancient Library of Alexandria, in Alexandria, Egypt, was the largest and most significant great library of the ancient world. It flourished under the patronage of the Ptolemaic dynasty and functioned as a major center of scholarship from its construction in the...

 is generally regarded as the first library approaching universality, although this idea may be more mythical than real. It is estimated that at one time, this library contained between 30 and 70 percent of all works in existence. The re-founded modern library has a non-universal collections policy

As a phrase, the "universal library" can be traced back to the naturalist Conrad Gessner
Conrad Gessner
Conrad Gessner was a Swiss naturalist and bibliographer. His five-volume Historiae animalium is considered the beginning of modern zoology, and the flowering plant genus Gesneria is named after him...

's Bibliotheca universalis of 1545.

In the 17th century, the ideal of universality continued to be attractive. The French librarian Gabriel Naudé
Gabriel Naudé
Gabriel Naudé was a French librarian and scholar. He was a prolific writer who produced works on many subjects including politics, religion, history and the supernatural. An influential work on library science was the 1627 book Advice on Establishing a Library...


And therefore I shall ever think it extremely necessary, to collect for this purpose all sorts of books, (under such precautions, yet, as I shall establish) seeing a Library which is erected for the public benefit, ought to be universal; but which it can never be, unlesse it comprehend all the principal authors, that have written upon the great diversity of particular subjects, and chiefly upon all the arts and sciences; [...] For certainly there is nothing which renders a Library more recommendable, then when every man findes in it that which he is in search of ...

The universal library in fiction

Science fiction
Science fiction
Science fiction is a genre of fiction dealing with imaginary but more or less plausible content such as future settings, futuristic science and technology, space travel, aliens, and paranormal abilities...

 has used the device of a library which is universal in the sense that it not only contains all existing written works, but all possible written works. This idea appeared in Kurd Lasswitz's 1901 story "The Universal Library" and Borges
Jorge Luis Borges
Jorge Francisco Isidoro Luis Borges Acevedo , known as Jorge Luis Borges , was an Argentine writer, essayist, poet and translator born in Buenos Aires. In 1914 his family moved to Switzerland where he attended school, receiving his baccalauréat from the Collège de Genève in 1918. The family...

's essay "The Total Library" before its more famous expression in Borges's story "The Library of Babel
The Library of Babel
"The Library of Babel" is a short story by Argentine author and librarian Jorge Luis Borges , conceiving of a universe in the form of a vast library containing all possible 410-page books of a certain format....

". Such a library, however, would be as useless as it would be complete. A similar idea was a planet called Memory Alpha, (from the Star Trek episode "The Lights of Zetar") which was the Federation's "storehouse of computer databases containing all cultural history and scientific data it has acquired.". It has been commented that the Internet already approaches this state.

In Discworld
Discworld is a comic fantasy book series by English author Sir Terry Pratchett, set on the Discworld, a flat world balanced on the backs of four elephants which, in turn, stand on the back of a giant turtle, Great A'Tuin. The books frequently parody, or at least take inspiration from, J. R. R....

, Terry Pratchett
Terry Pratchett
Sir Terence David John "Terry" Pratchett, OBE is an English novelist, known for his frequently comical work in the fantasy genre. He is best known for his popular and long-running Discworld series of comic fantasy novels...

's fantasy world, all libraries in the multiverse
The multiverse is the hypothetical set of multiple possible universes that together comprise all of reality.Multiverse may also refer to:-In fiction:* Multiverse , the fictional multiverse used by DC Comics...

 being connected in "L-space", effectively creating a single, semi-universal, library.

Modern times

With the advent of cheap, widely available digital storage, the ideal of universality, although still impossible to attain, has become closer to the feasible. Many projects are now attempting to collect a section of human knowledge into one database. These projects vary in breadth and scope, and none are complete. Examples include digitization projects such as Project Gutenberg
Project Gutenberg
Project Gutenberg is a volunteer effort to digitize and archive cultural works, to "encourage the creation and distribution of eBooks". Founded in 1971 by Michael S. Hart, it is the oldest digital library. Most of the items in its collection are the full texts of public domain books...

 and Carnegie-Mellon's Universal library, digital libraries
Digital library
A digital library is a library in which collections are stored in digital formats and accessible by computers. The digital content may be stored locally, or accessed remotely via computer networks...

 which are using book scanning
Book scanning
Book scanning is the process of converting physical books and magazines into digital media such as images, electronic text, or electronic books by using an image scanner....

 to collect public domain
Public domain
Works are in the public domain if the intellectual property rights have expired, if the intellectual property rights are forfeited, or if they are not covered by intellectual property rights at all...

 works; The European Library, an integrated catalog for Europe's national libraries; and the Wikimedia Foundation
Wikimedia Foundation
Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. is an American non-profit charitable organization headquartered in San Francisco, California, United States, and organized under the laws of the state of Florida, where it was initially based...

, which, using the Wiki
A wiki is a website that allows the creation and editing of any number of interlinked web pages via a web browser using a simplified markup language or a WYSIWYG text editor. Wikis are typically powered by wiki software and are often used collaboratively by multiple users. Examples include...

 system, is attempting to collect the breadth of important human knowledge under various open content
Open content
Open content or OpenContent is a neologism coined by David Wiley in 1998 which describes a creative work that others can copy or modify. The term evokes open source, which is a related concept in software....

 projects such as Wikipedia
Wikipedia is a free, web-based, collaborative, multilingual encyclopedia project supported by the non-profit Wikimedia Foundation. Its 20 million articles have been written collaboratively by volunteers around the world. Almost all of its articles can be edited by anyone with access to the site,...

 and Wiktionary
Wiktionary is a multilingual, web-based project to create a free content dictionary, available in 158 languages...

. However, many technical and legal problems remain for the dissemination of all possible knowledge on the Internet.

Current barriers

Current barriers to the construction of a universal digital library include:
  • Books have been lost. While the best-known lost-library may be the Library at Alexandria, wars, civil strife and natural disasters destroy libraries and archives
    Destruction of Libraries
    This is a list of destroyed libraries that have been deliberately or accidentally destroyed or badly damaged. Sometimes libraries are purposely destroyed as a form of cultural cleansing...

     on a regular basis. Further losses are due to neglect.
  • Copyright. Many books are under copyright
    Copyright is a legal concept, enacted by most governments, giving the creator of an original work exclusive rights to it, usually for a limited time...

     and current widespread business models require scarcity of books to remunerate authors.
  • Censorship. Most jurisdictions have banned at least some banned books.
  • Unpublished manuscripts
    A manuscript or handwrite is written information that has been manually created by someone or some people, such as a hand-written letter, as opposed to being printed or reproduced some other way...

    . If unpublished manuscripts are included in the definition of book, catching newly-written manuscripts is likely to be a challenge.
  • Current digitisation efforts are largely library-based and so materials deemed outside the scope of libraries are very poorly represented.

See also

  • Encyclopedia Galactica
    Encyclopedia Galactica
    The Encyclopædia Galactica is a fictional or hypothetical encyclopædia of a future human galaxy-spanning civilization, containing all the knowledge accumulated by a society with quadrillions of people and thousands of years of history...

  • Bibliotheca Alexandrina
    Bibliotheca Alexandrina
    The Bibliotheca Alexandrina or Maktabat al-Iskandarīyah is a major library and cultural center located on the shore of the Mediterranean Sea in the Egyptian city of Alexandria...

  • Google Book Search
    Google Book Search
    Google Books is a service from Google that searches the full text of books that Google has scanned, converted to text using optical character recognition, and stored in its digital database. The service was formerly known as Google Print when it was introduced at the Frankfurt Book Fair in October...

  • Internet Archive
    Internet Archive
    The Internet Archive is a non-profit digital library with the stated mission of "universal access to all knowledge". It offers permanent storage and access to collections of digitized materials, including websites, music, moving images, and nearly 3 million public domain books. The Internet Archive...

  • Million Book Project
    Million Book Project
    The Million Book Project , is a book digitization project, led by Carnegie Mellon University School of Computer Science and University Libraries...

  • Open Content Alliance
    Open Content Alliance
    The Open Content Alliance is a consortium of organizations contributing to a permanent, publicly accessible archive of digitized texts. Its creation was announced in October 2005 by Yahoo!, the Internet Archive, the University of California, the University of Toronto and others...

  • Open Library
    Open Library
    Open Library is an online project intended to create “one web page for every book ever published”. Open Library is a project of the non-profit Internet Archive and has been funded in part by a grant from the California State Library and the Kahle/Austin Foundation.-Books for the blind and...

  • Project Gutenberg
    Project Gutenberg
    Project Gutenberg is a volunteer effort to digitize and archive cultural works, to "encourage the creation and distribution of eBooks". Founded in 1971 by Michael S. Hart, it is the oldest digital library. Most of the items in its collection are the full texts of public domain books...

  • World Digital Library
    World Digital Library
    The World Digital Library is an international digital library operated by UNESCO and the United States Library of Congress.The WDL has stated that its mission is to promote international and intercultural understanding, expand the volume and variety of cultural content on the Internet, provide...

The source of this article is wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The text of this article is licensed under the GFDL.