Library of Babel

Archives and Accessibility

“An analysis of the tools you use and the way you are using them will often lead to discovering what is retarding your progress” –John Robert Gregg (I.C.b. in the Archive Index)

Borges’ Library of Babel calls to the forefront the question of accessibility: what happens when the knowledge is there but you just. plain. can’t. get. to. it? In his library, part of the problem is the sheer quantity of information; archives, in a way, can function as microcosms of this. Or, at least, the Stolen Time Archive seems to demonstrate this chaotic side of an archive. It definitely seemed as though there was information in the archive that I couldn’t access; things that it had decided to include but not to showcase. Foucault, I think, remarked that archives are never finished; as they sort out what to leave out and what to include - and, within that, what to feature and what to keep in storage - they’re constantly creating more information about choice, priorities, and specialization. It would be interesting to see what was left out of the Stolen Time Archive; in my short explorations of the site, it seemed a diverse group of art, writings, jokes, seriousness, and social commentary.

The Stolen Time Archive is effective in creating an experience – much more of an organic encountering of various materials than a scholarly presentation – but I didn’t find it that effective for learning and utilization. Perhaps it’s the tendency to click around on an unfamiliar website until something happens,  in which case the problem would be more on my end than the archive’s. The quote I excerpted at the beginning suggests that when things like the Stolen Time Archive, any other archive, or something even as fanciful as the Library of Babel don’t serve our purposes, we should examine our interactions along with diagnostics of the tools in order to best interact with archives.