The ark of knowledge

Those who still lament the destruction of the library of Alexandria, with its treasure of ancient Greek knowledge, were in for good news this past week when Google, the search engine, announced an agreement with some of the world’s greatest libraries to digitize their contents and make them available online. Google already provides the contents of 8 billion pages, but it is precisely this inconceivable plethora of information that is as much a curse as a blessing of the Internet. Lacking any form of control and evaluation, the Internet is a modern Babel packed with both diamonds and rubbish. Anyone using it has to act as a judicious librarian in making sense of it all. Now immediate access to information will be combined with the strict selection of great librarians – because the libraries involved include those of the universities of Harvard, Oxford, Michigan and Stanford and the New York Public Library. Harvard alone has some 15 million books, collected over four centuries. Oxford’s Bodleian Library has 5 million books, selected over five centuries. It is still not clear how the proposed system will work but it seems that it will form a new Alexandria, holding what must be close to the sum of all human knowledge. This great program also gets one thinking: Maybe the time has come for the Greeks to start collecting the total of their knowledge in a digital library. Greece is full of writing – from world-renowned books to pamphlets that never got out of the village in which they were written. There are also countless stories by people who lived through momentous events. Much of this work has not been catalogued or evaluated. It has not become part of the mosaic of the Greeks’ history. It is time for a program in which this wealth will be digitized and thus become part of a huge, national bibliography, allowing the material to be catalogued, evaluated and absorbed in a new history of the Greeks.