The Mis-shelved Book

Image 1: The Library of Babel, a possibly infinite network of galleries

Editors’ note: Occasionally we’ll run a blog post because its ideas are good, even if it may not seem to be explicitly about media studies. While reading this post, consider how categorization and record-keeping matter to film and television, particularly in the age of digital media. One example might be the possibility (or impossibility) of cataloging the huge number of film festival submissions, especially those that are not chosen to compete and never reach the public.

Anxiety surrounding libraries seems to be a recurring theme in the discussion of human knowledge. Bowker and Starr offhandedly reference the scenario of “a library book shelved under the wrong Library of Congress catalogue number”1 in establishing beyond a doubt the importance of classification systems. Gleick, in his discussion of the long tradition of TMI, cites Augustus De Morgan, whose sentiments that “the library cannot be rummaged also drive toward the same fear: that the library represents the perpetual threat of information glut, precariously kept in check by faith in a perfect and wise system of categorization. None of these figures would advocate for the dismantling of the library as an institution, yet their preoccupation with miscategorization and unsearchability reveal fears that the institution is greater than they or any intelligence, and that its very mass poses a threat to human knowledge. Continue reading “The Mis-shelved Book” »