Modern Libraries of Alexandria

[ short history of the library of alexandria, similarities and differences between Wikipedia/StackExchange and the Library of Alexandria, why those former two succeeded but quora failed, future of non-objective sources of knowledge sites, where did all the big libraries go (internet eradicated them? -- most books aren't digitized, but are important as "needed" in the knowledge graph if even one person ever tried to get them/thought about them), ] Maybe the mesopotamians had the right idea then, stick it in clay so fire just makes it more durable. [on reddit, but taleb vibe via antifragile] Some quotes I like on the library as symbol.

A great library doesn’t just contain knowledge, it kindles knowledge — getting lost in its endless corridors of curiosity, you inevitably find yourself.
The library … is no mere cabinet of curiosities; it’s a world, complete and completable, and it is filled with secrets. Like a world, it has its changes and its seasons, which belie the permanence that ordered ranks of books imply. Tugged by the gravity of readers’ desires, books flow in and out of the library like the tides. The people who shelve the books in [Harvard’s] Widener talk about the library’s breathing — at the start of the term, the stacks exhale books in great swirling clouds; at the end of term, the library inhales, and the books fly back. So the library is a body, too, the pages of books pressed together like organs in the darkness.

To avoid beating a dead horse, I won't say more than that the quotes above capture the sentiment I am trying to express: the library is a symbol. Despite having been at harvard for two years, the feeling I get when first walking into the Widener library reading room -- that humanity's collective ignorance is being carved away by an infinitesmal but nonzero quantity before my eyes -- is emblematic of a lot of things I love about Harvard. Though there is certainly much to be said about libraries-as-symbols -- including vacillations on Google's attempts to build a "universal libary of Alexandria" by digitizing all books, libraries as rallying points for communities in the Vilna ghetto under the Nazi regime, as beacons in Qing dynasty China before Qin Shi Huang came to power and burned librarians alive, etc etc -- we skip these for now.

We seek to instead focus on how certain moderns have attempted to generalize the notion of library by building websites that agglomerate both subjective knowledge, and fragmented knowledge that would never make it into book form. Quora is the prime example of such a website. The StackExchange network is similar, except higher quality, and Wikipedia is higher quality still, though more encyclopedic in its aims. Here, we'll explore why some Q&A and encyclopedic websites have worked better than others, how these websites are and are not similar to the canonical libraries of antiquity, and in what sense these websites can be analogized to libraries to begin with.