Study Guide

The Library of Babel Exploration

By Jorge Luis Borges


Plenty of people set out on quests in "The Library of Babel," including the narrator himself. And what do you quest for in a Library? Why, a book, of course. The young explorers are filled with optimism and enthusiasm at the beginning of their journeys, but these happy feelings never last long. The thing is, no one ever finds what he's looking for. No one. That's right, there hasn't been one successful quest in the entire history of the Library. And the explorers' frustration sometimes leads them to violent acts of murder and suicide. So what's the point of exploring? Should the inhabitants of the Library just give up? Or is there something valuable in the act of searching itself?

Questions About Exploration

  1. Is there a difference between "exploration" and "questing"? Do you consider the librarians' quests a kind of exploration?
  2. Given the improbable odds of ever finding your own Vindication, would you set out on a quest in the Library? Why or why not?
  3. When we think of exploration, we think of cartography – drawing maps of new, uncharted territory. But in the case of the Library, the terrain is always the same. How would you go about mapping the Library?
  4. How does the narrator feel about the history of quests in the Library? Does he think these quests are worthwhile, or that the librarians should just give up?

Chew on This

The exploration of the Library – a territory that never varies in its terrain – can only involve a search for a meaningful book, a quest that is bound to fail given the amount of meaningless gibberish on the Library's bookshelves.

The narrator's knowledge of the different dialects and languages spoken in the Library, along with his reference to "circuit 15-94," indicates that some people are interested in more than just books. Some of the librarians must have explored and mapped the human life within the Library.

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