I am trying to work out the title and author of a story I remember reading. I think its a short story, about a library which housed only books of a certain length, but had every single combination of letters available meaning that every story possible was available, amongst all the junk and mess.

Within this library are different groups of people, for instance the fact that every combination of characters is available means that as well as history, the future is predicted so a group of fanatics hunt the library for the future.

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    Barely related, almost a curiosity: libraryofbabel.info
    – alseether
    Jan 15 '20 at 15:32
  • I had to..
    – Ma0
    Jan 15 '20 at 16:37
  • 1
    Honorable mention for the Great Library in Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next metafiction novels which contains all books ever written or conceived.
    – Lexible
    Jan 15 '20 at 17:01
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    I would also add Sandman by Nail Gaiman which contains a library with all the books, including the ones that were only dreamed.
    – Sulthan
    Jan 16 '20 at 14:24
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    @alseether It's actually quite relevant, since the website is inspired by the story that's the answer to this question :)
    – Andres F.
    Jan 20 '20 at 15:03

This is very likely Jorge Luis Borges' short story "The Library of Babel". In it, he describes a universe consisting of connected hexagonal rooms, each containing four walls with bookshelves.

While there's no definite proof, this vast library seems to contain all possible 410-page books possible with all combinations of 22 letters, a comma, a period, and a space.

The story was written in Spanish (as Borges was Argentinian) and was part of his 1941 collection El Jardín de senderos que se bifurcan (The Garden of Forking Paths), which was later expanded upon (the collection, not the story) and renamed Ficciones (Fictions).

The books are restricted to a certain format:

There are five shelves for each of the hexagon's walls; each shelf contains thirty-five books of uniform format; each book is of four hundred and ten pages; each page, of forty lines, each line, of some eighty letters which are black in color. There are also letters on the spine of each book; these letters do not indicate or prefigure what the pages will say.

They had indeed had every single combination of letters available meaning that every story possible was available.

This thinker observed that all the books, no matter how diverse they might be, are made up of the same elements: the space, the period, the comma, the twenty-two letters of the alphabet. He also alleged a fact which travelers have confirmed: In the vast Library there are no two identical books. From these two incontrovertible premises he deduced that the Library is total and that its shelves register all the possible combinations of the twenty-odd orthographical symbols [...]

There is a group of fanatics that hunt the library for the future.

There are official searchers, inquisitors. I have seen them in the performance of their function: they always arrive extremely tired from their journeys; [...]

Others destroy books they deem nonsense.

Others, inversely, believed that it was fundamental to eliminate useless works. They invaded the hexagons, showed credentials which were not always false, leafed through a volume with displeasure and condemned whole shelves: their hygienic, ascetic furor caused the senseless perdition of millions of books.

You can read it on the Internet Archive.


In one of the Discworld books by Terry Pratchett, the Librarian has access to all libraries and all books. It is a secret. I've seen that section excerpt from books before, but it doesn't sound like an exact match to your description. https://discworld.fandom.com/wiki/The_Librarian

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    It's a regular theme that the Librarian uses L-space to get to all sorts of times and places. The HEM department also look into future unprinted works, but this wouldn't match for the question.
    – Separatrix
    Jan 16 '20 at 8:40
  • He uses L-space regularly? Hrmmm. I must've missed that theme. Thank you. I was more wondering if the theme/short got excerpted but, as you said, it doesn't match the description very well.
    – J.Hirsch
    Jan 16 '20 at 12:22
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    I think "occasionally" would be a better term. Its dangerous and something he only does when necessary, but of course we tend to focus on those occasions. Narativium and all that. Jan 18 '20 at 8:34

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