The Electronic Labyrinth

The Library of the Future: A New Electronic Canon

Library of the Future is a CD-ROM released by World Library, Inc. In its first edition it contained 450 complete works of fiction, philosophy, theology, politics, theatre, and science from 50 authors. The second edition more than doubles these numbers. The retrieval software features proximity searching with wildcards and Boolean operators. Filters are allowed by place (country, region), time (century, era, year), and category (discipline, genre). Irizarry provides a thorough description of these facilities, and the improvements available in the second edition. Most notably, screens may be saved, documents printed, configurations stored, and works compared on a split screen.

Issues of inclusion and canonization are immediately raised by such an encyclopedic work. Though hyperbooks may, in theory, work against hierarchies and notions of authorial authority, in practice the problem is exacerbated. Here we have a new medium, accessible only to those with a high level of technical knowledge and extensive resources. Authoring a CD-ROM requires more specialized knowledge in more areas than writing a book.

What criteria were used for the selection of works in this prophetically named Library of the Future? Irizarry puts forward two possibilities: the works' availability as electronic text, and the fact that they have "indisputably been part of an established academic curricula for years" (68). Of course, only works out of copyright have been included. Here, then, we have a familiar triumvirate of criteria: technological, academic, economic.

It is not surprising to learn that of the 200,000 pages of writing in the first edition, not one was written by a woman. This criminal neglect was somewhat remedied in the subsequent release; now, nine per cent of the authors are female.

© 1993-2000 Christopher Keep, Tim McLaughlin, Robin Parmar.
contact us