The fabled library of the past was the Library of Alexandria, founded at the behest of Alexander the Great. It was a museum, a school, and the center of scholarly research where the largest collection of Greek books were gathered and classified. To that library is owed not only the preservation of ancient texts but much of the learning required for their understanding. The library continued to exist under Roman rule until the third century of the Christian era. Will a modern Library of Alexandria now be assembled and available on any individual’s desktop? Enthusiasts already hail that possibility. Yet it is not entirely clear that such a “universal library” is possible in the near future. There are enormous problems to solve before we can efficiently search all the available text documents, let alone non-text information such as mathematical formulas and music and art, where there are large problems of creating indexes (how does one index a painting or a movie?). Developing abstracting programs that can summarize results in a manageable form is another awesome task. Yet various efforts are under way, the most important being the U.S. Digital Libraries Initiative, which has been trying to meld all the specialized libraries (from astronomy to zoology) into digitized form and make these available to users.
From “Foreword 1999” in Daniel Bell, The Coming of Post-Industrial Society: A Venture in Social Forecasting (New York: Basic Books, 1973, foreword 1999), p. lix-lx.