an arf island, age and size comparable to its diametric opposite, the City; afloat on the planets nightside, always in the dark, the amorphous towering lump — reaching into the stratosphere, still healthily growing — houses cubic miles of book storage. Originally to protect its valuable contents from sunlight, dust, earthly germs, the Librarys remoteness and eternal dark have become a foundational practice — an obsession of its reclusive indwellers: the community had gained notoriety (to the point of appropriating bare Library as a proper name) long before it amassed the largest-ever collection of material books. ■    An inspiration to gather, study, read all texts ever recorded — no matter how old or obscure — has lost much of its appeal since Librarys inception. They still collect antiques (even if atom-level replicas, just as fragile as the originals) and solicit copies of everything published outside but, gradually, creating new books eclipsed everything else: writing (“books about books about books”: “saying you cant write a book if all you know is other books is like saying there can be no child if all you have are parents”) is a Librarians consummation so much so that most new texts on Earth now originate “on the nightside.” Sinking into the Library may be “the closest a human gets to becoming a Mind” — or rather, some retort, a feelery. ■    Visitors tend to be interested in the ancient material books but its not easy to get a Librarian guide for these: the old book halls — a small part of the establishment — are not a place frequented by natives. Their own books are so much dearer to Librarys citizens than the ancient stuff: “Its only here and now that the art of the book reached a level worth speaking about”; most of the outside books, old or new, are “prehistoric stone knives in the lobby of a Whole World Museum.”  ■    It is unprovable that anything in any way exceptional even exists in the Library; outwardly its just a large community — not quite a collective in the established sense — of Humans and Minds (with throngs of farmed feeleries) whose fixation on the idea of book borders on obsession. Library works to “time-squeeze” — to rudimentalize the inessential, to pack a maximum of livedness (“livedness without life” many call it) into a physical lifespan; a gigantic culture machine, it collaboratively generates, peruses, rejects, remelts enormous quantities of text — only a tiny fraction ever reaches the surface but internally every word gets all the reading it deserves. ■    Outside, the isolated community draws speculation but understandings are elusive as Librarians dislike being studied — they get mocking, irritable, creatively unaware of interview routines even when willing to talk; generally, the Human/Mind divide is less of a barrier for inquiry than Librarys walls. Paradoxically, in their writings they may reveal more about themselves than anyone ever wanted to know — the problem being theres too much: Library easily outwrites all non-Library readers, the outdoors world cant keep up, the lag is widening: its a productive supernova were failing to contain — “a practical superintelligence.” The Library being physically and informationally open helps but little: like falling into a black hole, becoming a Librarian stretches your time and your vision, renders your observations less and less meaningful to those outside. ■    Not a few speculate that, properly speaking, the Library is the Earth civilization — while the outdoorsy, spacefaring, translucent Everday is but a left-behind fringe, a stagnant émigré community isolated from the metropolis. At the other end of the spectrum, all Library is is “a pile of hypertrophied arfgrass, its scale masking its meaninglessness” (indeed the arfgrass inf may have originated in Library circles, be that evangelizing or self-mockery) — or even a tumorous growth to be urgently treated.  ■    No dusty cloaks or gray beards: Librarians are an inhomogeneous bunch with little common in mannerisms, appearance, even lores; one common theme can be generalized as undo even if its just a side effect of their consumptive work. Indwellers are seldom seen off their island; Librarian families — where borns and wakers read before they can speak — famously neglect open childhood, Library youth are a rare sight on the Road: their celestial bibliotheca is “at least equiscale to the outdoors below.” In the end, their love for the warm bookery — high above the crowded biosphere, unstained by soil and sea, in the sterile sky with unblinking stars — may be not too different from a surface travelers adoration of nature: some of the passionatest biophiles and bubble expansionists were Librarys leavers or outcasts.  ■    Only weak generalizations apply to the Librarys enormous yield — so integral and intertwined, even isolating an analyzable unit is hard. (One has to fully enroot to get a fair sampling of Librarys ephemera; “merely joining” or smuggling random bits from the outside misses all kinds of points.) The stated goal — so long as they state any — is to fill all the niches: to realize, in a “local panpraxis,” all conceivable concepts, to count through all combinations (“everything imaginable ought to be existified,” “were just starting with books”), to exhaust meanings at every level — well aware that the deeper you delve the more new meanings you create. Some Library artificia are legendary, if only as ideas: new book topologies and dimensionalities (e.g. the Hedgehog); a tome thats unreadable (self-destroys but is avowedly meaningful, just impossible to peek) or self-changing (rewrites itself, is different every time its opened: not quite arfgrass, more of an embryonic Nature Mind thriving on paper and ink); perhaps the best known is Ethica (the original project is dead but the inspiration lives on in the Message): an attempt to distill a nontrivial text that would feel, against all others, as basic and irrefutable as the intuitive notion of good is against all other mental ideas.

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