Inheriting library cards to Babel and Alexandria: Contemporary metaphors for the digital library

Paul Gooding (Lead Author), Melissa Terras

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3 Citations (Scopus)
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Librarians have been consciously adopting metaphors to describe library concepts since the nineteenth century, helping us to structure our understanding of new technologies. We have drawn extensively on these figurative frameworks to explore issues surrounding the digital library, yet very little has been written to date which interrogates how these metaphors have developed over the years. Previous studies have explored library metaphors, using either textual analysis or ethnographic methods to investigate their usage. However, this is to our knowledge the first study to use bibliographic data, corpus analysis, qualitative sentiment weighting and close reading to study particular metaphors in detail. It draws on a corpus of over 450 articles to study the use of the metaphors of the Library of Alexandria and Babel, concluding that both have been extremely useful as framing metaphors for the digital library. However, their longstanding use has seen them become stretched as metaphors, meaning that the field’s figurative framework now fails to represent the changing technologies which underpin contemporary digital libraries.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)207–222
Number of pages16
JournalInternational Journal on Digital Libraries
Issue number3
Early online date22 Sep 2016
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2017


  • Digital Libraries
  • Metaphor
  • Theory
  • Babel
  • Alexandria

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