"From Alexandria to Alexandria: Scholarly Interfaces of a Universal Library"
Christian Jacob
Director of Research, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique
This paper will focus on the scholarly technics and devices which allowed readers and writers to get an intellectual mastery of the innumerable papyrus book-rolls in the ancient library of Alexandria (third century BC). Various writing technics and textual formats were devised in order to provide scholars with a control over and an access to the units of knowledge these books encompassed. Privileging the text as an intellectual construction over the material books, extracting words and data, storing, indexing and combining them, transforming textual materials through various steps of form and content treatment: such operations rely on specific graphic interfaces (lists, collections, catalogues, glossaries), but also on mental technics of memory organization. Material libraries should be linked with the "portable libraries" and the "libraries of the mind" which allowed scholars to quote, to edit, to criticize, to synthesize, to comment upon. One of the lessons of the ancient Alexandrian library is that scholars had to be librarians, they had to import some fundamental management technics of the material library into their own research and writing practices. As a conclusion, I will suggest that being his or her own librarian is still a major requirement for today scholars, using on-line libraries and confronted with the challenge of using and structuring the textual flood of the digital age.