Wikipedia:You don't have to be mad to work here, but

This article analyzes the impact of Wikipedia:You don't have to be mad to work here, but on contemporary society. Wikipedia:You don't have to be mad to work here, but has been a topic of interest and debate for years, as its influence extends to different aspects of everyday life. In this sense, it is important to understand how Wikipedia:You don't have to be mad to work here, but has changed the way we interact, think and relate to the world around us. Through a detailed analysis, the different facets of Wikipedia:You don't have to be mad to work here, but, its implications and consequences, as well as the possible future perspectives that could arise from its presence in our lives, will be explored.

"But I don't want to go among mad people", Alice remarked.
"Oh, you can't help that", said the Cat: "we're all mad here. I'm mad. You're mad."
"How do you know I'm mad?" said Alice.
"You must be", said the Cat, "or you wouldn't have come here."

Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

A tour of the Library

The Library

The Third Librarian was neatly dressed in a black velvet doublet and fine hose, as befitted his rank. He introduced himself as Virgil, "like the Roman poet". He chose not to wear the rapier of his office, but wore a paper-knife in a narrow holster on his belt, to slit the pages of uncut books at need. "May I show you around?" he asked, and led me into the main library.

The hall, for hall it was, was of immeasurable length. The books were in aisles either side of a single, immensely long corridor, which stretched into the distance in both directions. Each aisle was lined on both sides by shelf upon shelf of books, each one in its named place, the shelves rising high, back-to-back with the shelves of the adjoining aisles. "How many books do you have here?", I asked. "Millions", said the Third Librarian, "and the number grows every day; the hall grows with them so there is always room for more. But come, we are not here to see books; let me show you the people of the library at work."

1. The hall of content

Writing desk with a Library author's quill pens

Virgil led me through a side doorway into a spacious airy hall curiously marked "Content". "Is this a room for some kind of happiness", I inquired. "No, rather the people here are discontented with the state of the library, seeking always to make it better; or perhaps they are inclined to be contentious", he answered – and here I fancied that I glimpsed the flicker of a smile about his lips. "The name means that which the library contains, not contentedness", he went on, and indeed as I looked about, it was plain that he spoke the truth. The room was peopled with men—nearly all men, though here and there a woman doughtily held her own in such company; most had flowing white beards and costly robes befitting their status, and each one had a stout quill pen, inkpot and blotter, with a neat pile of fresh foolscap paper for the task at hand.

Most were busily writing; some angrily crumpled or tore the sheet they had just written, throwing it into one of the many capacious bins provided to receive waste paper; others summoned servants, giving them strict instructions to fetch one volume or another from the library stacks. But here and there a pair of these authors disputed loudly over what they were writing. "How can that be?" I asked. "Ah", said the Third Librarian, "now you have it. They are disputing over the content of an 'article' that they are both seeking to write; neither will grant the other precedence, so agreement is required for the article to progress." Now I saw that, although the men were seated at their writing-desks, they all wore swords. "What if they come to blows?", I asked. "Then the bailiffs admonish them", he replied. "And if that be insufficient, then the bailiffs eject them from the library. But come, there is more to see."

2. The cabin of links

One of the men casually plaited little rope decorations as he read.

My guide gestured to me to follow him, and we passed to the end of an aisle, where behind a thick curtain was an iron door, its hinges and latch fastened with large hot-forged rivets. He opened the door and we stepped through, closing the heavy door behind us. We made our way down a flight of steps to what could have been a ship's navigation cabin, with rolls of paper that might have been maps, atlases, lists, well-thumbed almanacs, and several heavy books that were perhaps dictionaries or cyclopedias.

All around the cabin, men with a nautical air read through documents, carefully marking words that seemed to catch their eye. One or two smoked pipes; one casually plaited little rope decorations as he read; one periodically took a pull of rum from a leather flask. "They are marking up link words, terms that name other articles in the library", explained the Librarian. "Each of them is familiar with a domain in the library, such as shipbuilding, sailing, navigation, or fisheries; and each searches for terms that in his judgement deserve to become links. They then mark these terms so that readers may know that they can, if they wish, follow up their reading on that topic by consulting the article so named." "The whole library is transformed into a single cyclopedia", I remarked. "Just so", said the Librarian. "But the task, though worthy, is never done, as the list of article names grows daily."

3. The corridor of categories

The Third Librarian led me to the end of the chamber main hall, turning swiftly left through a narrow door. We entered a long low corridor with a row of cells on either side. Each cell contained nothing but a hard bench at a low, dimly-lit shelf that served as a table; it ran the width of the cell. On the benches sat a crew that seemed to be entirely of ruffians in ragged clothes; many went barefoot. Over the entrance to the corridor, a roughly-painted sign hung from a rusty nail; it said simply "Categories". "What is the meaning of this?", I asked. "Here, they assign each work to a category, or to more than one", he replied. As I looked, indeed the men could be seen to scribble hastily on small slips of paper, which they put into wooden boxes; each box, I saw, had a name on a card in a little brass frame; and each box was, in turn, labelled with further slips of paper below the frame, pasted on to the woodwork. Looking more closely, I noticed that the boxes were often labelled not with one but several slips, each with a different name; and around me, in many places, the ruffians were as quickly scraping old name-slips off the boxes, and pasting on new ones, so that all seemed to be in flux, if not chaos. "Are the categories not stable and agreed?", I inquired, wondering. "By no means", said the Third Librarian. "They are as much in dispute as the content of our 'articles'; but few freemen of standing will venture into the Categories room, so the disputes are less public, more with fisticuffs than swordplay" – and again, I felt for a moment that the Third Librarian smiled to himself at the thought.

I gazed at the turbulent scene for a while; it grew no quieter, and a question came into my mind. "If I may ask, what purpose do these labelled boxes serve?" The Third Librarian glanced at me curiously, and replied in an even tone that the category system was a part of the Library; every library had such a thing. Clearly this was a sensitive matter, so I tried again with caution: "Indeed, but who makes use of it, and how does it help them?" The Third Librarian seemed surprised at the question, answering that any man might use it, and that the categories helped them to locate 'articles' in which they were interested. None the wiser, I thought it best to drop the matter, though I supposed that if I wanted an article, I would find it by its name rather than by means of dusty wooden boxes. At that moment, a scuffle broke out between two of the ragged ruffians, and the Librarian gestured towards the exit.

4. The mine of gnomes

A subterranean realm, by Harry George Theaker, 1920

Virgil led me along a passage a fair way – it seemed a mile, but it was hard to tell in the dim light – and turned into an aisle that ended at a very low door. Ducking my head under the lintel, I found myself in an immense mine, the roof supported on countless pillars that seemed to have been hewn from the bedrock: or rather, they were all that was left of the bedrock, as numberless picks and shovels had worn the rock away until practically nothing remained, in the manner of a monolithic church. As my eyes grew accustomed to the near-darkness, broken here and there by the guttering of ill-smelling tallow candles, I saw that a great number of fellows with bent backs, rough boots, conical hats, and furtive looks were toiling away at a multitude of tasks. Try as I might, I could form no impression of the goal of their labours.

"Pray explain to me, sir, what these men are doing", I said. "Ah", said the Third Librarian. "You may well ask. They are not all doing the same thing; indeed, even I have not heard of all the tasks they have set themselves." This time it was I that gave him a quizzical glance. "No", he went on, "their tasks cannot be numbered; but in the main they are doing what they believe may in some small way improve the articles in the library. Here, for example, this man is searching for any mentions of 'Shakespeare', 'Will Shakespeare', and 'Wm. Shakespeare', and replacing them with 'William Shakespeare' in full; while across the way there, that rough-looking churl is looking for any mention of 'William Shakespeare' more than once in an article, and replacing the second and subsequent instances with 'Shakespeare', the bare surname, to avoid repetition. So, together, they are making the library more systematic." I opened my mouth to reply, but could think of nothing seemly to say.

"Over here, now," he went on hastily, "this fellow is changing a thousand places where people have written 'colour' in the spelling used in England, to 'color', the spelling used in North America." "I see", I said. "So the Library has a rule that North American spelling is to be preferred? Clearly that would be a great simplification." The Third Librarian looked at me unhappily. "Alas, no", he said. "Articles which are beyond question English, as those about King Henry the Eighth, are written in that spelling; and those which are beyond doubt American, as those about George Washington or Abraham Lincoln, why, they are in American; but all the rest are in a disputable state, and it depends on custom and precedent and so forth." "Well then, there will be a great chaos and confusion", I replied. "Look about you", said the Third Librarian.

We walked on across the seemingly endless mine; the excavated portions stretched ahead into the unguessed distance, while wide galleries opened to left and right, often plunging steeply downwards as if to follow some lode or seam in the rocks. On the left in one such gallery, many exceptionally short or stooping persons – perhaps some were hunchbacks – cowled and hooded as if afraid to be seen or accosted, toiled at immense heaps of documents, making small swift changes that always seemed to be finished by the time I came close enough to see what they might be doing. "What is this?" I inquired. "Nothing worth entering in the ship's log", replied my guide. "One may be adding a comma wherever he believes such a thing to be needed; another has the conviction that a list of names should end with 'and' between the last two names, and supplies that word; a third believes that before such an 'and', there should be a comma; while a fourth insists that in that case a comma is redundant, and removes it." I could see at once that any question about the Library's rules for such cases would obtain no clear answer, but thought to ask why they would spend their days in such a manner. "They all work without wages", said my guide. "Perhaps the fame of the Library is such that they seek a little of its reflected glory", and this time I was almost sure that he smiled as he spoke. "But as no-one will ever know their names, it is not easy to see how that might come to pass", he concluded.

5. The chamber of frames

My guide lit a small lantern, and led me far along the mine to a surprisingly fine doorway; it was elegantly framed with a crisp classical pediment and entablature. The architectural dignity of the opening contrasted oddly with the evidence of simple toil, sweat and homespun all around in the mine. He gestured for me to enter, and I stepped over the threshold. The light of his swaying lamp revealed a modest chamber where several neatly-arrayed rows of draftsman's desks were peopled with extremely young men, almost boys. Each one was industriously ruling lines with a sharp pen on a fine large sheet of drawing-paper, guided by a steel ruler and large set square. Some were laboriously inscribing headings in an elegant calligraphy; others, painting in a multitude of tiny flags, each one neatly labelled with the name of a commander; still others, constructing tiny ruled tables containing numbers of soldiers killed in battle. "They seem to be preparing tablets of remembrance", I remarked. "You shoot close to the mark, but not in the gold", replied the Librarian. "These young apprentices are full of the joys of antique battle, safe at their desks; they delight in every detail of banners, weaponry, movements of cavalry, siege, assault, and victory." "That I can understand", I replied; "as boys we used to fight with wooden swords outside the schoolhouse, one as Julius Caesar, one as Hannibal, one maybe as Scipio Africanus. But why should they draw frames within frames, and what has any of this to do with the Library?" "Ah", said Virgil. "They have betaken it upon themselves to ornament each article of our authors with one of these things, placed at its head; one may suppose it is for delight in battle, but it is claimed rather that the framing and tabling may inform the hasty visitor to the library of the import of an article, should he or she choose not to read further." I felt I heard a note of mild exasperation in my guide's voice, and indeed his explanation fell strangely upon my ear; for why should a great library tolerate decoration unasked-for on its shelves, and why indeed should an article be undone by a device at its head, inviting the reader not to look further at its author's construction, be the device never so carefully ruled and painted?

6. The cave of the obsessed

Labouring endlessly in the darkness. Engraving by Gustave Doré, 1857

Virgil showed me to a tunnel that sloped steadily downwards and curved towards the left. "Those here have chosen tasks more peculiar to their own natures. Over there, a fellow comes in daily to replace 'is comprised of' with 'consists of' or 'is composed of' or 'comprises', as the fit takes him." I looked quickly at the Third Librarian to see if he was joking, but he appeared to be completely earnest in this matter. "Is that not a matter of personal taste in these times?" I asked. He shook his head sadly. "It has for many years since been a common usage among those less well schooled than our fathers", he replied. "But this fellow has read, in more than one impeccable guide to correct taste, that the offending phrase is a solecism, and must be expunged. He has made it his life's labour." "He will labour at the task until his dying day, then", I replied. "That he will", said the Third Librarian, and motioned to me to take the opening on our left.

7. The pit of vandals

The pit. Engraving by Gustave Doré, 1857

Our path took us now down a steep slippery passage; the going was sticky, with water trickling down the rock walls; and it became perceptibly hotter and more humid as we descended. "It becomes a degree hotter on Mr. Fahrenheit's scale for every sixty feet of descent", said my guide, conversationally. We must have descended many hundred feet, as it was soon as hot as any place I had ever visited, by the time the passage widened out to reveal a terrible sight. High above, on a platform on one side, boys were laughing and joking with pens in their hands, and I realised they were defacing documents from the library with every piece of boyish nonsense and obscenity; and on the other, bailiffs were interrogating a line of similar boys, some now not smiling, others still shouting defiance, and every now and again the bailiffs threw a boy down head-first through the fumes and steams, to land with a plop in the sticky mud of the pit before our horrified gaze, their legs protruding and wriggling uselessly. I glanced at Virgil. He shook his head, and we turned to leave.

8. The furnace of disputation

I had supposed that since we had reached the bottom of the pit, our way would now turn upwards; but my guide, turning to his left, pulled a lever and a square door, spattered with mud and almost invisible, at once opened. I stepped into a well-engineered passage that seemed to be lined with firebrick; it led straight forwards, its transversely-ridged floor descending at a steady angle. The way was now dry, but it became steadily hotter, and as we advanced a red glare became more and more prominent; Virgil blew out his lantern. After a while the passage opened into a broad circular chamber like a blast-furnace, and indeed in the centre a fire burned evenly; there was a strong updraught, and the smoke vanished upwards into a funnel-shaped passage that must have led all the way to the surface far above. All around was the sound of bickering and disputation, sometimes whining, sometimes sharp; now and again a voice rose loudly for a few moments, to be greeted with groans, angry muttering, or a cackle of unamused laughter. I noticed one or two men dressed in the wigs and gowns of barristers-at-law; they held long scrolls as of laws and regulations, and seemed to be reciting passages from these with an air of knowledge and condescension. Other fellows were writing quickly with sticks of charcoal on great sheets of paper, and then waving their hands for a turn to speak: for it was indeed too hot for a quill pen to dispense ink for more than a word at a time. I turned to my guide. "They are disputing the procedures, processes, and policies of the Library", he said, "and their application in this or that case, or whether they are appropriately founded, and should be replaced or deleted." I asked how that would be determined, to which he replied with a brief raising of his eyebrows that a consensus was required for any such change. "And if not?" I wondered. "Then they continue as you see them", he replied.

9. The ice of the two-faced

The fate of the two-faced. Engraving by Gustave Doré

Virgil turned to a brick-lined door and, sheathing his hand with his robe against the heat, quickly pushed it open. I stepped gladly out of that place, though with some concern that the next would be still hotter. It was not to be; the passage was chill, and as we progressed it grew colder until our breath could be seen condensing to fog in the freezing air. "How is this?" I asked. "Did you not study your Dante?" replied my guide. "He wrote that as one descends out of the reach of God's love, it cannot be but cold. But perhaps natural philosophers today have another explanation." We emerged on to a flat place, a sheet of ice with what seemed to be rocks glassed over with frost here and there; but then I saw among the stones the heads of the frozen wretches who were trapped in that ice; only their heads protruded from the shining surface. "Who are these poor souls, if they are worse even than the disputationists?" I inquired. "They are the traitorous, the two-faced, those who pretended to be building the Library, but who were secretly working for the King's enemies", he replied. "And how were they discovered?" I asked. "'The king hath note of all that they intend, By interception which they dream not of' ", he replied, now smiling openly. "Though you have rightly pitied many of those whom we have seen this day, here your pity is out of place", he said. "They would break the Library, and the Kingdom, for their own small ends. Here let them stay."


I awoke to find my wife holding my shoulder and looking at me with concern. "Is something the matter?" she asked. "Just a nightmare", I replied. "Are dreams not always about real things?", she asked. "Do you think so?", I replied.