The Collection is structured along two main axes: along the horizontal axis, as Martin Bodmer used to explain, are the types of documents, the languages available, the contents of the texts and the categories they belong to; the vertical axis is the order in which an author’s works are filed.
‘The ideal case, which applies only to literature, is as follows: the author’s manuscripts come first, then original editions of isolated works, followed by complete works, critiques and collector editions, and finally translations.
In addition to the texts themselves, there are also scientific studies on the author as well as a history, an analysis and a bibliography of his works. The merging of these two elements – texts and their history – represents the author, all authors and literature as a whole. Finally, the collection of all forms of literature built up this way constitutes world literature (Weltliteratur) and the library is its reflection. ‘
This explains the structure of the collection’s catalogue system in the manual filing cabinet and the order in which the documents are placed on the shelves. The two categories are identified by the letters T (texts) – pink titles – and G (Geschichte, history) – green titles.
Martin Bodmer remained realistic about his undertaking. He was well aware of the ambitious (anspruchsvoll) nature of his project and realized that his collection could never be complete (dass die Sammlung stets ein Fragment bleiben wird). To think otherwise would have been absurd. The solution was to find a document or an object that would take on a symbolic value and represent a larger entity. In other words, he was not aiming to be exhaustive (Vollständigkeit) but selective (Auswahl). The point was to seek out what was universally true in what was typical (see Eine Bibliothek des Weltliteratur, pp. 33, 36).