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The Future of the Library

From Electric Media to Digital Media


Robert K. Logan and Marshall McLuhan

Originally written in the late 1970s, this book was untouched for more than 35 years. McLuhan passed away before it went to press, but Logan always intended to finish it. Even though much has changed in the three decades since work on the project was halted, many of the points that McLuhan and Logan made in the era of ‘electric media’ are highly cogent in the era of ‘digital media.’
Looking at the future of the library from the perspective of McLuhan’s original vision, Logan has carefully updated the text to address the impact of the Internet and other digital technologies on the library. McLuhan prophetically foreshadowed the transformative effect that computing would have on «mass library organization,» saying it would become obsolescent. It is perhaps no coincidence that a key theme of the book is that libraries must strive to create context given today’s hyper information overload. The authors believe this task can be achieved by putting together a compact library of books providing an overview of human culture and scholarship.
This book is based on the original text that McLuhan and Logan wrote. Logan’s updates are integrated in the main text and clearly identified by markers. This preserves the flow of the original text and at the same time provides updates in the context of the original study. Other significant updates include two new chapters: Chapter 6 provides a LOM (Laws of the Media) treatment of the new post-McLuhan digital media, and Chapter 7 discusses the impact of these media on today’s library. A second part to the concluding Chapter has been added to update some of the conclusions reached in 1979, and there is also a new preface.
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Chapter 1. The Library: The Physical Extension of Man’s Memory (Mother of the Muses)—A Study of Media


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The library is a physical extension of man’s memory, a tool, a medium, and a technology that can be studied like all the other extensions of man’s body and psyche. It is our intention in this volume to apply to the library the classical notions of media study as developed in Marshall McLuhan’s The Mechanical Bride: The Folklore of Industrial Man (1951), The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man (1962), and Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (1964). This will provide us with an overview and an understanding of where the library is today in order to indicate possible directions for its future development. {In updating the original version of this book, use will also be made of Understanding New Media: Extending Marshall McLuhan (Logan, 2010a) and McLuhan Misunderstood: Setting the Record Straight (Logan, 2013), both of which extend McLuhan’s work into the digital age.}

There exists a misconception regarding the nature of media study, which should be cleared up at the very outset. To study or examine a phenomenon and to report the trends that exist is not to endorse or condone those trends. The aim of media study is to reveal the effects, almost always hidden, of the various media. Its aim is not to promote one medium over another.

Media study, and those who pursue it, should...

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