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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 10. The Public Library: Past, Present, and Future Trends


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· 10 ·


The public library is a recent social phenomenon not more than 150 years old {when we wrote the first draft of the book but now not more than 185 years old}. Because the political, technological, and social conditions that created the public library have changed so dramatically since its origin, the aims and purposes of the public library have undergone constant study and scrutiny.

Today is no exception. There is great ferment among librarians as to the directions in which the public library should move. Before examining these issues, let us review the origin of the public library. Before the eighteenth century, libraries were organized strictly for the scholarly. This changed as a result of the new image of humankind that arose with the scientific revolution. D. W. Davies (1974) notes popular libraries

are to a considerable extent, but not wholly, the consequence of the idea of the perfectability of mankind which was put about in the world by Rene Descartes and Francis Bacon, and which got entirely out of hand with William Godwin and Jeremy Bentham. (p. 2)

The first popular libraries actually grew out of the commercial subscription libraries organized for the middle class in the eighteenth century. The ← 147 | 148 → standards of these lending libraries were not very high, as the following remark of Coleridge reveals:

For as to the devotees of...

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