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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 11. The Library and Education


← 154 | 155 →

· 11 ·


Left is left and right is right. And never the twain shall meet?—paraphrasing Rudyard Kipling

The educational needs of the world are changing. We live in a complex world of high technology and intractable social problems. At one and the same time we must confront the effects of exploding population, diminishing resources, information glut, and overspecialization. We face dangers of imminent famine, a poisoned environment, runaway inflation, economic decline, large-scale unemployment, structural poverty, pervasive alienation and malaise, political breakdown, nuclear proliferation, and political terrorism {and global warming}.

We live in the era of information explosion. We are flooded by a plethora of data, yet seem unable to use our knowledge and understanding to come to terms with the difficulties facing us. This, we believe, can to a great extent be attributed to the effects of our communication systems and to the way they bias our thought processes.

The solution to any one problem exacerbates one or more of the others. Solving the problems of a dwindling energy supply often entails a worsening of environmental degradation through increased pollution or nuclear proliferation. Combating inflation carries the price of increased unemployment; ← 155 | 156 → creating jobs often leads to increased inflation. Our society and technological environment has grown so complex that we find ourselves victims of a double bind where each solution creates additional problems.

It has become obvious to students...

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