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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 13. Library Futures: Summing Up


← 176 | 177 →

· 13 ·


This chapter is divided into two parts. Part 1 is basically the original summing up chapter that McLuhan and I wrote circa 1979 just before he suffered the stroke that ended his career as an academic. I have inserted in between {curly brackets} my 2015 insertions, bringing up to date some of what we wrote in 1979. In part 2 I will make some additional suggestions summing up where I think the future of the library is headed from today’s 2015 perspective.

Part 1: The Future of the Library from a 1979 Perspective

We are living in a time of rapid change. Many institutions are changing, including the library. People are worried about their jobs, their work, their roles in society. They feel threatened by change. The future is no longer anticipated with hope. It has new meanings associated with decay and demise. For many librarians to discuss the future of the library is to discuss its end as the following passage from Lester Asheim’s writing indicates:

When in 1955 the Graduate Library School held a conference entitled The Future of the Book, which suggested that the format should be seen as a means and not as ← 177 | 178 → an end itself, it became necessary to add an “Afterword” to the proceedings volume, to refute a widely disseminated report that the Graduate Library School has assumed the imminent and inevitable demise...

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