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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 2. Alphabet, Mother of Invention


← 16 | 17 →

· 2 ·


The library, a physical extension of man’s memory, like all other media, cannot be studied without considering all the other media since each medium affects the entire psychic and social complex of man’s activities. In the previous chapter, we briefly considered the book, the medium with which the library is most concerned. In succeeding chapters we shall reconsider the book along with a number of other extensions of man, which crucially affect the library, such as audio-visual media, computers, reprography, and microforms {and various forms of digital media}.

In this chapter, however, we turn our attention to the alphabet, that extension of man that made possible prose, and hence the book and library as we know it today. Not only did the alphabet directly make possible the book and the library, but it also affected all aspects of Western society and, hence, the ground in which the institution of the modern library developed and flourished. Let us, therefore, turn to a general examination of the alphabet and the historic effect it has had on Western civilization. {An expansion of this chapter can be found in Logan, 1986/2004}. ← 17 | 18 →

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