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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 3. The Library: A Figure in Many Different Grounds


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In the last chapter we examined the historic effects on Western society of the phonetic alphabet, including its initial impact on the Ancient Greeks, its amplified impact on Renaissance Europe through print, and its waning influence on the modern world due to its competition with electric media. In this chapter we shall examine the figure of the library in the context of the historically changing ground described in the last chapter. Since each medium is affected by all the other media, or extensions of man, with which it interacts, the nature and the role of the library has changed dramatically with time since its inception.

For the purposes of this exercise we shall not narrowly define the library as a collection of books but rather as an extension of man’s memory. In other words, we shall define the library as that device that stores and makes available for easy access the lore and culture of a society.

The Historical Roots of the Library

If we choose to define the library as the institution that catalogs and preserves books, then we would trace the origin of the library back to the origin of the book. This would not include the famous library at Alexandria, however, ← 31 | 32 → which preserved the great works of the Greeks in the form of scrolls. If we redefine the library as the institution...

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