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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 4. Laws of the Media (Lom) and the Library


← 58 | 59 →

· 4 ·


In order to understand the impact of technologies and media upon the library, we shall review the notion of McLuhan’s (1975, p. 74) Laws of the Media (LOM) and then apply them. Media, like the human unconscious, are inaccessible to direct examination since their effects are subliminal. The LOM help identify the properties and actions exerted upon us by our own artifacts. These include our language, our ideas, our laws, our tools, our clothes, our media, our technology—in short, all extensions of our physical human body. The LOM provide a way of observing how new environments created by new technological services disturb an entire population’s conventional order to perceive and coerce the development of new models and metaphors of perception.

The Laws of the Media in tetrad form are intended to reveal some of the subliminal and previously inaccessible aspects of technology. To the extent that these observations reveal the hidden effects of artifacts on our lives, they are endeavors of art, bridging between the worlds of biology and technology. Between the artifact and the personal or social response there is an interval of play as between the wheel and the axle. This interval constitutes the figure-ground gestalt of interaction and transformation. The users of any technology at once set up a play toward equilibrium. ← 59 | 60 →

Although LOM are called Laws of the Media only a few...

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