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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 5. The Impact of Electricity and Modern Technology on the Library


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In order to understand the changes that the library is presently undergoing and has undergone, it is necessary to appraise the changing information environment in which the library functions. The figure of the library has not changed radically from the way in which it was first organized, but the ground in which it operates has completely changed from a print-dominated eye world to the acoustic simultaneous world of instantaneous electronic {and digital} information. We cannot hope to understand the library unless we understand this changed environment of service. A figure isolated from its ground is meaningless. The library has, to a certain degree, lost its sense of purpose, direction, and identity precisely because it has lost touch with its ground, the hidden effects of media. It should come as no surprise that librarians who live in an alphabet-dominated world of print are not always aware of the impact of other media. One of the major effects of the alphabet is that the powers of abstraction and analysis that this technology engenders and encourages, blinds its users to the world of effects of artifacts in general. The Greeks seldom considered the impact of their own technology on themselves or their environment. This limitation in Greek perception has been passed along to those who have worked within the Western tradition of rational abstract thought. {Although ← 71 | 72 → librarians are more aware of the...

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