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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 6. Laws of the Media for Post-McLuhan Digital Media


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In this chapter composed at the beginning of 2015, I will update the material in chapters 4 and 5 by examining each of the digital media that Marshall McLuhan never had a chance to experience or observe. I will perform a LOM analysis for each of these post-McLuhan media in chapter 6 and then discuss how they impact the operation and objectives of today’s libraries in chapter 7. These digital technologies are changing the ground in which the library operates. This does not mean that the electric mass media we examined in chapters 4 and 5 will no longer have an impact on the library, but only that these media must share the stage with the newer digital media and they will have a smaller effect on the library than the newer digital media.

We begin with a LOM for hybrid technologies since the one characteristic of all the post-McLuhan media we will examine in this chapter is that they are all hybrid technologies. All technologies are hybrids in the sense that they combine simpler components, but digital media are hybrid technologies in two senses. Like all technologies they are composed of simpler components, but what is unique about digital media is that they combine and hybridize functions to a much greater extent that nondigital media. Digital media being hybrids create new functionalities and release new forms of energy, as McLuhan...

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