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The Future of the Library

From Electric Media to Digital Media

Series:

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 8. Book Glut, Information Overload, and Pattern Recognition

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← 126 | 127 →

· 8 ·

BOOK GLUT, INFORMATION OVERLOAD, AND PATTERN RECOGNITION

Perhaps the greatest challenge facing the library today is the growth of the information that it must collect, organize, and make available for circulation:

It is a curious paradox that the information revolution … so far has really failed to reproduce the information, which is necessary to evaluate it. We may perhaps drink deeper of this particular spring before we can even know what kind of water it is. (Boulding, 1967)

The growth of the amount of printed matter has been exponential. The total number of books produced doubles approximately every ten years. Libraries have literally been unable to accommodate this exponential growth because of a lack of shelf space. Daniel Gore and Claudia Schorrig’s documentation reveals that building programs at North American universities between 1967 and 1974 have added enough shelf space for 163 million volumes. During this eight-year period, however, these universities actually added 166 million volumes, which represents a 3 million volume short fall (Gore, 1975). The exponential growth of the literature has grown in all fields, including library science for which there were more than 5,000 journals as of 1971 (West, 1971). {And the growth of printed matter has only accelerated since those figures were first reported and then there is the exponential growth of online information as well.} ← 127 | 128 →

The problem of too many books is not just the lack of space....

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