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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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2015 Preface


Robert K. Logan

A history of how this book came into being is important for readers to understand before they tackle the reading of this book co-authored by Marshall McLuhan and me in two stages. The book is a hybrid of the book that Marshall McLuhan and I wrote in the years between 1976 and 1979 and the supplemental text that I wrote in 2015. The original book lay untouched during the thirty-six years between 1979 and 2015. Let me share how this current edition of the book came into being, beginning with how I came to collaborate with McLuhan in the first place.

The story begins in 1974 when I first met Marshall McLuhan as a physics professor whose research up to that point had been almost entirely in elementary particle physics but with interests in interdisciplinary studies. I was organizing at that time a seminar on future studies at New College in the University of Toronto, having just spent three months working with Ivan Illich in Cuernavaca, Mexico. I called the seminar the Club of Gnu after the college mascot, the gnu, and the hot futures studies nongovernmental organization (NGO) at the time, the Club of Rome, which had just commissioned the study titled Limits to Growth. I first recruited Arthur Porter, a systems thinker, the Chair of Industrial Engineering, and, as I later learned, the Associate Director of McLuhan’s Centre for Culture and Technology. Porter was happy to join ← xi | xii...

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