Excerpt from Marshall McLuhan Manuscript on The Future of the Library (1976) to be Published by Island Magazine in Australia


The photograph above was taken by Josephine Smith in 1945 when Marshall McLuhan was 34 and teaching at Assumption College, now part of the University of Windsor; it was restored by the McLuhan Estate in 2012 and is copyright.  (Cover image added after the issue discussed below was published.)

A previously unpublished manuscript by Marshall McLuhan – the founding father of modern media communications theory – has been uncovered.

Written in 1976, with Robert K. Logan, the manuscript titled “The Future of the Library: An old figure in a new ground”, was to be the culmination of McLuhan’s work on media ecology.

A 6,000 word edited excerpt, abstracted from the 60,000-word manuscript, will be published in Australian literary quarterly, Island magazine (issue 140, due out on March 30), with kind permission from the Marshall McLuhan Estate.

McLuhan’s work on media ecology began in the 1950s, with the publication of The Mechanical Bride: Folklore of Industrial Man. Although it was not until the publications of the early 1960s – with The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man and Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, which launched such ideas as ‘the medium is the message’ and ‘global village’ – that McLuhan became internationally famous.

McLuhan, who predicted the Internet 30 years before it came into existence, wrote The Future of the Library” with Robert Logan during the mid-1970s, before the onset of home computers, and yet he was able to accurately foresee the rapid changes that libraries would undertake over the next 35 years, in light of the development of information technology.

Significantly, McLuhan offers a suggestion for what a library of the future could still look like.

‘What is most interesting about this manuscript,’ said Island editor, Matthew Lamb, ‘is not just that McLuhan had the foresight to see what has happened over the past 35 years, but that his suggestions for how we should address these changes are still relevant. In fact, what McLuhan had to say about our present moment from his vantage point of the past is far more interesting, prescient, and useful, than what most of our contemporary media commentators have to say today.’

This announcement comes on the back of recent announcements that Island is forming a literary partnership with David Walsh and the Museum of Old and New Arts (MONA), and with this coming issue, Island will be available only in a print edition, with no digital edition or online content.

‘The decision to go print-only is very much a result of a close reading of the work of Marshall McLuhan,’ said Lamb. ‘So it seemed appropriate to launch the first print-only, MONA-edition with a feature essay by McLuhan himself.’

As McLuhan writes, in this essay: ‘In industry there is an old saying: “If it works, it is obsolete.” We have been saying for some years that the book and printing are obsolete. Many people interpret this to mean that printing and the book are about to disappear. Obsolescence, in fact, means the opposite. It means that a service has become so pervasive that it permeates every area of a culture like the vernacular itself. Obsolescence, in short, ensures total acceptance and ever wider use.’ (Source: http://tinyurl.com/louy4t9 )

Island 140 will be published on 30 March, 2015. Island Magazine’s homepage is at http://islandmag.com/

 A library of the future

One Response to “Excerpt from Marshall McLuhan Manuscript on The Future of the Library (1976) to be Published by Island Magazine in Australia”

  1. Thanks Alex for posting this story about The Future of the Library: An Old Figure in a New Ground. I wanted to let your readers know that I am working on an update of the original manuscript which will preserve the original manuscript Marshall and I wrote but will include material on the impact on today’s library of the digital media that emerged since 1979 when we last worked on the book. Any reader with any thoughts on this topic are urged to contact me at logan at physics dot utoronto dot ca.


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