The Future of the Library (1976) by Marshall McLuhan & Robert Logan: Excerpt from the Condensed Essay


(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.)

The Australian literary quarterly Island magazine (Issue 140) has just published a 6,000 word edited excerpt, abstracted from the 60,000 word unfinished manuscript by Marshall McLuhan and Robert K. Logan (see the announcement in the 5th posting below this one).
The following is from Bob Logan’s Introduction to the excerpt:-

Robert Logan

“Marshall and I began to work on this project but, sadly, McLuhan fell victim to a stroke in the fall of 1979 that left him aphasic. He died on 31 December 1980. I stopped work on the library project and worked instead on our original plan, and as a consequence published The Alphabet Effect (1984). That study led to a series of studies and books, including: The Fifth Language (1997), The Sixth Language (2004), The Extended Mind (2007), Understanding New Media (2010), McLuhan Misunderstood (2013), and What is Information? (2014), all based on my work with McLuhan”.

People wanting to purchase the single issue of Island magazine that contains the full 6,000 word excerpt can do so at [no longer available]. Below is a short section from the magazine’s excerpt, published here by permission:-


From The Double Bind

          “We are caught in a double bind. Electronic media are a mixed blessing. They encourage ecological patterns of thought and help us to recognise the nature of our global village, but they discourage the development of reading and its concomitant analytic skills. Put the other way, reading is a mixed blessing. With too much print we are blinded by specialism and are unable to see the patterns crucial to our survival. However, if we allow our reading skills to deteriorate, we lose our capacity for analytic thought and consequently our control over our complex technological machinery. How, then, shall we survive on an overpopulated and under-resourced planet?

          The unique challenge facing educators, communicators, information scientists, and librarians in this era of mixed media is to discover a synthesis of the two basic modes of communication, the electric and the literate, so that the best of these two ways of handling and transmitting information can be utilised. There exists a dynamic tension between these two ways of knowing that can be very creative”.

From Impact of Electricity and Modern Technology on the Library

          “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.

          To debate the virtues of print versus the other media for the library is fruitless; but to observe may help to conserve. We must accept the fact that the book is no longer the major mode of communication in our society. This does not mean the book is finished, but that its role has certainly changed.

          The car did not obsolesce walking, but it certainly made it difficult for the pedestrian, particularly in urban environments. It is only recently that we awoke to the realisation that the car had taken over urban life. We are now taking corrective measures to reverse this trend by constructing pedestrian malls and bicycle paths. We have not thrown out the car; we have only made room for the pedestrian and the cyclist. It is not an either-or situation.

          The same is true for the electronic versus the manual handling of information. Electronic information handling is in many ways superior to book-bound information handling, as is electronic storage of information. It is to be encouraged, but not at the expense of the more mundane forms of information access. There is room for both the traditional and electronic forms of data handling. Each has its appropriate applications and therefore we should approach our study of the traditional and electronic modes of information not so much in the spirit of either-or but in the spirit of both-and.            

          The challenge facing libraries is how to fully exploit the new technologies while at the same time preserving the best of the past traditions of the library. The implications of these new technologies for the library are particularly important, since it is possible to link every home in a community with its library and to link all the libraries to each other. 

The future of the book is inclusive. The book is not moving towards an Omega Point so much as rehearsing and re-enacting all the roles it has ever played; new graphics and new printing processes invite the simultaneous use of a great diversity of effects. The current range of book production varies from the cultivation of the art of the illumination of manuscripts, and the revival of handpresses, to the full restoration of ancient manuscripts by papyrologists and photographic reproduction. The age of electric technology is the obverse of industrial and mechanical procedure in being primarily concerned with process rather than product, with effects rather than content”. 

A future library

2 Responses to “The Future of the Library (1976) by Marshall McLuhan & Robert Logan: Excerpt from the Condensed Essay”

  1. 1 Michael

    The flipback double bind

    Beautiful and inspiring work



  1. 1 City as classroom – 2020: Tracking Optimism

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