Marshall McLuhan’s Personal Library Given United Nations Heritage Designation



Marshall McLuhan’s library at U of T holds 6,000 publications, mostly books (photo by Romi Levine) (Click on image to expand view) 

Second UNESCO Memory of The World designation for U of T, fifth overall for Canada

University of Toronto professor and famed media theorist Marshall McLuhan’s legacy continues to reach far and wide, shaping the way people think about culture and technology.

It’s his scope of influence that has earned McLuhan’s library and archives, housed at U of T and at Library and Archives Canada, a spot on the UNESCO Memory of the World register – a collection of documents and materials from all over the world that seeks to tell and preserve the story of humanity.

UNESCO is a United Nations group that advocates for co-operation between nations around education, science, culture and communications.

“It’s a rich addition to our global documentary heritage and we’re delighted to have been chosen as stewards of this unique material,” said Larry Alford, U of T’s chief librarian, at the announcement event, which took place Tuesday at Robarts Library. 

Browse the full U of T McLuhan library collection

This is the fifth Canadian entry into the Memory of the World and U of T’s second – the first is original archive materials, including research documents, related to the discovery of insulin at the university, which led to a Nobel Prize for Medicine.

Library and Archives Canada, a federal-run institution, holds the personal archives of McLuhan, including letters and photographs, and U of T Libraries has his massive library – 6,000 published items, which are mainly books, and the notes and newspaper clippings he stuffed between their pages.

“Both UTL and LAC are committed to celebrating the legacy and memory of a great thinker who arguably belonged to the world as much as he did to Canada,” said Guy Berthiaume, the Librarian and Archivist of Canada.

McLuhan’s book collection at U of T is as diverse as it is large, with subject matter ranging from media studies to English literature, Catholicism and philosophy.

“You can really see the depth and breadth of his interests,” said John Shoesmith, outreach librarian at the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library.

Not only was McLuhan an avid reader, but he was an active reader – always making annotations in the margins of the books, on book jackets and the endpapers, said Shoesmith.

This holds true regarding McLuhan’s obsession with Irish author James Joyce, particularly his notoriously difficult novel Finnegan’s Wake, of which there are five copies in his library, including a first edition.

“One of the reasons for that is that he would heavily annotate one that he would need to get another one to continue his annotations,” Shoesmith said.

One of McLuhan’s heavily annotated copies of Finnegan’s Wake (photo by Romi Levine) (Click on image for expanded view) 

His collection also includes the work of his colleagues at U of T like Harold Innis, as well as well-known theorists like Walter J. Ong and writer and artist William S. Burroughs.

The UNESCO designation is affirmation that the McLuhan library is an important asset, not just for U of T students and faculty, but researchers all over the world who have been influenced by his writings, said Shoesmith.

“It shows that you can come here and still get a sense of where his ideas came from, how he researched, the books he was reading,” he said. “It’s such a rich resource. Having an intact working library of such a major scholar and personality is invaluable”. (Source:

 Fisher Library

7 Responses to “Marshall McLuhan’s Personal Library Given United Nations Heritage Designation”

  1. Hi Alex, I’ve been struggling to find something by McLuhan and thought you’d be a good person to ask. I’m looking to find his book review for Julian Jaynes’s book ‘the origin of consciousness in the breakdown of the bicameral mind’ from the 70s and can’t find it anywhere! I’ve even tried emailing the globe and mail to see if they can check their archives to no avail… Any ideas where I might find it?


  2. I’ve never come across it in my reading. However, I know that review is in the Marshall McLuhan fonds of the National Archives in Ottawa because I just checked in their Finding Aid No. 1645 which you can download as a PDF from You can search the Finding Aid, where you will find it at the bottom of page 372. It’s an essential document to have for anyone working in any way on McLuhan. You can order PDFs of documents from the MM fonds which might take a few weeks to get, depending on how busy they are for a nominal fee. Go to the National Archives website and you will find instructions about how to order copies of the documents in their collections. Good luck.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Alex, that is enormously useful thank you so much for going out of your way to look that up for me! I’ve just contacted my university library and they are going to contact the Ottawa archives to try and retrieve a copy so hopefully will be able to read it very soon. I can’t express how excited I am to be able to read what McLuhan thought of the book, and I doubt that there are many people who have done so for many years. Thanks again, it really means a lot!


  4. I’m glad that I was able to help. If you do get a pdf copy it would great if you could send me a copy. I would love to read his review of Julian Jaynes’s book myself. Thanks…….Alex

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Yes of course! I’ll let you know when I have it


  6. Hi alex, I’ve had it sent back, along with a message and some notes from the McLuhan estate. What is your email and I’ll forward the message and the review to you? I’m actually strangely emotional reading it – I’m not sure if you’re familiar with the book by Jaynes, but the fact that Marshall was not only in agreement with it but the fact that it was a very important book to him… I’m staggered, awed, thrilled!!!!!


  7. Yes, I’m very familiar with the book and own a copy of it. His agreement with it is evident in so much of what he has written and in some of his lectures when he talks about the bicameral brain, often without mentioning Jaynes’s book. As I recall from someone who worked with him at U of T, he had a diagram of the brain hemispheres indicated pinned up at the Coach House.

    My person-to-person email is AlexanderKuskis at gmail dot com. Much appreciated


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