Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Medium is the Message: Marshall McLuhan takes on Libraries

Canadian philosopher and educator Marshall McLuhan (1911-1980) worked in media and communications theory. He is best known for coining "the medium is the message" and "global village",  in addition to predicting the advent of the Internet and World Wide Web. One of the cornerstones of McLuhan's philosophical outlook was how communications technologies (such as the advent of printed text, moveable type and electronic communications such as radio and television) affected cognition and organisation and dissemination of information (and therefore knowledge) such that it had great implications for society and social organisation as a whole.

Academic libraries must now reach students and researchers through increasingly digital media, particularly in the sciences. While there is still a demand for print journals, particularly in some fields, most researchers increasingly rely on on-line resources (ejournals and the like) for information. There is also an increasing trend in social media (web 2.0) for sharing this information, whether it be through blogs, twitter tweets or delicious bookmarks. Not only are these new media changing how research is conducted, but it is also changing how information is found, stored and organised. It is rapidly changing the role of the library and also of the librarian, particularly for specialist subject research.

Stating the obvious? Perhaps.

But often these technologies can result in an overwhelming "miscellization" (Weinberger, David. 2007. Everything is Miscellaneous) of information, categorised through amorphous and inconsistent tag clouds, rather than a strictly hierarchical and delineated classification of information, as would be typical of the more traditional library catalogue.

But then again, as McLuhan states: "Information overload equals pattern recognition". (McLuhan, Marshall. 1969. Counterblast)

And it's up to librarians to help get everything sorted.

Here's a bit more McLuhan, this time on mass media (with thanks to the Radio Free Vestibules):

The Ballad of Marshall Mcluhan from Randall Acronym on Vimeo.

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