Education and Research


Kim H. Veltman

Museums, Education and the McLuhan Centre

Published as: "McLuhan, Museums and Education", Museums and Technology: Special issue of The Muse, Ottawa, vol. IX, no. 2, (Summer-Fall, 1991), pp.78-85.

It was at the annual convention of the National Association of Educational Broadcasters in 1958 that Marshall McLuhan first used the phrase "the medium is the message" in an influential forum. In the decades that followed McLuhan's name acquired ever wider associations with media and communication, to the extent that his pioneering studies on whether one learns better from books, radio or television have been largely forgotten. Today he is remembered primarily as a visionary who demonstrated the importance of studying effects of media on knowledge and life in general. His problem was that in 1958, or even in 1980 when he died, there was no framework for studying this at a practical level. There were no national data banks of books or paintings; there were no networks for electronic mail or satellite communication. One could speak of the global village, but could not yet live it, let alone study it.

In 1980, few persons could have foreseen that this framework would be created within the next decade. But this is what has happened. In the library world, for instance, databanks are acquiring new dimensions. In the United States, systems such as RLIN (Research Libraries Information Network) and OCLC (Online Computer Library Center) provide access to tens of millions of titles. In London and elsewhere discussions are underway that the pioneering efforts at computerized lists of books before 1500 (incunables), books from 1500-1640 (Pollard and Redgrave, Wing), the 18th century short title catalogue (ESTC) and the 19th century short-title catalogue, which began as isolated projects, will be coordinated into a single mammoth list. In Paris, under the direct jurisdiction of President Mitterand, plans proceed in the direction of a new Bibliothèque de France, which involves computerizing 300,000 books by 1995, of which at least 100,000 will be entered on optical disks. Meanwhile, the EEC has recently conducted a survey of 75,000 libraries containing well over 1 billion books, with a view to integrating them in a single electronic framework.

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