Are We Lost in Cyberspace?

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May 1, 2008 by J. Johnson

Fool's GoldA review of Fool’s Gold: Why the Internet Is No Substitute for a Library by Mark Youngblood Herring.

McFarland & Company, 2007. (ISBN-10: 0786430826) $45.00

By Sheila Campbell, Columbus Zoo Library

The pervasive influence of technology into our everyday lives and the decline of reading skills have some contemplating the demise of libraries in the Internet age.

Mark Herring, in his book Fool’s Gold: Why the Internet Is No Substitute for a Library, doesn’t think so. When Mr. Herring, Dean of Winthrop (SC) University Libraries, was asked by the President of his university to come up with some talking points about why the school needed a new library, he came up with 10 reasons why the Internet is no substitute for a library which became an article, morphed into a poster that sold more than 3000 copies, and is now a book in which he rebuts the argument that “the internet is making libraries obsolete because ‘everything’ is on the web.”
He points out trends that have had negative implications for libraries:

  • The decline in reading skills and an appreciation for
    print materials
  • The desire for instant gratification when searching for
    information where the quantity of “hits” overrules
    evaluating resources to find quality information
  • The high cost of updating and maintaining technology
    in libraries
  • The philosophy that the internet is THE next library in
    spite of its scams, spam and misinformation

Herring’s main point is that we should use the Web as a tool for the library rather than changing libraries to accommodate the Web. Searching the web should not be
the only research tactic or even the primary one. He makes a case for the importance of libraries in chapters that point out the pitfalls of search engines, e-books, and the Google Book Digitization Project, and discusses the problem of creating stable text in cyberspace. He laments the fact that many information seekers are “much too complacent and far too easily satisfied.” And he discusses the proliferation of web-based pornography and its effect on children, criticizing the American Library Association (along with the ACLU and First Amendment absolutists) for not supporting
regulation of the pornography that seems to be a ubiquitous part of the Web.

While a very readable book that conveniently gathers together studies and statistics on literacy, the Internet, and trends in research methods, the book’s sloppy grammar,
poor punctuation, inaccurate quotations, and pretentious word choice (“pecksniffian?” “scrimy?” “tergiversation?”) hampers its credibility. Herring’s editor did him an injustice.

Newsmaker Interview: Mark Y. Herring, Dean of Libraries Winthrop University (2007).
Accessed April 19, 2008. Library Journal.com September 6, 2007 http://www.libraryjournal.com/info/CA6475608.html

National Endowment for the Arts. (2007) “To Read or Not to Read.” Accessed April 24, 2008.
http://www.nea.gov/research/ToRead_ExecSum.pdf
Wooden, Ruth (2006). The Future of the Public Library in the Internet Age. Accessed April 21, 2008. National Civic Review 95 (4) Winter.
http://www.ncl.org/publications/ncr/95-4/0107libraries.pdf

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