Internet no substitute for libraries, author says

To Mark Herring, the dean of library services at Winthrop University, seeing a historical document in person is not the same as viewing a scanned copy of it online.

An original letter from George Washington is only one of many unique items at Winthrop's Dacus Library.

In his new book, "Fool's Gold: Why the Internet Is No Substitute For A Library," Herring highlights the problems with the Internet and makes a case for the continued need for traditional libraries.

Winthrop's own library is plagued by mold, mildew, leaks and heating and cooling problems. But requests for state funding to build a new one haven't panned out yet.

As the university waits for its new library, the fate of libraries across the country is being threatened by the widespread growth of the Internet.

Here's what Herring had to say about his new book:

Q: Why did you write this book?

A: (Librarians) are concerned that folks have this view that the Internet has everything everybody needs ... when the actual status of things is quite different than that.

Q: What are the three biggest problems with the Internet?

A: 1) Misinformation and disinformation.

The misinformation on the Web comes in the form of medical misinformation, business fraud, identity theft and bad scholarship.

Wikipedia is a prime example. Wikipedia does have some good things in it, but it has so much bad in it as well that you don't know when you get an article whether it's good or bad.

What you have in disinformation is you have people on the Web making up stuff that's untrue. And they know it's untrue; they do it on purpose.

2) Porn.

It is now estimated that three out of five men are addicted to online porn.

It's serious, and it is weakening society in many ways, not the least of which is the amount of work productivity that comes out of businesses when so many people are stuck with either spam or porn.

3) Literacy.

The decline in reading among young people is enormous.

You have this situation where people aren't reading anymore. Then, you have this major purveyor of information ... in the Web that encourages a "snatch-and-grab" mentality. It encourages not spending much time reflecting; it encourages grabbing what you need when you need it and not paying any attention to what's in it or what it's about.

Q: What would you say to those who think you're "dissing" the Internet?

A: I would say to them it's the same thing when people are concerned about health care and yet they still have health insurance.

I'm not dissing the Web in any sense of that word. ... I am trying to bring forward concerns that people need to be aware of to make this better.

Q: How do you think that students should be taught to use libraries?

A: We need to get (young people) less allergic to text by putting computers in front of them at a later time.

The interesting thing is that when you learn to read on text it transfers perfectly to reading online. So far, not the other way around.

We also need to figure out a way to provide information that is scholarly and peer reviewed for students.

We spend over $800,000 providing information for young people in proprietary databases, things like LexisNexis.

We stress how to use these in writing classes that the librarians here teach, and we also stress it in information literacy ... to help students understand when they see something on the Web how to find out whether it's true.

Q: Do you think libraries will be around forever?

A: Well obviously, I certainly hope so.

At Winthrop, we buy in a given year anywhere from 7,000 to 9,000 titles. ... Very little of what we have on our shelves sits there and doesn't get used.

It's going to take a lot of determination by people committed to literacy, committed to higher education, committed to making sure people get the right information. I can tell you I have no doubt that's going to happen here at Winthrop. I don't know how solidly convinced people in other places are.

Q: Are you going to put your book online?

A: The publisher has control over that. If I had copyright, would I put it online? No, I wouldn't put it online. ... Every bit of the evidence we have is that no one reads cover to cover online.