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Goodbye, Encyclopedia Britannica

April 5, 2012 at 8:43 pm

This has been floating around for a while, but I've only managed to post about it now.

I was a little sad to read that they're closing down Encyclopedia Britannica.  The company is hanging around—they only make a fraction of their revenue from the encyclopedia anyway; I didn't know this—but the actual Encyclopedia Britannica is soon to be a thing of the past.  And that bums me out.

It's not hard to understand the decision.  Most people with access to the internet probably haven't used a paper encyclopedia in years.  I certainly haven't.  And even though I'm still not convinved that Wikipedia is more accurate than an actual paper encyclopedia, it can be updated and corrected far more quickly.  (At least with a paper encyclopedia the chances are lower than an entry was written by some control freak with an autistically long attention span who sits around in his boxers in his parents' basement.  Perhaps not zero, but lower.)   And it does contain entries of a variety that a print encyclopedia could never afford to address, such as facets of pop culture. 

But still.  Gosh.  A world without Encyclopedia Britannica?  End of an era, and all that. 

There was a time when BE was the gold standard for reference works.  I rarely ever had a chance to use it, because my public school libraries carried the much cheaper (and less comprehensive) World Book Encyclopedia.  But it was always clear that World Book was the economy car while BE was the Cadillac.  A part of me has never outgrown the desire to own a complete encyclopedia set.  They're neat.  I don't care if they're antiquated now.  They're still neat.

And I'm sorry to see them gone.


Chris Bachmann April 6, 2012 at 6:24 am
At least I still have my 1929 edition...
Steve Halter April 6, 2012 at 8:29 am
I heard that also and it does seem odd to be entering a world that will not have updated Britannica's. On the other hand, I haven't touched a paper encyclopedia for a long time. It seems likely that 'X' doesn't exist anymore will accelerate along with "Wow, did you see that 'Y' exists?" statements. Futureshock in 4-d.
Ian April 6, 2012 at 1:57 pm
A 1929 Britannica? Wow-- that's actually really cool. Who knows what the 1930s may bring? I expect that bull market to continue straight through to 1940! I hadn't thought about it that way, Steve. But you're right. We're losing Encyclopedia Britannica, but on the other we have smartphones that can translate our speech into a foreign language in real time. It is a science fiction future we're inhabiting.
Sara G. April 24, 2012 at 1:31 pm
When I was growing up we had a full set of pre-moon landing Encyclopedia Americana, the patriot's choice in reference works. I totally remember using them to do research for school reports, so long as the topic was history and not science. And to this day I have an archaic fondness for reference books (I'm looking at a shelf full of them right now). Every now and then when friends are over and we have one of those trivia moments where everyone reaches for their smart phone or iPad, I manage to find the answer in a book before they can get Siri to decipher their spoken command. Just like Katherine Hepburn in The Desk Set.
Ian April 24, 2012 at 1:46 pm
I had no idea there was such a thing as Encyclopedia Americana. But now I resent my parents' (implicit) decision not to buy a set. Preferably via garage, rummage or estate sale, and dated pre-1941. Your fondness for reference works surprises me not the tiniest bit, nor the fact that you have a dedicated shelf. It makes me smile, for we are alike in this. Although I frequently curse myself for leaning too heavily on Google.
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