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Wednesday, March 14, 2012

RIP Britannica

I just checked in at PLA and am about to go see Nancy Pearl, but I couldn't let the news from yesterday about the Encyclopaedia Britannica ceasing print publication pass without a moment of comment. In case you missed it:
After an impressive 244-year run (since 1768!), the oldest continuously published encyclopedia in the English language, Encyclopaedia Britannica, is going out of print. The company will be shifting its focus to their online resources and educational curriculum for schools. Britannica will shut down the presses after the 2010 edition, which contains 32 volumes that weigh 129 pounds, includes new entries for subjects like global warming and the Human Genome project, was written by more than 4,000 contributors (including people like skateboarder Tony Hawk and space scientist Jack J. Lissauer), and comes with a hefty $1,395 price tag. Britannica president Jorge Cauz reassures that the online version is a better tool. “Some people will feel sad about it and nostalgic about it. But … the Web site is continuously updated, it’s much more expansive and it has multimedia,” he told the New York Times. Cherish those school library memories, and proudly display any gold-lettered, embossed books that are hanging around the house. These are the end times.

As a child, I loved reading the encyclopedia. I would read it for fun on a cold, snowy weekend to pass the time.  I would turn to it when I had a question.  I would open it when I felt sad or lonely and find joy between the covers.  I was always in awe of the vast amount of interesting information that could be found there.  It was a sign of my life to come.  I probably sealed my professional fate while spending time turning those pages.

Fast forward to library school and my intro to reference class.  For our first assignment we were given a word (mine was "bed") and had to look it up in three different encyclopedias (Britannica had to be one of them) and three different dictionaries.  We had to write a short paper about how what we found in each resource differed and explain it based on the scope and purpose of each reference tool.

It is still one of my favorite assignments ever.  I learned so much about the differences and intricacies of each reference tool.  I especially fell in love with Britannica during this assinment.  I gained a life long respect for the comprensive index and mix of longer and shorter articles.

Although I do not use a print encyclopedia on a regular basis, it was nice to know that the Britannica was always in the library, one floor below my desk if I ever needed it.  Alas, it will soon be gone.

Today, my son has carried on my encyclopedia loving tradition.  He has a large collection of single volume encyclopedias about birds, dinosaurs, LEGOS and Star Wars (among others), and he spends hours paging through them.  I taught him the joy of using the index to find exactly what you are looking for when he was 5 and I saw his eyes light up at the "magic" of it.

A piece of my personal history and one of the reasons why I became a librarian has broken off with this announcement.  I will move on just fine, but I did want to have a moment to write this personal obituary for my dear friend.

Thank you for indulging me.

1 comment:

Chris said...

I had to laugh at your comment regarding your son. I, too, spent much of my younger years reading dictionaries and encyclopedias for fun. My own son has a love for any type of encyclopedia that I never realized had rubbed off on him until I brought one home from the library, he flipped to the back and said, "Awww, this doesn't have an index." He's 10! Such is the life of a librarian's kid!!