Posted by: Jeremiah Graves | March 13, 2012

Encyclopaedia Britannica Goes Out of Print

The digital age has officially claimed another victim.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not someone who weeps for the good ole days or bemoans change at every turn, but I do find something oddly disheartening surrounding today’s news that the print version of Encyclopaedia Britannica is officially dead.

I remember doing most of my research as a kid and all the way through college in encyclopedias rather than using databases or—*shudder*—Wikipedia for reports.

There was always something that seemed more concrete and believable about the information simply because it was encased in a hardcover and printed out in front of me.

My family couldn’t afford the legit Encyclopaedia Britannica, but we had a set of much cheaper encyclopedias that I read through cover-to-cover multiple times during my nerdy youth.

I’m pretty sure that if you went to my parent’s house right now, you could dig those old tomes up and find a bunch of post-it notes marking any section that referenced baseball or writing or cats or cowboys or flags or any of my other passing—or not-quite-so-passing—interests from childhood.

The news that 244 years of printing tradition was coming to an end came via The New York Times:

In an acknowledgment of the realities of the digital age — and of competition from the Web site Wikipedia — Encyclopaedia Britannica will focus primarily on its online encyclopedias and educational curriculum for schools. The last print version is the 32-volume 2010 edition, which weighs 129 pounds and includes new entries on global warming and the Human Genome Project.

“It’s a rite of passage in this new era,” Jorge Cauz, the president of Encyclopaedia Britannica Inc., a company based in Chicago, said in an interview. “Some people will feel sad about it and nostalgic about it. But we have a better tool now. The Web site is continuously updated, it’s much more expansive and it has multimedia.”

I guess it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to anyone.

I’m sure that most kids nowadays have never used a real encyclopedia. They’re too expensive. They’re too bulky. They take up too much space. They’re not as current.

The writing has been on the wall for years, but there is still something odd about the entire thing. It is very much the end of an era.

Admittedly, since graduating college—and limiting most of my “research” to fantasy baseball and blog topics—I’ve drifted away from encyclopedias and I’m now primarily an online researcher.

Google is my weapon of choice nowadays, but encyclopedias will always hold a place in my nerdy heart.

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Responses

  1. You know what’s bad about being a follower of your blog? I don’t have to go into the site to read your stuff, making me 36% more likely not to comment or give you website traction…it’s gotta be a little dishearting, right?

    • Yeah, that really is…boooooooooooo.

      Maybe you should unfollow and just “like” me on Facebook so you get your updates there…or make it a point to click through to the damn website!

  2. There was something tangible about that neat row of hardbound volumes on the shelf. I’m gonna miss them.

    • Exactly. It might make me sound like an old fuddy-duddy of the “Kindles are the devil” variety, but I really, really like the feel of a real book.

  3. Encyclopedia Britannica played a significant role in my youth as well. In addition to using them for school projects, sometimes I’d just flip through them and decide to learn about random things that caught my fancy (nerd alert!)

    I will forever remember the obnoxious, bemulleted kid from the commercials too: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hxwin9XFbnQ.

    • Two things.

      1) That kid’s mullet is immaculate.

      2) You just sent me on an hour long YouTube spiral through the early ’90s. I’m not even angry about it. Time well-wasted.

  4. The funny thing is I’m the kind of person who reads the encyclopedia and again googles them :) This reminds me of something funny I did a few months back. When I was reading the newspaper , my fingers automatically did a “ctrl +f” key stroke ..:) Indeed , Digital books are taking over old-paper ones .. Sad !

    • I find myself constantly waiting for the red squiggly line to show up when I’m handwriting notes. Not having spell check offline is rough stuff.


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