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My childhood was richer because we had an encyclopedia at home. It wasn’t the ultra-expensive Encyclopedia Britannica, but rather the thinner but more modestly priced World Book. My school library had a full Britannica set, and I spent countless hours immersed in both. They were among my favorite windows into ideas and the larger world, and a mainstay of my academics until college.

Today I cannot imagine why a parent – or school – would buy any encyclopedia in book form. That’s why my only surprise at hearing that Britannica will no longer be printed is that the decision took so long to make.
The paper edition of the encyclopedia has ended its centuries-long run, but is it a victim or beneficiary of the digital age?
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31 comments
 
I too used this resource as a child, spending countless hours immersed in it.
 
Perfect example of Dinosaur thinking. This should have been done away with back in 1989. Overly expensive and marred with tons of mistakes.
 
Paper and printing was a very effective answer to the question "how do you distribute information over distance at scale".

Nowadays we have much faster and cheaper solutions available to us, so I can't but agree - the only surprise is that it took so long
 
Who didn't? I remember when I moved out of my parents place, some 20 years ago, I wanted to take it (New Caxton's in my case) with me and they said nono but that they'd leave it to me.

Now I'm not at all interested.
 
My parents still have the same massive encyclopaedia in their living room, that seemed such an endless font of knowledge in my childhood. Only whenever I browse through it now I'm struck by how limited it really is, it lacks both the breadth and depth of Wikipedia (and it's a lot harder to navigate).
 
For me, it was the older Book of Knowledge set that was somehow lying around the house; used to carry a volume back and forth to school for "fun" reading during breaks. Between that and a fairly robust Time/Warner collection of classical music (from a Bach Brandenburg concerto to Stravinsky's Rite of Spring and a fairly complete spectrum in between), my childhood and youth were permanently bent toward exploration and learning.
All of that and more is now online, but it takes a little more guidance to cover the ground in the same way.
So farewell, printed encyclopedias and welcome to new curators of collective knowledge who can provide pathways filled with the surprise and delight of constant discovery.
 
Things in so many fields are changing so fast that it is impossible for such expensive books to keep up.
 
There's someting to be said for the accessibility of a printed reference book. Sure, its cross-referencing is much slower to use than a hyperlink, and the info is less current and extensive as Wikipedia. However, it still works even if your ISP goes down, and doesn't tie up the computer (in those homes where there are multiple children and adults competing for equipment). Also, while the info on Wikipedia generally does not get erased daily, there is something to be said for citing a reference which is certain not to change the next day.
 
For some topics, such as ancient history, the info might not change that much year-to-year. The 2012 version of the life and death of Julius Caesar is probably much like the 1983 version.

On the other hand, a 2008 article on cellphones or smartphones would seem hopelessly outdated. Even the printed encyclopedia's "annual update" book, a separate addendum covering recent events since main volumes were published, served to remind us of the limitations of the printed page.
 
I'm guessing Encyclopedia Brittanica still publishes their electronic version on CD or DVD. It is convenient to have some data available without requiring an annual license and login to access it on the internet.
 
Agreed, I loved having an encyclopedia at home when I was a child. It was amazing to have access to so much information on different topics, but these days encyclopedias are as obsolete as yellow pages. I hope they stop making those soon too.
 
Sad to say, but it's probably for the best. They've kind of been phoning it in these last few editions.
 
I grew up with Britannica, took up three shelves. I spent hours each week finding wonderful information. Too bad.
 
Well... the "updates" on encyclopedias are generally terrible, and they've printed MILLIONS of them over the years. Surely all of the people who want a printed encyclopedia just to have one will be able to find a reasonably up-to-date version already out there for a reasonable price without having to print more.
 
Anybody remember The Readers' Guide to Periodical Literature ? (I think that was its name.) In the pre-Internet, pre-Google era, you could use the Readers Guide to see when and where a topic was mentioned in magazines. For instance, you could search "energy policy" and see which issues of Time, Newsweek or even Scientific American mentioned it, along with the page numbers.
 
Dunno, Dan. The news this week about how PR firms are unscrupulously re-writing Wikipedia for their own nefarious purposes should at least be a bit of a yellow flag for making all our collective history subject to the whims of a bunch of game-rigging haxxors. To put it more bluntly, it's easier to airbrush Trotsky out of the photo when he only appears online ... rather than having to chase down and collect all the various paper versions where he might have appeared previously & replace them with the new & approved version of reality. And yeah, I know, The Wayback Machine and all that ... but how many people know (or are arsed enough) to go to that kind of length (see: 70 million plays of Kony 2012 before the story behind Invisible Children starts coming out) before they click that they "Like" and approve of a certain version of reality.
 
Point well taken, and if everything is electronic it is possible to be lost forever. I don't think books will every be completely replaced, they are too durable, feel too good and are too pleasurable to human nature.
 
Personally, I love the smell of "old book".
 
Do you remember what the first word in Volume A of the World Book Encyclopedia was? aa = a type of volcanic lava, pronounced ay-ah.
 
Great shame. When I was a child I'd open the encyclopedia at random, and invariably find something new and engrossing to discover. It's a experience that can't be had with Wikipedia.
But of course, it was inevitable.
 
I love technology, but, we need a backup plan incase the digital world ever shits out on us <---classy I know haha
 
I had that same experiencei would sit for hours immerssed by just random flipping of the page to read the entrees. great set parents even shelled out for end of year annuals science and world
 
Dear Dan, I am agree with you. I miss my old and useful encyclopedia!
 
+Brooks Moses do you honestly think a random wiki page can replace a printed encyclopedia? Believe me, it's not the same.
 
+Neil Taylor yeah, the wiki page is more accurate and fresher than the print encyclopedia. Ever meet the people who used to write those entries? They are the same people who write on wikipedia - just fact checked by thousands (and millions) - very often the encyclopedia entries weren't given even the same fact check that printed press release is given. My parents still have my grade school encyclopedia set on their shelves; I want them to save it ... it will become an interesting heirloom one day (along with all the other printed books!)
 
Then again, this wasn't entire unexpected. Back in 1768, the authors of the 1st edition might have talked of earlier works done on parchment and stone tablets!
 
FOR SALE BY OWNER: Complete set of Encyclopedia Britannica. 45 Volumes, excellent condition. $500 or best offer, Reason for sale: No longer required. Got married last year. Wife knows everything.
 
Interesting comment, Dan. My immediate reaction to the news was that EB's decision is a signal (I'm sure there have been others) that the world of digital media is now the mainstream. But this publishing shift doesn't make me any less enamored of paper-based publications that I still enjoy holding in my hands while I read.
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