Wednesday, 14 March 2012

The death of the Encyclopaedia

It was announced today that after 244 years on the press, Encyclopaedia Britannica stopped printing.

It isn’t that surprising. With Google, Wikipedia, and all the rest of the internet, the physical Encyclopaedia has become obsolete.

Never the less it saddens me, as I suspect it will sadden many people of my age or older for whom the Encyclopaedias had a special place in our childhoods.

Encyclopaedia Britannica was the first stop for any school assignment. Before you could Google, the standard parental answer for a question they couldn’t answers was ‘Look it up in the Encyclopaedia.’ One version or it or other was always on my school assignment bibliographies.

We never owned a set in my family, but friends down the road did and I loved looking through their 1988 copy. My playmate wasn’t quite so into ‘Vesuvius’ and ‘Leopard’ as I was and couldn’t understand the fascination.

That was the thing about the Encyclopaedias – they had a shelf life. A new version came out every year, like the OED. No one ever owned a new copy, every version I ever saw was at least 7 years old and very out of date. My Dad once caved in on my complaining about not having an Encyclopaedia and bought … an electronic version! Oh the excitement! Oh the novelty. But this was before the idea of program updates, so it too aged and withered and became obsolete for almost anything that wasn’t to do with the ancient or natural world. The pyramids were still the pyramids in every version.

Since high school I have Googled rather than referenced and had almost forgotten the existence of encyclopaedias of any kind until I recently saw a re-run of Friends where Joey is sold the ‘V’ volume by a door-to-door salesman.

I was going to say that today marked the end of an era, but the reality is that the era of the family Encyclopaedia as the font of all knowledge ended a long time ago.

R.I.P Encyclopaedia Britannica.

For a full article in the New York Times.

1 comment:

  1. Oh it is a sad day indeed. I also loved using them for primary school assignments but that usually meant going to the local city council library and looking up things. Sadly we had no encyclopaedias either. I love that friends episode! :).


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