Friday, March 23, 2012

Encyclopedia Britannica Folds Printed Edition After 244 Years.

There is an item which recently passed in the news that I wanted to comment on. It has to do with the recent revelation that the Encyclopedia Britannica after 244 years is going to stop printing its encyclopedia volume set. In my early years growing up if there was one thing in my bedroom that stood out it was my bookshelf. On that bookshelf were at least 4 or 5 different sets of encyclopedias. I had medical encyclopedias. I had science and technology encyclopedias. I had the World Book and Encyclopedia Britannica Sets. My parents loved buying them and then bought them for me. I spent so many days just looking through all the articles. My favorite article without a doubt was one on the periodic table of the elements. It was a 60's era listing. It was arranged in the typical fashion with all the colors denoting various properties and groups. I was so fascinated by all the names. All I wanted to be was a scientist when I was a child. Alas, that road was not to be for me.

This news item is a sad note. Ultimately it was inevitable. The economics just isn't there anymore. I have been wondering for some time now how long at-home encyclopedia sets were going to be viable. I have to say that this is not a good development. I am not just being a Luddite on this point. The encyclopedia had been the mainstay of primary student research for over a century. Sure the teacher wanted three other books, but really, were those books every cracked open save just to get the bibliography info? Students just paraphrased what they read in the encyclopedia. Imperfect, but still, it was the start of basic research training.

Now all this is moving online (has been for over a decade). Yes, the encyclopedias are available in the library, but soon they will be out of date and eventually will just be relics. I'm sure that the other major brands will follow suit. Now why is this bad when all the data is available online? I know that some of you already know the answer to this question. The Internet is hardly a source a neutral unbiased data. Yes, unbiased data does exist on the Internet, but will young students be able to discern where the bias lay amidst the blogs, news clippings, forum posts, press releases and spin that exists all over the place online. Those old Britannicas were fairly unbiased in their articles.

It is true that Britannica will still be published online (a fee-based service), but will it still hold its catbird seat amidst the storm of what the Internet holds. Sure, advanced students in high school and college will have the training to differentiate, but will the younger students have that mental acuity? The first place they'll go to is the Wikipedia and while a tool it is by no means a reference (yes, citation needed). Sure, teachers (provided that they themselves aren't trying to steer their charges in a political direction) will point to approved sites to glean research. However, all those other sites will be there and students will read them and be influenced. While, of course, not texting or browsing social networks or playing MMORPGs. It is all very muddy.

On the article itself after reading it while I understand the business reality I truly hate Britannica president Jorge Cauz's reaction to the event. While he may have held off as long as he could by his comments he didn't seem all too upset about it. If I have to point to a personality type which I loath it his attitude that people out there (like me) just don't understand. People like me are just a bunch of throwbacks to an earlier era. I knew that it was coming. I understand. I just have more respect for an era which he seemingly (I may be wrong) couldn't give a damn about ending! Yes, you want to position your company for the future, but please give us - the people who gave you a job to begin with - a little more respect before you kick us out the door and down the stairs. I invite you to read the article and judge for yourself.

Knowledge is a grand thing. The Internet has it all, but an era is passing. There will be advantages and disadvantages, but one this is certain - the days of sitting in a library with stacks of books at your table are dwindling away and I don't like it one bit!

Here is a link to the article.

Encyclopedia Britannica to stop printing books - CNN Money

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