Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Vanishing Paper

It was bound (you should pardon the pun) to happen. The Encyclopedia Britannica has evaporated into cyberspace. There will be no printed editions to follow the 2010 publication. Only digital reference material will be available going forward.

I've never been an encyclopedia wonk. When I was growing up, my father refused to purchase encyclopedias, asserting that they were outdated the day they were printed (which is true enough). Dad said students should go to the library for encyclopedia references. When I had my own children, that approach made logical and financial sense to me. So I've never shelled out money for a set of encyclopedias.

Even so, there's a certain wistfulness that accompanies the passing of a 244-year era. Yes, there will be instant updates to the digital versions, nullifying the argument of encyclopedic obsolescence. But now the reader will be directed immediately to the search object. There will be no more leafing through seemingly endless pages, stopping to read something entirely different from what you were looking up simply because it caught your eye. Consequently, there will be no more bonus opportunities for learning something extra in the research process.

Keep an eye on e-Bay. Hard copy encyclopedias will become quite the collector's item. It makes me wish I did own a set of Britannicas, just for old times' sake.