Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Bye Bye Britannica

A story yesterday on a New York Times blog says that Encyclopedia Britannica will cease publication of its print editions. Here's a link to a Reuters story about it, too.

Excuse me while I wipe away a very real tear. This makes me sad.

I do not own a set of encyclopedias, and I guess now I never will. At least, not a new set. I once bought a used set from the library book sale, but they were already musty and dusty and after a while, I took them off my shelves and gave them back for a resale.

My grandmother had a set of World Book Encyclopedias* that I loved to sit and read. They lined up beautifully on the book shelf and were a sight to behold. I loved the colored pictures, the black and whites, the even lines of type. I loved the words, the information, the ideas. So much knowledge. So much to learn.

I have, of course, always wanted a brand new set of encyclopedias of my very own. That desire waned with the advent of the Internet, though. And when, about 15 years ago, a CD with an encyclopedia found its way into my home, I was ecstatic. All of that information on a little disc. It was amazing.

Britannica will continue to be available online. It is good news that the knowledge will be available. But my problem with this is the same as it is with all things digital: it's availability can be snatched away in the blink of an eye.

The permanence of books cannot be denied while the fleeting ephemeral quality of digital also cannot be denied. Websites come and go. Just look at the geocities or my spaces of the world. Digital also has little respect for the past, and I fear gaping holes of history in a hundred years. That's a loss no one can put a price on.

All of the knowledge that is on Britannica's website might be available elsewhere, but I doubt it. Certainly it is not in that format. If the website folds, there goes all of that information.

I love books. I think print is better than digital. Digital has its place, and it is useful. But it should not replace print.

And that's all I have to say about that.


Update:

*World Book is a different company from Britannica, and I understand their books will still be available.

8 comments:

  1. oh, it makes me really sad as well. when i did a report for school ... there was no internet .. i walked down the step to our set of "world book encyclopedias" ... it was a world to be open & dreamed on. i use to read them just for fun. lots of great pictures. my mom was a librarian ... so i love books. a part of the world died today ... kids that are growing up today will never get to feel or smell that smell that oozy from those pages ... i can smell it in my mind. those were the days. several tears are shed ... so very sad. ):

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    1. Yeah, it's a blow to us book lovers. Kind of catches you in the heart.

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  2. That is sad, and you're right--electronic media lack the permanence of printed material. There's just something about leafing through encyclopedias (or dictionaries) that you lose through ebooks.

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    1. The tactile experience of a print book cannot be discounted.

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  3. You are right. Things digital can be snatched away in the blink of an eye. A real problem is so many people don't have Internet access, either because they can't afford it or it's unavailable in their area. I'm living at yet another place where it's difficult or impossible to get high speed Internet. If I was two miles over, I'd have no problem. But where I am at, I have two choices: dial-up, which takes forever, and Hughes Net, which is faster but won't let you download or upload more than a picture or two and goes out when there's a cloud in the sky. You don't know what I just went through posting a few before-and-after pictures on my blog. Took me an hour and they are not in the order I wanted them and it refused to include two of them I wanted up. It's so frustrating. I imagine Hughes will put me on restriction now for the next 24 hours for using too much bandwidth and now my daughter won't be able to get online later where the school keeps their text books nowadays so she can do her homework. I imagine we're going to have to do something about Internet access like we did with libraries years ago. It must be available to all if that's where the information is. But I don't think we're going to be able to do anything about that wonderful smell.

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    1. True. Not everyone has access, and that can be a real problem for those folks. It is another symptom of the great divide.

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  4. What a lovely tribute to yet another fatality of the digital age. You said it so well, we can lose anything digital in the blink of an eye (or the pulling of a plug). While I definitely see the benefit of eBooks (especially for students, eliminating those unwieldy and expensive textbooks) I'm truly a lover of print books. There's nothing else like holding a beloved volume in your hands and feeling it's weight and texture.

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    1. Thank you, Cynthia! I hope that the world can find room for both print and e-books.

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