Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Encyclopedia Brittanica

I remember having a set of Encyclopedia Brittanica when I was a kid.

Even back then it was dated -- this was the early 80s and the 23-volume set (not including the two-volume index and Book of the Year) was from the 60s, when my dad apparently had it for college. It had 1960 Census results for the states and barely mentioned the first Super Bowl in the football section, focusing more on the old NFL Championship.

The days of the bound behemoth encyclopedia are over. The folks over at Brittanica announced that they will no longer print bound copies of the encyclopedia.

It will be missed. I have to admit, even though the one I had was pretty outdated, it was fun to look at. If you stacked the volumes on top of one another they were taller than me. The gold lettering on the binding was sexy. It was part of what kept me in touch with my inner nerd growing up.

Still, I'm surprised it's taken this long. There were occasional updates every couple of years but nobody wants to buy an encyclopedia again if at most only 5 or 10 percent of the compilation is revised. It seems like it'd be awfully expensive to print. With the advent of Wikipedia, every encyclopedia would be better served by going exclusively online.

I'm sure many old print editions (the Brittanica has now gone to 30 volumes) will become collector's items. But on the bright side, the encyclopedia industry won't be killing as many trees.



  1. I have mixed feelings on this too, but its time. I fondly remember you pouring over the encyclopedia in my bookcase in our front hall. (Yes, I remember you writing too, and playing games, and sports too.) I honestly couldn't tell you whether we still have it or where it is if we do. It became much easier to Google the subject or to check Wikipedia. I have to admit, however, that we used an encyclopedia just last week! Yes, we utilized almost the complete set... to support the track for a Pinewood Derby for the Cub Scout group! So, it is still useful... the best adjustable booster seat, support, or instant step stool ever! And... They do still look great on the shelf! ps. I remember your set had a new addendum book that came out every year with new information and updates so you didn't have to buy a completely new set each time... that was a great set!

  2. Yes, I loved it too. Especially the photos and the neat summaries that I liked to search for (under an array of headings) to help fill out a middle school social studies paper. I don't know if my kids have ever paged through an encyclopedia. They rarely pick up a hard-bound dictionary. (Their skills at searching for a word alphabetically are rather poor. Why bother when all one needs to do is type in a word online?)
    Alas, another skill (like operating a mimeograph machine or using carbon paper) lost to history. (Did your encyclopedia have anything to say about that?)

  3. Having an encyclopedia in our house gave me something interesting to learn pretty much any time of the day. You could open it to anything. And to me there's still something more magical about taking a book from the shelf and finding the world than than there is going to the internet.
    Did you know that the Eleventh Edition of the Britannica is the one to keep, to this day? 1910-1911. Whenever libraries withdraw copies (and if they think twice about withdrawing any old edition, it's this one)the staff swarms for it.
    The internet, of course, is not edited by a single ethnicity/pov/what have you... maybe the current Britannica isn't either, but the Eleventh Edition certainly was.
    I can use a mimeograph. Well, I could a long time ago in a galaxy far far away. There was an artifact of a machine in my high school.