Of Encyclopedia Britannica and Buggywhips
I do all of my research online, and increasingly most of my reading. However, I am one of the children of the expiring age of the book, and therefore it is with sadness that I note this story:
Those coolly authoritative, gold-lettered reference books that were once sold door-to-door by a fleet of traveling salesmen and displayed as proud fixtures in American homes will be discontinued, company executives said.
In an acknowledgment of the realities of the digital age — and of competition from the Web site Wikipedia — Encyclopaedia Britannica will focus primarily on its online encyclopedias and educational curriculum for schools. The last print version is the 32-volume 2010 edition, which weighs 129 pounds and includes new entries on global warming and the Human Genome Project.
Growing up, I would read encyclopedias for fun, and my favorite by far was the Encyclopedia Britannica. Much too expensive for my family’s budget, I spent many hours in our local Carnegie public library in Paris, Illinois, perusing the volumes, being exposed to endless new worlds of knowledge every time I opened the pages of those weighty tomes. I owe quite an intellectual debt to whatever librarian decided that the expense of those volumes was more than worth it.
Today, I feel like a motorist in the twenties seeing horsedrawn wagons increasingly vanishing from the roads, and remembering many a ride pulled by real horse power. Sentiment of course cannot stand in the way of technological progress, but those of us who live through such transitions would be less than human if we did not mourn the passing of something that was such a useful servant for such a long time.