Wednesday, March 14, 2012


If video killed the radio star, digital is killing the printed word and with it, the door-to-door Encyclopedia salesman.

 The Encyclopaedia Britannica, which has been in continuous print since it was first published in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1768,  will end publication of its printed editions and continue with digital versions only. The flagship, 32-volume printed edition, available every two years, was sold for $1,400. An online subscription costs around $70 per year and the company recently launched a set of apps ranging between $1.99 and $4.99 per month.

Growing up, I devoured encyclopedias with relish. They were the modern equivalent of the internet. The history of the world at my finger tips. Knowledge on everything imaginable within reach. Our first set of encyclopedias was this 24 volume set of Colliers. It was a big investment for mom and dad, but they were pleased that we took great interest in them. I remember the hard, crisp covers, the new book smell and the shiny pages. They were almost too perfect to open and lay flat.

You found yourself reading and learning about sometimes the most obscure things. I am pretty certain that there was not a night that I did not fall asleep with one next to me in bed. In the morning, I would make sure to put the volume back into its original spot making sure it was still in alphabetical order. There was nothing more annoying than needing a certain letter book the next time, only to find that it was misplaced.

By grade eight they had become dated. My parents invested in another set, Collier had become Merit. This set had much more color and were designed with learning in mind. They were not just a compendium  of knowledge, but a series of interactive lessons and reviews that made reading even more fun. An added bonus, each year in January an additional year book was published. Up until recently, mom would buy it for me. I loved the year books, they were full of feature articles and updated facts on countries. It made keeping up with the changing world in a two television channel universe much easier.

These books no doubt sparked the creative side in me. They prepared me for a life long thirst for knowledge. preparing me for successful Reach For The Top appearances, trivia night wins and a force to be reckoned with at Trivial Pursuit.

Today, my kids ignore the analog encyclopedias in favor of the unlimited digital opportunities presented by the internet. My old Merit encyclopedias and two decades of year books gather dust. It will soon be time to dispose of them.

Perhaps it is a bit nostalgic, but there is something lost when you don’t have paper pages to flip through, things to explore by accident, or just the feel of a real book in your hands.

1 comment:

Nancy Crozier said...

The feel of paper is not all we may lose. When technologies change, does all the information in a certain format get carried over? No.

And is all of this information going to be available for generations to come? No. For instance, institutions such as the Library of Congress and the National Library of Canada already have decades of digital information that is esssentially inaccessible because there is neither the staff nor the time to organize and manage it. That's just a snapshot of what could happen.

In addition, digital information kept and accessed online is terribly vulnerable to censorship.

Finally, while it's a rather apocalyptic vision for 8:30 a.m., I think of a world after electricity, when the Irish monks - if there are any left - wouldn't be able to save civilization again because all of our history and information and knowledge (the latter two are not the same, as my cataloguing professor told us on the first day in library school) would be inaccessible.