End of an Era: Encyclopedia Britannica Goes Out of Print

When I was a young boy, I was (admittedly) a bit of a nerd. While other kids were out playing games, I preferred to curl up inside with a book.

What really gave me everlasting “nerd cred” is the fact that, more often than not, that book was an encyclopedia.

My parents had invested in a set of World Book encyclopedias, and I devoured them. Sometimes I’d leaf through it cover to cover, reading anything that looked interesting. Other times, I’d “surf” aimlessly. But I thumbed those volumes well.

It served me well later in life, when I began writing research reports in school. I knew the encyclopedia and where to find the answers I needed.

So I’m a bit sad to read in the New York Times that Encyclopedia Britannica is bowing to the inevitable and ceasing production of its print edition. Actually, the writing was on the wall with Microsoft Encarta, even when I was in high school; computers were able to search topics and link to related information in a way that even a rabid reader like I could never hope to match. When the concept jumped to the Internet and was democratized through Wikipedia, the simple convenience of getting a fairly good answer outweighed the expense and effort of accessing the more trustworthy professionally edited encyclopedias.

Personally, I would never cite Wikipedia as a reference, but when beginning a paper or looking into a topic even I usually start research there as a way of gathering some initial links and scholars to follow. I don’t need Britannica or World Book, actually.

Now watching Caden using the Internet through Erin’s iPad (under supervision, mind you!) to read about subjects that interest him, I realize how much times have changed. He’s very similar to me, and loves to read about various things much like I did. But the Internet is his library now. He may open a print encyclopedia in a library someday and look into a subject, but I don’t think he’ll ever curl up with one like his dad the nerd. Especially now, with this news.

Maybe that’s a good thing, after all!

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