Skip to comments.Start Writing the Eulogies for Print Encyclopedias
Posted on 03/16/2008 11:13:04 AM PDT by SamAdams76
IT has never been easier to read up on a favorite topic, whether its an obscure philosophy, a tiny insect or an overexposed pop star. Just dont count on being able to thumb through the printed pages of an encyclopedia to do it.
A series of announcements from publishers across the globe in the last few weeks suggests that the long migration to the Internet has picked up pace, and that ahead of other books, magazines and even newspapers, the classic multivolume encyclopedia is well on its way to becoming the first casualty in the end of print...
(Excerpt) Read more at nytimes.com ...
But back to the printed encyclopedias. I am old enough to remember when the encyclopedia was pretty much the only reference material you had when you needed to do a school paper on something or wanted to find out more about a given subject.
Don't laugh, but I used to be deeply in love with the printed encyclopedia when I was a kid. I'm not exaggerating either. Everytime I saw one of those Britannica salespeople come up to the door, the breath would literally be knocked out of me and after the salesman left the house, I would get down on my knees and unsuccessfully beg my parents to buy the entire set.
For while I had plenty of editions of other encyclopedias lying around the house (such as the Encyclopedia Americana and the World Book Encyclopedia) that my mother picked up at flea markets or at yard sales, the Britannica represented the Holy Grail of Encyclopedias.
The only "new" encyclopedias I had as a child was one of those cheap "Grolier" editions that was featured at one of my local supermarkets back in the mid-1970s as part of a promotion. Each week, the supermarket had a different volume that you could buy for something like $5 (if you bought at least $30 in groceries) so that after about 20 weeks or so, you ended up with the whole set. Guess where I made my family do their grocery shopping during those 20 weeks? But I was pretty disappointed in the quality of the set and learned that in this world, you get what you pay for.
Does anybody remember the movie "Christmas Story" with that kid and his stupid BB gun? Well that was like me only with the Britannica. Only unlike that spoiled brat in the movies, I never got my childhood wish realized because my parents were working poor and the Britannica set was always priced out of their means. I might as well have begged them to buy a Rolls-Royce for all the good that begging did me.
So I had to content myself with visiting one of my childhood friends who had a full set (albeit about 15 years old) in his house. I used to make excuses to go over to his house just so I could sit in his parlor, pull a volume off the bookshelf at random, and spend hours browsing the articles inside while gently stroking the creamy leather binding.
Needless to say, my friend thought I was pretty weird and soon dumped me but his mother thought I was a little angel and told me I could come back and visit anytime which I did until one night when she and I were alone in the house and she started massaging my back.
Well enough about my warped childhood, I eventually grew into a man and when I got old enough to make a little money and get my own apartment, the Encyclopedia Britannica was one of my first "adult" purchases. And I'm not kidding, when the full set was delivered to me, it was one of the top 10 days of my life. I actually took the day off from work to accept delivery and I had already purchased a pretty expensive bookcase from the local furniture store to house them in.
It was a spanking new 29-volume 1986 edition and it set me back about $695 (which was a small fortune for me back then) but as soon as I neatly arranged the set on the new bookcase and settled into my easy chair with Volume I (A-Be) with a tumbler of fine scotch, I felt like I was Winston Churchill or something. I felt that I had finally made it as part of the "moneyed" and privileged class.
I spent many hours back in those pre-Internet and pre-marriage days browsing those encyclopedias and gaining what I believed to be immense amounts of knowledge on virtually every subject imaginable.
Then the Internet came along and changed everything. Now all you have to do is "google" a given subject, no matter how arcane, and you can spend the next 20 years reading all about it.
So about six years ago, my wife finally convinced me that I ought to get rid of the Britannica set and I gave it to a family member who almost immediately sold it at a yard sale. Which pissed me off royally. But that's a story for another day.
Wow Sam, I thought that I was the only encyclopedia nut. I was the same way as a teenager back in the ‘60s. I even had the grocery store set too.
What took me hours and hours then, I can find in a matter of minutes or seconds now.
Google is my friend.
Now I spend hours and hours reading things online. Is there life outside FreeRepublic???
I grew up with an old set of Encyclopedia Americana to thumb through when I was bored. I know I went through every volume page by page reading much of the encyclopedia. Although I always wanted an Encyclopedia Britannica back then, I would gladly pick up an Oxford English Dictionary full set instead if I had the money and space!
I, too, will miss the printed encyclopedia.
P. J. O’Rourke said a while back that he keeps a 1911 edition of Encyclopedia Britannica and that it is the only reference he really trusts (because it is free of political correctness...)
The most money I’ve ever made was selling encyclopedias door to door, I hated the life style of me and my employees but I loved that many children would discover magic in those books.
Encyclopedias had changed my life as a child, and no matter how bad I felt in selling the expense to the parents, I knew that in the end there was a long range positive to the work.
Interesting. If you don’t mind me asking, what was it about the “lifestyle” of selling encyclopedias that you hated?
When I was 7 my parents ordered a set of World Book Encyclopedias, mainly for my sister and me.
I spent countless hours reading through them. I would usually just pick a volume by letter at random, then spend a few hours reading it from cover to cover.
I learned a lot and enjoyed it, too.
Too bad for the demise of the print encyclopedia. They were good to have around.
I’ve got the encyclopedia Britannica at home. It’s from 1989 and of course, much of the contents are very outdated. I have for the last 10 years contemplated discarding the set, but I keep thinking about all the times my kids used it for school research, and when even myself and my wife wanted to understand some subjects a bit better.
Now, with the internet and even some internet encyclopedias, the subject matter is very up to date and a lot easier to find material. But, that printed set is so beautiful and so nostalgic, that I still can’t bring myself to trash it. Perhaps in another 5 years. But, by then the set may be a classic and I may change my mind again.
Actually, the majority of information in a 1989 set of encyclopedias is still accurate. Sure, there have been some technological and medical advances as well as some historical changes, but the overwhelming body of knowledge known to humanity has not changed in the past 9 year.
don’t you mean the past 19 years?
I was recently going through stacks of books in my attic and I stumbled upon a print copy of Jack London's "Call Of The Wild" which I had since I was a boy. It still has my underlines and side notes from the spring of 1973 when I was doing a book report on it in 5th grade. So even though full texts for "Call Of The Wild" are available on the Web for free (evidently the copyrights have expired and it is in public domain), the book has sentimental value that exceeds whatever I could get for it on eBay.
My mother has the 1910 Britannica from her father - leather bindings cracked and volumes falling apart but I love that thing. If you ever want to write of times a century past, you can see there how people saw the world, their science, engineering, social protocols, white man’s burden.
Older versions should be held onto - and scanned! Where else will we get non-PC edited versions of historical articles?
All kidding aside, we were a World Book family. I remember some uppity friend of mine seeing our encyclopedias and making some snide remark about the Britannica's being better.
Sadly, I trashed our World Book encyclopedias after my fathers passing because I just saw them as taking up space. Wish I hadn't done it now.
Good day to you.
I remember back around 1980 on that game show Tic-Tac-Dough, A Navy pilot on leave in California was on the show and couldn’t lose. He eventually got his leave extended, rented a warehouse for his “million dollars worth of cash and prizes” and six new cars. Wink Martindale asked him what he attributed to his vast knowledge (they ran out of things to talk about long before that) and he said when he was a kid, his mother bought him a new Encylopedia Britannica and he spent all his time on the toilet reading it.