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.
It was impossible to get rid of them.
Libraries and used bookstores had no interest in them. EBay was glutted with them.
I finally threw them in a dumpster at work. A shame, but there was no more room for them here.
I bought the deluxe set from a salesman outside the PX at Schofield Barracks, HI, in 1988. He was pretty happy, but a few weeks later the mail room folks were not amused. I also got the complete and un-expurgated 100 volume set “Great Books Of All Time, Which You Will Probably Never Read”.
The World Book had a nice set, it is amazing to see how prevalent propaganda and so-called political correctness has rotted thoroughly into modern tomes. The set I have dates from 1966.
I also find indispensible, a 30s era Merriam-Websters dictionary.
Exactly, look at how the reasons for the Civil War have changed, for instance.
Britannica (especially the old 9th Edition) is terrific and the OED is incomparable. We, fortunately, have the shelf space!
One thing nice about the actual tomes is finding other stuff whilst toddling about for something ....
“Interesting. If you dont mind me asking, what was it about the lifestyle of selling encyclopedias that you hated?”
Door to door sales was for the ‘green berets’ of the sales world, we could chew up the lesser mortals like car salesman etc.
The work was very tough so the lives of the sales people consisted of ego stroking of already big egos, except for three hours a night that we would slam it to the ‘fish’.
My crews consisted almost entirely of 19 and 20 year old girls and every one of them thought that they were the hottest thing on the planet.
The life style was one that could be described as the next best thing to being a rock star, while it appealed to a certain part of me the way decadence and high living do, it was causing terrible conflict with my inner codes.
I was good enough that I could pick out the house by driving past it and reading the signs, then go play pool for awhile, go back to the house give them a precise 55 minute pitch (never shorten it, never let it go longer), close them and then start picking up my crew.
To prove a point sometimes I would place 3 sets in one evening and I found a couple of girls that could do that.
In our case we never actually “sold” books, we placed them in people’s homes in return for a letter of endorsement and “advance” payment of “updating” services.
It bothered me that I had a psychic ability to see who was going to buy, by my initial look into their eyes and the total decadence of the female attentions were troubling as well, I even hired a guy for the purpose of serving as a screen to divert the girls (it wasn’t me, it was my role that they responded to).
It was taxing to hire a hundred people knowing that in two or three days 95 of them would be gone, and that after two weeks one of them would still be there.
It was taxing to give the “blue horizon” interview, where you switch the new hire from the advertised high salary to commission, it was also bizarre to have a girl that was bringing in a huge amount of sales, want to stay on a salary.
The bottom line is that it was discomforting for me to be prostituting my natural desire and ability to engage people by exploiting it to make money.
Hint: If you have to read about American Indians in the "Native American" subject, chances are your encyclopedia is tainted with political correctness.
“I bought the deluxe set from a salesman outside the PX at Schofield Barracks, HI, in 1988”
LOL, I remember letting the salesmen into my home outside of FT. Lewis, Wa. in 72-73.
I never could figure out how they went from giving me a set of encyclopedias for free to several hundred dollars of payments, then a few years later I was giving the same pitch.
That was still before widespread use of the World Wide Web, but at that time, every PC manufacturer (Gateway, Packard Bell -- remember those?) was including a free encyclopedia on CD with a computer purchase.
It isn't the same, though. There was something about actually having a volume in your hand, that the online versions don't quite provide.
My parents' old Britannica wasn't that colorful or up-to-date -- we used the World Book for school -- but on those things it covered best, like British History, Britannica went a lot deeper than Wikipedia and possibly provided more information more compactly than you could probably come up with in several Internet searches.
“One thing nice about the actual tomes is finding other stuff whilst toddling about for something ....”
That’s exactly why I won’t buy the OED on CD-Rom. Amazon.com may have come out with its Kindle, but I still would much rather hold a book in my hands and let my fingers wander through its pages!
Yes, I remember those days well. I sure wish I could have back all the money I spent on dopey "content" software back in the mid-1990s. Those were still the early days of the Internet where everybody had dial-up on slow 9600 or 14.4kbps connections and it wasn't cheap either. So it seemed a good investment to get encyclopedias and stuff like that on compact disc because you couldn't ever imagine instantly downloading images, sound and video over the web at lightning speed.
I bought programs like Microsoft Encarta, Microsoft Music, Microsoft Cinema (where they had movie reviews and short clips of movies) and even 100 years worth of National Geographic magazines.
Loading them up today, they look so primitive and cheesy that I kick myself for spending $100 a pop on them. Especially now that you can pull up virtually every music video and movie clip on YouTube in a matter of seconds. I remember spending good money for programs like Microsoft Encarta,
Wikipedia ought to come up with a way to filter that stuff out in the "random article" feature.
I had a wonderful set of encyclopedias. Hubby threw them all away because he said I knew everything.
My 14 yo LIVES in books, and dictionaries. She's reading at college level.
Too funny! After reading your story and the comments, I don’t feel like such a booknerd anymore! Parents bought EB when I was born—64. By the time I could read well, at about 5-6, I found them and thought I’d died and gone to Heaven! Did I mention that I hate, no loathe, Dick and Jane?
Alas, a few years later, I found out that I knew a lot more about a lot of subjects than my beloved EB, but I still liked to just pick one up and browse.
I have, and treasure, my grandma’s 1951 Webster’s New World Dictionary, encyclopedic edition. As far as I know, all the EB’s are gone. Daddy got internet.:)
We used to have another set, gray with red writing on the covers. Stories and fairy tales. I spent many a day reading those. Anybody remember what they were?
“My 14 yo LIVES in books, and dictionaries. She’s reading at college level.”
Good for her! I wish all teenagers were that interested in books...and I don’t mean Harry Potter either.
Good for your 14 YO. I still do!
Someone came in the garden center where I work yest and asked for Encyclopedia. The other girl that works there replied—she’s in the greenhouse.
A young guy that works with us looked at my colleague and said—if she’s Encyclopedia, you must be a Little Golden Book!
Hold on to your older written encyclopedia especially if they were written before the advent of political correctness.You will be able to show your grandchildren what OBJECTIVE history was all about.
Now the only people that seem to come around are Jehovah's Witnesses!
I suppose that as an encyclopedia saleman, you'd want to focus on houses that had bicycles or swing sets in the yard, and then make initial contact before the husband got home from work (and let the wife sell the husband for you).
I remember how the salespeople really pushed on subscribing to the "updated" volumes that would come out annually after the initial set was bought so I guess that must be how they make most of their commissions?
Encyclopedias are good for looking up references that others may make, but they are historical and reading them is only for catch-up.
“I suppose that as an encyclopedia saleman, you’d want to focus on houses that had bicycles or swing sets in the yard, and then make initial contact before the husband got home from work (and let the wife sell the husband for you). “
No, that would not work, it was a tightly controlled and orchestrated 55 minutes of positive persuasion of them as a couple, the deal had to be rock solid because in my era, the 3 day cancellation clause had entered the picture, which meant that a signature was no longer the end of the deal.
Some of the wildest characters I ever met were the old school guys that only needed a signature. I never met any of them that could succeed in the three day cancellation era, they were great showmen and con men, but their effect was temporary and the customers would cancel their contracts. (They all became professional motivators)
The ten years of updating services compressed into a 36 month payment schedule were simply the cost of the set of the entire purchase and commission (huge).
After all, ten years off updating services for what, the cost of a couple cups of coffee a day, a couple of quarters a day, just remember to send that letter in telling us how you use the books and I can place this set in your home for free.
LOL! I bought some of those too including the 100 years worth of Nat'l Geographic magazines. What a pain it was to look through those dics, but it did come in a nice looking wooden case.
Otherwise known as the library.; ) It's harder to drag my laptop into the "library".
When I was young and we had a question about something, my dad would always say, "Let's look it up.", and we'd reach for the appropriate volume. (I remember being fascinated by the leaning tower of Pisa.) We also had a children's encyclopedia, Golden Book?, it had great maps of countries for school reports and I loved looking at the pictures of the scary looking deep-sea fish with the lights! When a World Book sales women came to the door I was ready to buy a set without conferring with my husband so as to offer the same opportunity to my daughters.
You know what though? The CD versions were pretty lame, there is nothing to compare with the EB. Maybe they have improved in recent years.
The Internet has numerous webpages on any given subject, but still requires a working connection, hardware, etc. I would liken the modern internet akin to a GPS - handy, convenient, amazing, but I’m not leaving on a roadtrip without a road atlas, no way.
Hey, maybe if you came around my door back in the 1970s with that pitch, my parents might have gone for it!
I grew up on Britannica and Britannica Junior. We have both still and World Book too...a new edition! Funny, homeschoolers drool over my editions of Britannica. Considered the best.
Stop listening to the wife.
I, too, credit much of my success as a student to the Encyclopedia Americana.