End of an era: Encyclopedia Britannica stops printing

A belated moment of silence for home phones, videocasette recorders and now, the Encyclopedia Britannica.

After 244 years, the print version of Encyclopedia Britannica is no more.

The company has decided that the 32-volume set for 2012 will be the last to be published on paper.

The decision was an easy one for the company, CNN reported today. Sales of the printed and bound encyclopedia account for only about a percent of the company’s revenue. Even the online version, available since 1994, accounts for only about 15 percent. The company makes most of its money from teaching tools.

Still, for many of us from a certain era of students, the end of the encyclopedia is a nostalgic thing.

Decades before Wikipedia and even sketchier online information sources, encyclopedia sets were the end-all-and-be-all of do-it-yourself learning.

I can’t count the number of times I went to the library and looked up a subject — Egypt, for example, or agriculture — and found the materials I needed for a report. I sometimes — I’m not afraid to admit this — even read encyclopedia volumes when I didn’t have to.

The encyclopedia had what I consider one of the best features of a modern-day print newspaper or magazine: A strong editor’s hand exercised on authoritative material.

Sure there’s a ton of information out there online, much of it valuable. But neither Wikipedia nor most online sources, unless they’re backed by a university, a news publication or Snopes, can be trusted almost without fail.

The Britannica, and most encyclopedias, could.

I’m sure some mistakes crept in. No one could list every export of Brazil in order of importance without making some mistakes.

So it’s a sad day that Encyclopedia Britannica is soon to be gone, at least from between hardcovers.

But I don’t have a current — even a not-so-current — set of Encyclopedia Britannica in my home, so what do I know?

Not enough, apparently.


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