In my one-room rural school, doing research meant going to The World Book, a set of encyclopedias that contained a little bit about almost everything. My teacher sent me there, for example, when I argued that a whale couldn’t be a mammal because it was a fish.
In junior and senior high school, my first stop for research became the much heavier and harder to comprehend Encyclopaedia Britannica. I continued to rely on it as a starting place in college and thereafter.
For many years an old set of the books occupied a bookshelf in the hall outside my home office. When I moved back to Missouri in 2007, I had to cull many of the books collected during and since college. A high percentage went to good homes, but friends, libraries, and thrift stores (and my own common sense) told me several hundred were so outdated as to be useless.
Discarding any book distresses me, but nothing hurt so much as putting my 30-year-old Brittanica in the trash.
This week that wound reopened. Encyclopaedia Britanica, Inc., will no longer issue print editions. This marvelous source will no longer occupy a place of honor on classroom shelves. If you don’t have computer access, your questions go unanswered.
Like most students and adults, I now do most of my preliminary research online, but the Web doesn’t inspire trust the way that set of heavy tomes does. You can’t trust and you must verify what you find online.
A constantly updated (in theory) Britannica remains available online, for a price. It’s not the same. I loved the print edition not just because I found answers there but because I stumbled across wonderful unknown facts on adjoining pages. For me as a student, it opened a vast, fascinating world.
The death of the print edition marks the end of an educational era.