Most Americans have probably already learned that earlier this month Encyclopedia Britannica announced that the current printed edition of the encyclopedia will be the final one. Mr. Google will point you to a host of news articles and commentary (like this one from the blog of The New Yorker).
Britannica is neither the first nor the last familiar encyclopedia to abandon the codex for the computer. The rationale for digitizing time-sensitive reference works like encyclopedias is ever more irresistable, and it’s hard to argue with the sheer ecological argument of refusing to fell additional trees for subsequent editions of an encyclopedia that’s required numerous revisions since it was first published in (wait for it:) 1768.
Still, we felt it somehow necesssary to register here at the Booklover’s Blog this heartbreaking-if-inevitable turning point in the history of the book, if only because for many bibliophiles, perusing (in addition to referring to) Britannica is among the fondest memories of our early reading careers.
Britannica’s nostalgic value among readers (well, readers of a certain age, perhaps) is so strong that we predict that booklovers (and second-hand bookstore owners) are going to be snarfing them up from library book sales any time a public library divests itself of whatever edition it happens to own. (Lucky the booksale browser who stumbles upon a discarded set of the highly-regarded 11th (1911) edition!)
In any case, the death of the printed Britannica feel like another omen of the End of An Era (in this case, the Gutenberg one). Let us hope the marketing gods keep the licensing fees for the Britannica’s electronic versions within the range of public library budgets.
4/18/2012 Postscript: Britannica put together this nifty compilation of the media coverage of its announcement: