Encyclopaedia

Encyclopaedia Britannica is ceasing publication of its print edition after a 244 year run.  Britannica’s been around longer than the Declaration of Independence, and longer than the Declaration of the Rights of Man.  And now, in its original format, it won’t be.

I’m not going to bemoan that change.  It’s a natural progression.  You don’t last 244 years without making accommodation for a changing world.  Britannica began publication in 1768 in the country from which it takes its name, but now it’s an American concern–more than that, it’s a Chicago concern.  Where was Chicago in 1768?  The encyclopaedia itself is older than the city it calls home.

I hope Britannica lasts another 244 years, if it can maintain the same mission it’s had for the last two and a half centuries, of making available to us a compilation and condensation of human knowledge, accessibly presented.  And if it does, then within a generation, no one will care that it used to be on paper, and now it’s not–anymore than Canadians walk into the Bay or Zellers and think to themselves, “Hmm, and to think, back in the seventeenth century, this is the company that was chartered by the King to administer English colonisation of northern Ontario and Quebec!”

I myself made the digital switch with Britannica about ten years ago, when Lisa bought me the complete Encyclopaedia in CD.  It was one of the best gifts I’ve ever received–but it was one of the best gifts because of the love I’ve always had for the print edition.

When I was growing up in Connecticut, we had a wonderful public library–I never realised how wonderful until we moved to Florida and the ones that replaced it proved to be … lacking.  And one of the best things about this library was its complete set of both the Britannica micropaedia and the macropaedia.

Man, that macropaedia.  So much of who I am, so much of the knowledge I love, I first found in that encyclopaedia.  I vividly remember the Graeco-Roman civilisation article being over a hundred pages long.  How many words are on a printed page of Britannica?  A thousand?  Two thousand?  Three thousand?  That article must have been as long as any novel I’d read at the time I worked my way through it.

So I don’t mourn the death of the printed edition, and I don’t complain that we’re now moving into a world where Britannica can deliver all the knowledge it’s always delivered, but paperlessly.  But I do take this opportunity to express my gratitude that I had the paper edition in my childhood, and for all the paper edition gave me.

I

Words yesterday: 2459
Words so far: 98,636

Time spent writing: 12.30-3pm
Reason for stopping: End of naptime
Darling: He couldn’t stop himself from crying out at every blow, but he was so spent now that each cry came only as a pathetic, mewling whimper.
Tyop: They went a hundred and eight degrees around the building.g
New words today: oily, paddock, jackboot
Words that boggled Word: heavybrowed, afterwards

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