Friday, March 16, 2012

Bye Bye Britannica

Earlier this week the Encyclopedia Britannica announced that after 244 years of publishing, it would no longer print a new edition. All content will now be available only digitally. This set off tearful editorials, hand wringing, and pearl clutching throughout the Internet. I particularly liked this editorial in the New York Times because it triggered a memory of my own first encyclopedia set. So here for five things on a Friday are random reflections on encyclopedias, reference, and classic pop songs.

  1. Funk and Wagnalls
    My first set of encyclopedias, the one we had when growing up, was a set of Funk and Wagnalls Encyclopedias. They "sold" them at the grocery store, but I believe you got them very discounted if you purchased x amount of groceries. Or something. I was too young to be much interested in the details. I do know that they were released slowly (or so it seemed to me as a child) and every few weeks we would get the new volume, the next letter in the set. I can remember the excitement of watching the shelves fill up in the living room (I bet they are still there in my parents' living room) and flipping through the latest volume looking at all the colored photos. They got me through our first few years of school reports and random questions.

  2. Microsoft Encarta
    Thanks to my mother's job (running payroll computer systems) we had a computer at home and an internet connection before many of my peers. Before we were online, I can remember the fun of CD-ROM games. My parents were anti-video game and we never had a console system, but we had all the educational CD-ROM games (Dr. Brain, Carmen Sandiego, etc.) My favorite game was an extra feature included with our CD-ROM copy of Microsoft Encarta (a digital encyclopedia). It was called MindMaze and you wondered from room to room answering trivia/general knowledge questions. Each room had its own guardian and quip for you. That was one of my favorite games when I was in middle school. I've always been a sucker for trivia games. And I do remember using Encarta as a source in a few reports; mainly I remember how much of a pain it was to figure out how to cite in my bibliographies. Our librarians had photocopied sheets for us about how to cite new formats like CD-ROM encyclopedias.

  3. New World Books
    One of my favorite things in the year is when the new World Book Encyclopedias come in. They always have this beautiful panoramic/mural style photo along all the spines. All the staff gets excited to see it. So pretty.

  4. A Librarian Confession
    And this is the point where I admit I'm not a very good librarian. I've never directed a patron to the Encyclopedia Britannica for a reference question. Databases or World Book yes, but never the good old Encyclopedia Britannica. It just isn't as useful for quick reference as World Book and as good for in depth reference as a dataabase. So I guess I'm not all that upset about it going away.

  5. Bye Bye Britannica
    I've been trying really hard since I heard the announcement to rewrite the lyrics of "American Pie" to fit this situation.
    Bye Bye Britannica,
    Drove my ferry to the brary but the shelves were bare.
    And good old kids were drinking gatorade
    singing This'll be the day that I upgrade!
    This'll be the day that I upgrade!

    It doesn't work I'm afraid. However I have had that song stuck in my head for two days now.

1 comment:

Jenny said...

I too remember Funk & Wagnalls at the grocery store, the building excitement as the collection grew, and how dreadfully long the wait between volumes seemed.
My parents do still have that old encyclopedia set on their bookshelves. I tried to talk her out of them once but received a very firm 'no way'.

They were wonderful, and it was super that acquiring them was made so convenient through the grocery store model.

I used to like pulling down a volume and flipping it open to a random page to learn something new.