After 244 years, there will no longer be an Encyclopedia Britannica in print form.
Those coolly authoritative, gold-lettered sets of reference books that were once sold door to door by a fleet of traveling salesmen and displayed as proud fixtures in American homes will be discontinued, the company is expected to announce on Wednesday.
In a nod to the realities of the digital age — and, in particular, the competition from the hugely popular Wikipedia — Encyclopaedia Britannica will focus primarily on its online encyclopedias and educational curriculum for schools, company executives said.
The last edition of the encyclopedia will be the 2010 edition, a 32-volume set that weighs in at 129 pounds and includes new entries on global warming and the Human Genome Project.
“It’s a rite of passage in this new era,” Jorge Cauz, the president of Encyclopaedia Britannica Inc., a Chicago-based company, said in an interview. “Some people will feel sad about it and nostalgic about it. But we have a better tool now. The Web site is continuously updated, it’s much more expansive and it has multimedia.”
This is a nostalgic milestone for me.
I have an image of my dad slowly nodding in agreement to the salesman’s points way back in the late 1960s. As the article said, the books occupied a place of prominence in our suburban Edmonton living room.
As a schoolboy in that era, I made heavy use of them (I’m a nerd now. Why wouldn’t I have been a nerd then?). I’m glad my parents spent the money.
I always looked forward to the Encyclopedia Britannica book of the year. It amazed me then how much knowledge had advanced in that year.
But it was a generation before computers started becoming fixtures in people’s homes, let alone the advent of the Internet and a new technology/culture of collaboration that led to Wikipedia, among other information advances.
Although the print version is now obsolete, I thank the company for the way its product helped fill my then-young, impressionable mind with knowledge more than 40 years ago.