Monday, March 19, 2012

Monday Morning Musings: The Britannica-less Library

Did you hear the news last week?

Britannica has announced that they will no longer be printing their 32-volume Encyclopaedia.  The 2010 edition was the last, after 244 years of printing.

Okay.  So I guess half of you are thinking, "What? I didn't know they were still printing them."

To be honest, I had wondered myself over the last couple of years.  I often thought about checking, but always forgot.

About sixteen years ago, my parents bought a set of Britannica's.  This was a huge investment for our family - it wasn't something we could easily afford.  My mum and dad entered into a three year payment plan in order to buy it.  They did it for my sister and me - for our education.  They did it because they wanted the best resource of information available to us.  They did it because they believed we could achieve great things.

As much as I love printed books, and I still lean towards the hardcopy over the ebook when it comes to fiction, I am totally behind the complete shift to digital media for encyclopaedic information.  It just makes far more sense.  Sheer volume of information being one thing.  The ability to update the online database instantly.  The richness of embedded audio and video, and the convenience of jumping to other relevant information in the blink of an eye.

Then there's the price.  The current set of Britannica volumes - the last set available - retails for $1749 (AUD).  You can get a subscription to the Britannica online database for $6 (AUD) per month, or the DVD version for $79.95 (AUD).  It's not even comparable. (By the way, sixteen years ago we paid closer to $3000 for our set!)

And yet, if there wasn't already a set of Britannica's sitting on my mum's bookshelf, I'd be scrambling to buy one of these last print editions.

WHY?

For starters, I always intended on buying a set for myself when I was all grown up and had a home of my own.  I love books.  I love the look of them on bookshelves.  My dream is to have a library in my home with wall-to-wall books.  And in my mind, no bookshelf is complete without a row or two of those sleek black, thick volume books.  It adds sophistication to a library.  A set of Britannica's says that this household is serious about education and quality information.

It's a joy to pick up a volume and open it in my hands.  The musty smell of the leather, the rustle of the delicately thin pages ... it makes me think of seriously educated people, sitting at large - computer-less - desks, or in dark coloured oversized armchairs.  It makes me think of purer, simpler times.

It makes me think of my dad.  How many times did we find him leafing through a volume in search of information due to something he heard in the news, or in search of an answer to a question one of his inquisitive daughters asked.



It's an end of an era, that's for sure.  It just makes me a little sad because it feels like the end of an era in my life as well.  I'm sure my children in a few short years are going to stare at those volumes on their grandmother's shelf and ask, "What are they for?" And when I explain, they will scrunch up their noses and say, "But why, when we have the internet?"

So, if you've always dreamt of a set of Britannica's adorning your shelf, now's the time to grab it.   I wonder if there's any possibility of a big enough backlash about the discontinuation to spark another print? Maybe not, if they're already reducing the price to sell-out existing stock.

Has anyone been holding onto a dream of owning a set of Britannica's? Or has anyone bought a set recently? We'd love to hear your thoughts on the passing of this iconic symbol of education and knowledge.

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