Will you miss the physical encyclopedia?

encyclopedia, encyclopedia britannica, print, onomasticonEncyclopedia Britannica announced that they will stop publishing print editions of their books. The renowned encyclopedia publisher was not slow in jumping on the digital bandwagon: they published a version for computers as early as 1981, and they went online in 1994. Though they are no longer publishing print editions, the company will continue to operate digitally.

Of course, this doesn’t mean encyclopedias are going to stop existing, but no new ones will be printed.  This announcement raises questions about the eventual death of print. Did you grow up with an encyclopedia set at home? If so, you were probably born before 1980. The shift from physical print books to online sources is a generational one.

Even so, just last year American Heritage published the fifth edition of their dictionary, which was 11 years in the making. With the purchase of every print dictionary, they included their iPhone/iPad app as well. However, the media coverage around the publication asked, “Is this going to be the last printed dictionary?” American Heritage presumed there was still a public appetite for analog word discovery. Are there times when you prefer to use the paper version?

(How are words added to the dictionary? Find out here.)

Encyclopedias and dictionaries are different beasts, of course. Whereas a dictionary only hopes to define words, an encyclopedia includes a broader range of information. The Encyclopedia Britannica was a 32-volume set! Where does the encyclopedia come from in the first place? The word “encyclopedia” came from an accidental amalgamation of two Greek words. These books were originally called “enkyklios paideia” which meant “general education.” However, Latin scribes combined the phrase into one word.

Pliny the Elder wrote the first recorded encyclopedia recorded in 77. He covered topics from human physiology to sculpture to geometry. Encyclopedias were not widespread until much later when print was common. During the Renaissance, a number of publishers started making encyclopedias, including Ephraim Chambers’ Cyclopaedia (1728) and Diderot’s Encyclopédie (1751). Encyclopedia Britannica followed not long after these new editions. Published in Scotland, the first edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica came out in 1768 – 244 years ago! To differentiate itself from the continental encyclopedias, Encyclopedia Britannica used the word Britannic, which means “of Britain.”

Will you miss the printed volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica?