Encyclopedias Disappearing From Bookshelves

Researching with open books scattered about is becoming a thing of the past.

Remember those salesmen who would come to your door to sell magazines, vacuum cleaners, dishes, household items…just about anything you could think of? 

When I was in the fifth or sixth grade, my parents bought us kids a set of encyclopedias from one of these door-to-door salesmen. After the books arrived, we paged through each volume, looking at the pictures and reading some of the incredible facts found throughout the set.

It wasn’t long before the neighbors discovered they didn’t have to buy a set of encyclopedias for their own children—just send them over to borrow ours!

And if our books didn’t have what we were looking for, it was off to the library. I spent many days at the library of Emmaus Junior High School, and the seeking information for reports and term papers using their research books and encyclopedias.

But that sort of thing is coming to an end. 

With more and more municipalities banning door-to-door salesmen and the increased use of the internet, the encyclopedia is becoming a thing of the past.  No more knocks on the door. No more books to lend to the neighbors. No more encyclopedias at the library.

It recently made national news that Encyclopedia Britannica, after 244 years, is no longer going to produce its printed edition in favor of its Web-based version.

As the internet comes into more and more homes, and continues to increase its volume of information, libraries and their encyclopedias are being used less and less. It is the way of the future, some say. Online research is now the way to go. 

In an article on Education Week about the Encyclopedia Britannica news, Matthew Kirschenbaum, associate professor of English at the University of Maryland said, “There’s always something gained and lost when something becomes digitalized.” 

Although doing research on a computer can be easier and less time-consuming, one of the tings that could be lost is the camaraderie of meeting friends at the library. 

When I was in junior high, high school and college, the library table would be full of open books strewn about as my friends and I poured through the reference materials and encyclopedias one by one seeking the information needed. We studied together, talked with each other and, afterwards, often went to a nearby location for a snack.

Searching online for information may be faster and better than paging through book after book. However, in the course of turning those pages, sometimes the eye would catch something else of interest, possibly not even pertaining to the subject at hand. This “unintentional” learning may no longer occur—another thing lost.

Two-hundred-forty-four years is a long time for a company to stay in business.  The hard cover encyclopedia may be on its way out, but the hunger pangs for knowledge will continue to be satisfied with the online versions.


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