You may not know this about me, but I am a bit of a book nerd. I will read nearly anything. While I was a fairly early adopter of the e-book format, owning both an original Nook and a Nook Color, print books will always hold a dear spot in my heart. Even as I am snuggled up under the covers of my king-sized bed, reading page after digital page by the glow of the Nook Color, a tug of nostalgia the yesteryear of print rests on my soul. Not so many years ago (okay, probably more years than I would like to admit) I was also snuggled up under the covers, this time of my white, frilly daybed, with a flashlight and whichever book was on the top of my library loan pile.
There is something about the smell of a new print book, the weight of it, the way the pages are cut, whether the cover is shiny or matte, how the pages sounds as I flip through them that can’t be replicated on an e-reader. It is for this reason, I was a bit sadden to read an article last week about how Encyclopaedia Britannica will no longer create print version of their series, but rather all copies with be digital. (http://www.latimes.com/business/technology/la-fi-tn-encyclopaedia-britannica-goes-digital-only-20120313,0,2517276.story)
Again, I have nothing against e-books, as a matter of fact, the majority of what I read now is in that format. It isn’t the technological progression that makes me stop in my tracks, but rather the memories of being a child with a set of encyclopedias that I could skim through, searching topics by whatever whim crossed my mind. The idea that generations of kids won’t be able to pick a random letter of the alphabet and spend an hour learning about platypuses, Peru and pentagons rather than taking their required afternoon nap is disheartening. Logically, I know that they will be able to do the same thing online, maybe even hitting more diverse topics though the help of a “random” button or digging deeper into a single subject through hyperlinks and multi-media offerings.
But, it just isn’t the same.
Those reddish-brown books with their gilded gold letters lined up on the second from bottom shelf were my first glimpse into the world of vultures, Venezuela and viruses. (The bottom shelf was reserved for stacks of the innumerable copies of the National Geographic, which also provided hours of entertainment, more through the photography from all over the world than the technical articles that were too difficult for a 4th grader to understand.) Our encyclopedia set literally contained the world from A-Z and provided the basis of many an elementary school report.
The positive outcomes of the digitalization of encyclopedias far outweigh the longings of my nostalgia. Hopefully this new format will make the reference’s sources more readily available to families of a variety of incomes (I actually have no idea how my family came to own the set we did), make searching for specific topics easier and allow the companies to expand not only the number of articles, but the lengths as well. (It used to drive me nuts when I found a super interesting topic, like jaguar or Jamaica or Jackson, Stonewall, only to find a mere three or four paragraphs about it. In the pre-internet era, I was stuck with those few columns of sparse information until the next trip to the library, where I could find a more suitable supply of facts to fill-in the gaps of ol’ Britannica.)
So, it is with not with a crocodile tear, but a more gecko-sized one, that I bid adieu to the hardbound copies of Encyclopaedia Britannica and embrace the next generation of factual summarization. You served me well during those sanity-saving (for my parents) afternoon naps. From anteater to zebra, Antarctica to Zimbabwe and Adams, John to Zorro, I’ll miss you Encyclopaedia Britannica.