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Encyclopedia Britannica Now Only Available Online
Updated May 5, 2013 12:10 AM | Filed under: WBIW News
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(UNDATED) - After 244 years of publication, Encyclopaedia Britannica will no longer be published in print and will remain online only.

The encyclopedia is the oldest English-language encyclopedia in the world and has been suffering financial losses, as reported by the Washington Post.

"It is kind of amazing. It's remarkable how fast that change is taking place," said Debora Shaw, dean of the School of Library and Information Science.

"Two-hundred-fifty years with one printed technology is good."

Sydney Murray of IDS reported the encyclopedia is taking advantage of new technology.

"It fits well with the way we want to access information," Shaw said. "There definitely are advantages to electronics. You have access from anywhere you are."

She said with print, people didn't have the same opportunity to find information, and she also mentioned the encyclopedia can now be updated easily.

She said the disadvantage of records no longer being available of the older versions of encyclopedias remains. Shaw said we won't have the ability to see what children were learning and how people thought in the past. She also mentioned the problems of the reliability and privacy of information on the Internet.

"With the electronic sources of information, people can keep track of what we are looking at," Shaw said. "It's also changing from established institutions to anyone in the world providing info. If everyone has access, the authoritative voice is missing or at least buried in the mess."

Howard Rosenbaum, assistant dean in the School of Library and Information Science, said he sees this as another example of the large move to the digital realm that is happening.

He said changes aren't solely good or bad, but depend on how people make use of technology.

"It makes it easier to gather information, but people have difficulty determining the quality of their information," Rosenbaum said.

"Technologies that are called disruptive shake up the landscape," Rosenbaum said, but he added, "It's rare that one technology completely displaces another."

Ron Day, assistant professor in the School of Library and Information Science, said this change is inevitable and mainly positive.

"Encyclopedias will be infinitely expandable, timely editing is available, multimedia can be added, and it is cheaper for the publisher to put things online," Day said.

On the negative side, though, he cited the issue of permanence, and with electronic formats, people tend to browse rather than read carefully.

"The culture seems to be moving away from deep reading to surface reading,"
Day said.

The School of Library and Information Science prepares students to work within the information industry in jobs such as librarians and archivists. With print materials becoming more obsolete, some might wonder what the role of the library will be in the future.

Shaw said IU libraries have been forerunners in preserving print volumes.
Day elaborated on the preservation issue and said the University libraries will always have print materials.

Rosenbaum said libraries are becoming more community-centered institutions, organizing game nights and providing people assistance with their taxes.

"It's a very interesting challenge for libraries to figure out what they need to do," Shaw said. "They need to preserve the cultural record of today."

She said the library's job of helping people find information will always be important.
"What an actual building will be in the future will be interesting," she said.

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