Dear Readers, I’m in a quandary.
Twenty years ago, with the aid of a legacy from my late great-aunt, I invested in a set of the Encyclopedia Britannica. Leather bound with gilt page edges, and 32 volumes – it cost me over £1200 back then.
Britannica itself has now stopped publishing the print edition, concentrating on on-line products. Its final 32 vol set was published in 2010 in a luxury binding, it cost £9,999 and they only produced 10 sets.
My edition (the 15th) takes up nearly two full shelves of my Billy bookcases, plus there are the six yearbooks upstairs which I bought, at around £35 a volume, but have never looked at!
It looks impressive, but I no longer use it. A few months ago, I tried to encourage my daughter to use it for a project. ”You can use the dining table with several volumes open at the same time,” I said, “so you can easily refer between them,” already knowing that it was a lost cause.
The same goes for my 6 volume boxed set of the Guinness Encyclopedia of Popular Music from 1995 (below). I’ve not used that in far longer than the EB.
When given the choice between Google/Wikipedia and the print version of Britannica, the free on-line option, regardless of accuracy, will nowadays always be the first port of call. It’ll usually be the only port of call too most of the time.
Getting your facts right is important though – remember Jay McInerney’s novel Brights lights big city in which the protagonist works as a fact-checker for a NewYork publication?
You can’t beat an acknowledged primary source.
I do cross-check where appropriate for book reivews – vs an author’s own website for instance, plus a major book-selling site, and Fantastic Fiction for instance, but the tendency is to rely on Wikipedia. Its level of detail and cross-referencing is growing exponentially; it is gradually acquiring depth, which is a quality that you previously had to rely on subject-specific books for, (and still do for all serious matters). When writing posts for this blog etc. I feel justified in using these on-line reference sources. I’ve given up trying to encourage my daughter to use the print encyclopedias, but I continue to say, “I have a book about that,” whenever I can.
Which leaves me with this final quandary. There are three shelves of big unused books there in total. Heaven knows, I could do with the space. I realise I’ll only get a fraction of what I paid for them if I cash in – I’m sorely tempted though. Gone are the pre-wiki days when I used take part in a postal quiz tournament and spent hours with the books researching the answers. I can only remember using them once this year, trying to help Juliet with her history essay on Thomas Beckett. Note – I am not contemplating giving up the rest of my reference collection – just the multi-volume encyclopedias.
Although they were bought with a legacy, I still have a copy of the order and certificate of ownership, so would keep that in memory of my aunt. I no longer feel particularly attached to the books themselves.
What would you do in my position?
Would you keep or sell?
Your thoughts are welcomed…
P.S. I’m open to offers!