Friday, March 16, 2012

New and Improved?

So the Encyclopedia Britannica will no longer be publishing hard copy. An improvement?

To their bottom line, yes, as well as their competitive edge.

But looking at the first item on my list of what today commemorates around the world and means to people makes me wonder.

Print books have been a precious thing in many places and times over the years since Gutenberg perfected his presses.

Reading has been my comfort and pastime, my solace and joy, my entertainment and teacher since i was four. So ready to read was i that after my first few lessons in the "Listen and Learn With Phonics" series, i started skipping ahead to the next lesson before my mother could do it with me. After i knew some of the sounds, i listened and learned without much help.

The internet, and the vast knowledge we have at our fingertips, cannot be accessed in a power outage. It cannot be accessed in many places at all.

It does not allow for the serendipity of picking up a volume off the shelf and leafing through it, discovering a hidden delight. We tend to look online only for that one topic, limiting ourselves to what we know we should find. How sad that seems to me.

If other encyclopedia printers do the same, how will schools without computer access make the knowledge in them available to students?

Also, as nice as sharing knowledge on the internet is, how do we know we are getting expert information? We don't. It's fine to make information available to everyone equally. It's not fine to have it written by people who don't have any real expertise in a field, except for what they read online.

A couple of years ago i read an article that i can no longer find on whether or not serendipity is dying. The idea was that as we even try to Google something, Google itself points us toward what we seek, eliminating the chance discovery.

Most of the things in an encyclopedia, such as what year Columbus sailed or what architectural features make up a Gothic cathedral, don't change from year to year. Thus i will not be getting rid of my set of World Books, just continuing to buy the update each year.

This is one new and improved idea that makes me sad.

Today is:

Day of the Book Smugglers -- Lithuania (recognizing the brave people who smuggled Lithuanian language books in the Latin alphabet into the country from 1866-1904, when the Russian Empire had banned such books)

Day After Dumbstruck Day -- Fairy Calendar

Everything You Do is Right Day -- another internet generated holiday designed to get you into trouble if you aren't careful

Feast of Heru and His Companions -- Ancient Egyptian Calendar (date approximate)

Festival of Bacchus / Bacchanalia -- Ancient Roman Calendar (through tomorrow)

Freedom of Information Day -- on the birthday of James Madison, Father of the US Constitution and an advocate for openness in government

Jonquil Festival -- Washington State Park, Arkansas, US (through the 18th)

Latvian Legion Day -- Latvia (no longer a formal national holiday, still celebrated by many in the region)

Lips Appreciation Day -- after all, where would you be without them, and how would you give kisses? sponsored by Wellcat Holidays

Maastricht 2012 / The European Fine Arts Symposium -- Maastricht, Netherlands; through the 25th

National Artichoke Hearts Day

Sherlock Holmes Weekend -- Cape May, NJ, US (a celebration of the works of A. C. Doyle)

St. Heribert of Cologne's Day (Patron against drought)

St. Urho's Day -- Finnish communities in Canada and the US (a made up saint, the Finns answer to St. Patrick)

World Sleep Day -- sponsored by the World Association of Sleep Medicine, aiming to lessen the burdens of sleep problems on society; this year's theme is Breathe Easily, Sleep Well.

Birthdays Today:

Kevin Tod Smith, 1963
Erik Estrada, 1949
Bernardo Bertolucci, 1940
Jerry Lewis, 1926
Mercedes McCambridge, 1916
Patricia Nixon, 1912
Henny Youngman, 1906
Georg Simon Ohm, 1787
James Madison, 1751

Today in History:

The Babylonians capture Jerusalem and replace Jehoiachin with Zedekiah as king, BC597
Caligula becomes Roman Emperor after the death of his great uncle, Tiberius, 37
The Jews of York England commit mass suicide rather than submit to baptism, 1190
Portuguese navigator Ferdinand Magellan reaches Philippines, 1521
Samoset, a Mohegan, visits the settlers of Plymouth Colony and greets them, "Welcome, Englishmen! My name is Samoset," 1621
The US Army Corps of Engineers is established to found and operate the United States Military Academy at West Point, 1802
Prince Willem of the House of Orange-Nassau proclaims himself King of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands, the first constitutional monarch in The Netherlands, 1815
New York Stock Exchange slowest day ever (31 shares traded), 1830
Susan Hayhurst becomes the first woman to graduate from a pharmacollogy college, 1830
Edward Clark became Governor of Texas, replacing Sam Houston, who was evicted from the office for refusing to take an oath of loyalty to the Confederacy, 1861
Joseph Lister's article outlining the discovery of antiseptic surgery is published in The Lancet, 1867
Hiram R Revels makes the first official speech by an African American in the US Senate, 1869
The Barnum and Bailey Circus debuts, 1881
Sir Arthur Evans discovers the ancient city of Knossus, 1900
Robert Goddard launches the first liquid-fueled rocket, at Auburn, Massachusetts, 1926
The Ford Motor Company produces its 50 millionth automobile, the Thunderbird, averaging almost a million cars a year since the company's founding, 1958
Gemini 8 is launched, the 12th manned American space flight and first space docking with the Agena Target Vehicle, 1968
General Motors produces its 100 millionth automobile, the Oldsmobile Toronado, 1968
Demolition of the radio tower Ismaning, the last wooden radio tower in Germany, 1983
Associated Press newsman Terry Anderson is taken hostage in Beirut; he will be held for 6 1/2 years, 1985
Pope John Paul II asks God for forgiveness for the inactivity and silence of some Roman Catholics during the Holocaust, 1998
Israel officially hands over Jericho to Palestinian control, 2005


  1. As children we used to sit on pillow-case wrapped volumns of the Encyclopedia Brittanica at the Thanksgiving table.

    Let's see your ipad do that :)

  2. I totally agree and feel so much nostalgia for my years and years of reading hardbound and paperback books... yet I'm a total hypocrite because I find myself reading fewer and fewer "real" books these days and more ebooks than ever. (OK, I'll admit...I'm cheap!)

    Great post!


  3. Amen. Husband bought me 2 bookshelves for our anniversary. (Self defense, said he... Ha!) I have bought books from people who say they don't want them, since they have computers/kindles/nooks/apps etc., but like you, I can read them with the sun, or with natural light, and no power hookup. And at the risk of sounding paranoid, no one can take my book away without destroying it in some manner, or physically removing it. A virus, or just some program that a publisher could implant with the book could change/remove a book without my even knowing, until I go for said book again. (I occasionally re-read books, important ones to me, anyway.) So, I guess, even though I do have some books on computer, I will still love the texture, the smell, the weight, the idea of a 'real' book.

    Oi! Got a little preachy there, didn't I?

    And I have read volumes of the Encyclopedia for fun, too...


  4. I was saddened to learn about the end of these fine books. I once considered them the absolute, argument-ending authority on just about everything. Now I feel empty inside.

  5. Charis, we always used the phone book, but same idea!

    Crabby, i'm cheep, too, but that means i often buy real books used.

    Cat, keep preaching!

    Stephen, me, too.


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