School & District Management

Do Students Still Need Encyclopedias?

By Anthony Rebora — March 14, 2012 1 min read
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This seems worthy of note: Encyclopedia Britannica has announced that it will no longer publish its signature product in print, according to CNNMoney. While the news might spark a pang of nostalgia for some (you know who you are), no one seems terribly surprised: Apparently print sales currently amount to less than 1 percent of Britannica’s total sales.

And the company seems to get—how could they not?—the sea change that has taken place in the way people access information. “The younger generation consumes data differently now, and we want to be there,” says Britannica president Jorge Cauz.

The question now is how well the online version of the company’s encyclopedia, priced at $70 per year (or $1.99 per month for an app), can compete with—well—the entire free Web.

Cauz believes people will be willing to pay for factual authority and source reliability. “Google’s algorithm doesn’t know what’s fact or what’s fiction,” he notes.

How about in your classroom? What reference resources do you think students today need or should use? And to the larger point: How do you teach the craft of research in this ever-changing, sometimes overwhelming information environment?

Update, March 15: In a New York Times Room for Debate discussion, a school librarian says that Britannica’s decision to abandon print, while understandable from a business perspective, creates a precedent that will limit the variety of resources available to students—as well as, perhaps, their capacity for discovery:

The Internet and its search boxes do not support or encourage a sense of wonder. Encyclopedias especially are wonderful for this because of their relatively compact nature and the diversity of their content. We work to create inquiry-driven critical thinking in our students while we systematically remove the tools necessary to stimulate such thought.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.