It’s been 244 years since the Encyclopedia Britannica Inc brought out a 20-volume encyclopedia set in the Scottish town of Edinburgh. Since then, the company has grown, shifting base to the United States in 1901, where it currently resides in Chicago.
However, with the company’s decision to no longer continue printing the books, the encyclopedia will now join the ranks of being collectables. The decision not only comes in the wake of online companies like Wikipedia being a free source of constantly updated information, but that book-reading isn’t really a habit anymore. An anticipated move, the decision still does leave book lovers a little disappointed.
A book worm and fan of the encyclopedia, K V S Lokesh says, “The announcement isn’t very surprising. When you look at it, buying the books is actually an expensive affair and people don’t really stock them at home anymore. We’ve all migrated to the internet and so, there aren’t many people who are affected by this. Nevertheless, there is a certain joy in going to the library and reading a book and that’s what I’ll miss.”
Lokesh however, accounts for a very slim percentage of students who even know of the encyclopedia company’s decision. The demographic also extends to parents. Says Mrs Vegesna, whose daughter studies in VIII standard, “My daughter is the one who reads. I wasn’t aware of the decision and I don’t know how many people will actually know. In this day and age, it is really now a question of interest.”
Principal Madhavi Chandra of Geetanjali school, though understands the importance of reading, feels that moving with the times is the best way ahead.
“Children don’t read books anymore. When we were growing up and even till about 15 years ago, most homes used to have encyclopedias. But the internet being more accessible and current, its become an easy and obvious choice. In fact, my children don’t read them anymore.” So does that mean book reading will become a lost art?
“At school while we do have a library, there aren’t many children who actually use it. And we can’t really restrict students from using the internet, because that is the future. But more importantly, I think the kind of books that are read now have drastically changed from the earlier times, and that includes the encyclopedia.”
Agreeing, Madhu Mathur, the principal of Nirmala High School says, “Children now a days aren’t aware of classical literature like Shakespeare. They can’t even read fluently. In our times we could reel
off dialogues from the classics we read, and we could do so with flourish and fluency. Kids are losing out on this and its painful to see that. Though we are becoming more tech savvy, I believe reading should come first and technology second.”
Whether schools and parents enforce children to keep reading, the online edition which is available for $70 a year (about Rs 3000) seems to be paving the way to the era of e-text books and children will miss out on the sheer experience of flipping through pages of colourful illustrations and interactive text.