Overheard on CNN.com: As information shifts from print to digital, will it stand test of time?
After 244 years, Encyclopedia Britannica will cease production of its iconic multi-volume book sets.
March 14th, 2012
09:08 PM ET

Overheard on CNN.com: As information shifts from print to digital, will it stand test of time?

Editor's note: This post is part of the Overheard on CNN.com series, a regular feature that examines interesting comments and thought-provoking conversations posted by the community.

Encyclopedia Britannica will no longer be producing its printed multi-volume sets, opting instead for a more digital approach. Readers debated whether this development is great, realistic or sad. Or something else.

Encyclopedia Britannica to stop printing books

We asked on Twitter and the CNN iReport Facebook page what our readers' favorite entries and volumes are. Some, like @badru75, told us they were feeling a bit sad.

[tweet https://twitter.com/#!/badru75/status/179969262692220929/%5D

Another Twitter user, @Maxine28, still keeps hard-bound books and said one can't always find needed information on the internet.

[tweet https://twitter.com/#!/Maxine28/status/180067582513119233]

We heard lots of stories from our readers on Facebook as well. One of them told us about favorite topics to seek.

Uruakpa God'swill Uche wrote in a comment that her favorite entry is from the 1959 edition, Vol. 21, p. 306-7. The section talks about the accomplishments of humans in the scope of nature.

"I think that the information age will continue to de-emphasize bulky, hard-copy volumes, going forward. They're unwieldy, tiresome, clumsy and unsustainable; ungreen. Nimble, smart, soft copies on thumb drives, CD-ROM, and the like, are the future. You can then print what pages you want at home for personal consumption, mindful of the carbon footprint implications of every A4 sheet of paper you use. And I'm terribly glad of the very commendable foresight and courage of the EB board in taking the bull by the horns and belling the cat in this regard. Oh, and I fancy the idea of carrying all the EB volumes ever published on a CD-ROM in my shirt pocket."

Other Facebook commenters were less enthusiastic.

Elfrida Valentia Sinaga: "Boooooo! This is bad news! Digital encyclopedias are worse than digital books!"

Zea Nozea: "I am going to miss those collection of World Books prior to computer ... reading research from a to z. :("

Steph Vélez: "This is just sad. I'm really worried about our future generations who will never know the greatness of looking things up on an encyclopedia ... sigh."

Over in the comments section of the CNNMoney story, some readers had fond memories of their encyclopedia-fueled educational exploits as children.

ActivistJudg: "I copied a nine-page paper on Shakespeare directly from a 1967 copy of Encyclopedia Britannica in 1994 for an 11th grade European history course and got a B+. The teacher questioned many of my facts, but I couldn't very well point her to the source information since plagiarism is generally frowned upon. So I took the B. Thanks, EB!"

Guest: "Even as a college instructor, I had to laugh. In elementary school, I thought writing a report was copying from the encyclopedia and switching the words around. We had World Book, not EB, but it was still the same. I learned a little since then. A lot of current plagiarists would probably be better off copying from a printed encyclopedia (or other print-only source.) I have access to Google (shhhh, don't tell! I don't think they know this, judging by their COMPLETE and TOTAL surprise when I present them with a printout of the page they copied after googling a sentence.) But if they copied from a book that was not online... it would be a cold day in Hades before I actually found the original. There are THOUSANDS of books on philosophy, and I don't have that kind of time. Luckily, just about everything is online these days. :)"

Other readers feared that for everything we gain in expedience, we may also lose plenty in permanence.

RatDiem: "Electronic storage media is ephemeral in comparison to books. DVDs for example break down in time, some say in as little as 10-15 years or less, though this may be exaggerated. But there is still the problem of having the proper reader and software to interpret the encoding decades or even hundreds of years from now, which seems highly problematic at best. In comparison we have tens of thousands of printed books still extant from the 1500s and manuscripts and papyrus literally thousands of years old."

Lorenzoid: "I argued that in response to another article some time ago, and was way outvoted by other commenters who maintain that someone will always copy the old knowledge onto the newest media. It has been said that continual improvements in storage technology will soon enable all the books ever written to be stored in something the size of, say, a book. Maybe. I am still skeptical."

RatDiem: "A copy of a copy of a copy is not the same as the original. There are transcription errors of all sorts that get introduced into the process as well as intentional culling of material and modifications of text to conform with prevailing religious, intellectual, political and social mores. From a historical perspective it is very important to have access to original editions of seminal works. As an example of the complexities of this, consider the difficulties biblical academics have had with the New Testament and how our understanding of it has changed through the years in response to the discoveries at Qumran amongst others."

One reader noted how things change over time.

Phillip Wynn: "As an intellectual historian, I have a comment and a question for you guys. I found the print EB, esp. early on and in the 19th cent., a valuable resource for tracing the history of ideas. Their very 'out-of-datedness' is what made them valuable. I worry that in our rush to be "up-to-date" we're doing a disservice to future historians. So my question is, do you know if the online EB archives its articles by date, so that we'll be able in the future to access 'out-of-date' articles?"

njsokalski: "I completely agree with you. History is about what things were like in the past. Sure, we may have written down celebrity deaths, oil spills, war status, and other things, but we will never write down everything like this. Electronic media are rarely something that we keep, except for certain documents like certain reports, essays, and maybe a few professional business letters. But even those could be lost in a second if your hard drive crashed, and historians probably won't go looking through the home computers of people, so that's almost irrelevant anymore."

Wikipedia came up in the discussion. Readers talked about whether it replaces traditional encyclopedias.

TommyNIK: "I'm not surprised. Even the online version is quite lame compared to Wikipedia ... don't laugh. Wikipedia, as long as you check the references and notes on the article, is highly accurate and reliable. I was a long-time subscriber to EB and all the yearbooks. So it is indeed the end of an era. EB will go the way of the USPS."

SupraPwn: "I think it's good that they're moving to the future. However, I also think that printed materials and other hard copies are very valuable. Online encyclopedias with their data on servers aren't as future-proof."

This reader was optimistic.

EvilGenious7: "I can see Encyclopedia Britannica still thriving despite Google and Wikipedia. When it comes to citing your work, EB is seen as much more accurate and respectable than the latter. Google and Wikipedia are a free-for-all, and should only be treated as a way to start an information hunt."

Enjoy this post? Come visit CNN iReport on Facebook and Twitter to continue the conversation. Share your opinion in the comments area below and in the latest stories on CNN.com. Or sound off on video via CNN iReport.

Compiled by the CNN.com moderation staff. Some comments edited for length or clarity.

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soundoff (31 Responses)
  1. ♔Mmmmm♕

    if they appit for say $3.00 I'm interested, anything else will be thumbs down...

    March 14, 2012 at 9:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jj

      I'll ask Obama today. He knows how to print things

      March 15, 2012 at 10:13 am | Report abuse |
  2. Joey Isotta-Fraschini©™

    I love books.
    I read them online sometimes, but if I like a book, I buy a good copy.
    I love opening a well made book properly.
    Reading everything online would be like living without escargots.

    March 14, 2012 at 9:50 pm | Report abuse |
  3. banasy©

    I have never read a book on a computer, and I never will.

    To me, that's sacriligious, lol.
    I agree with fernace.

    March 14, 2012 at 11:36 pm | Report abuse |
  4. drap

    My buddy Patchy McCyclops is somewhat concerned..that this will affect books by Braille... .

    March 14, 2012 at 11:44 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Lee Fong Lumberyard (R-Ohio) "Book Shredders starting at $239.99"

    CNN – Where my post...what do wit it. U rase me. Y U doo dat!!!

    March 15, 2012 at 12:13 am | Report abuse |
  6. drap

    This only the beginning... .!
    Farenheit 451... .!
    Oops got a little wound up..hittin the freezer for some Ben and Jerrys now... .

    March 15, 2012 at 12:26 am | Report abuse |
  7. chrissy

    wow and i have over 5000 books but was hoping to make it to l0,000. Will be difficult if they quit making them, and i dont want to read one on a damn computor. Hows that saying go, if something aint broke, dont fix it!

    March 15, 2012 at 1:02 am | Report abuse |
  8. Jeff Frank (R-Ohio) "Right Wing Insanity"

    I still have the set my late parents bought me about 1972, just before I went to college. They're oh so old now.

    March 15, 2012 at 2:11 am | Report abuse |
  9. Lee Fong Lumberyard (R-Ohio) "Book Shredders starting at $239.99"

    Oh yeah I remember taking a warm summer Saturday afternoons curled up on the couch spending countless hours reading about the world in those books. I loved them.

    March 15, 2012 at 2:17 am | Report abuse |
  10. dazzle ©

    I have considered getting a Kindle but a friend of mine half joking said, "what would you do when the nuclear winter comes?" I have amassed thousands of books in my life and always set up a library in my home wherever I live. In my attempt to live simply, the criteria is: is it useful, meaningful, beautiful, or sentimental. My books meet all of them. No electronic version can replace the tactile feel of a book and the coziness of snuggling in bed reading for hours at night.

    March 15, 2012 at 3:05 am | Report abuse |
  11. Scottish Mama

    I guess our book shelves will be filled with discs of encyclopedia's. We will have more space. But I agree there is nothing like a book, hot chocolate and a confortable chair. I also think about the time when a nuclear winter, or an internet blackout comes we will all be in trouble.(I think we will be scrounging for scraps of our previous existence)

    March 15, 2012 at 6:43 am | Report abuse |
  12. ♔Mmmmm♕

    ...you turtle eggs lovin' hypocrites...whateverr happen to savin the trees...lol

    March 15, 2012 at 7:28 am | Report abuse |
    • Scottish Mama

      Touche' miss Mmmmm. Although the library is recycling sort of. And you can burn books to keep warm.

      March 15, 2012 at 7:39 am | Report abuse |
  13. banasy©

    And how is every one supposed to live by "the good book" when all of that isn't going to exist after the meltdown of mankind?

    Some things should be left untouched by technology.
    What is that saying?
    Just because we CAN, doesn't mean we SHOULD.

    @Mmmmm: lol

    March 15, 2012 at 9:50 am | Report abuse |
  14. GOD 2012 HE'LL DECIDE


    March 15, 2012 at 2:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • FedUp2

      You know we really couldn't get that lucky. Eternally suffering the moronic seems to be the lot.

      March 16, 2012 at 3:42 am | Report abuse |
  15. brian p

    Way to easy to change history with a click of a mouse. I hate it. With no written or printed writings how will those in the future know us?

    The only old book that not needed to survive, and whose to say if it really did, is the bible. It was just a book found in the fiction section of some lost civilization book shelf. Everything in it is absolutely unverifiable.

    March 15, 2012 at 9:04 pm | Report abuse |
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