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So Long, Encyclopedia Britannica

Thomas Whitley

Whilst browsing through some free Kindle books to "buy" I saw an entry for "Encyclopedia Britannica, 11th Edition, Volume 2, Part 1, Slice 1." I actually skimmed over it the first time, then vaguely remembered something about an encyclopedia, so I went back and checked it out. After about 2 or 3 seconds of "checking it out" I moved on. A few pages later, though, I thought back to that brief almost-encounter that I had with a former love of mine. I had dismissed this "book" because, seriously, who uses encyclopedias anymore? We have the internet. And even in my field, where we do real, serious research and read stuff people have actually spent time researching and writing (as opposed to this blog post and others like it) like books and peer-reviewed journal articles, we still use the internet to access most of it. I even use my Kindle to read journal articles these days so I don't have to read them on my computer screen or print them out and take up space in an already-too-full filing cabinet in my office. All of this got me thinking about how the very nature of research has shifted since the advent of the internet and the ubiquitousness of information (not necessarily good information, but information nonetheless). It's really no wonder most students have no idea how to do actual research. If they can't Google the answer in about 0.56 seconds, then the answer simply can't be found, or so they think. Gone are the days that I remember (and still partake in quite frequently) of being holed up in the library, searching the catalog, thumbing through books - yes! real books - and taking copious notes. Gone are the days where encyclopedias were where one started his research; using it as a thorough introduction (and often a great bibliography, to boot).

This paradigm shift saddens me a bit, but I know that we actually can do real, serious research in our day and age. I do it all the time. I read books (some on my Kindle), journal articles (most on my Kindle), and biblioblogs daily. My university's library website is one of the 9 favorites on my customized browser home page (thanks to Chrome and the Speed Dial extension that allows me to have such a beautiful, utilitarian home page). In fact, I believe that we can do better and more efficient research today with the resources that we have at our disposal. We can sit in our dimly lit offices and lament amongst ourselves that "the youth these days just don't know how to do real research like we used to do" or we can do something about it. It is our responsibility to teach those coming after us and sitting in our class rooms how to research. So, while the days of pulling the volumes of Encyclopedia Britannica off the shelf may be gone for most, we have not lost the ability to research and to do it well.

Happy researching!

P.S. You can apparently access excerpts of articles on the Encyclopedia Britannica website.