Hoarding is not collection development

Encyclopaedia Britannica

Encyclopaedia Britannica
Vol. 2
Britannica, Inc.
1946

Submitter: I am librarian of a small K-12 private school in the Persian Gulf. I have been working there for one year. This spring, I finally took on our terribly out-of-date reference collection. It was bad enough that we had 30-year old science encyclopedias, but a 1946 encyclopedia? And why do we have only one volume? Quick perusal confirmed that this volume went to press before Germany’s surrender in May of 1945: “Austria, from Nov. 1918 to March 15, 1938, was a Federal Republic…” when it was added to “Greater Germany.” Former Austrian territory is currently divided into seven administrative districts, each governed by “the Gauleiter, or Leader of the Nazi Party, for his district.”

Our school is located on the Arabian Peninsula, so “Arabia” is an entry of considerable interest for us. This begins with four full pages on the topic of “Exploration” (i.e., European and American travelers.)

The entry on aviation is fascinating. Why, there’s even one air field in the state of Missouri! According to the text, “Almost 100% regularity in flying to a published timetable is claimed for certain European air lines operating during summer weather… American international lines likewise approach 100% achievement of schedules.”  Obviously, this was before either O’Hare or Heathrow was built! Note that the map on p. 805 shows both aeroplane and zeppelin routes!

I find this volume simply fascinating. It does not, however, belong in my school’s reference collection–or in the library at all.

Holly: These are fun to look at, but one volume of Britannica from ANY year is questionable.  Even Wikipedia is preferable to this. (No disrespect to Wikipedia – it’s a great starting point for most subjects!)

More Old-Timey Reference:

Old “Time” Reference

Think Green!

“Modern World”

17 Responses to Encyclopaedia Britannica

  • Did some long-ago weeder miss a volume, I wonder?

    Probably interesting reading, but yeah, way too old for the typical reference collection.

  • Huh. It’s fascinating. Move it from reference to history.

  • It would be wonderful to own for historical reasons, but of course it’s useless as an encyclopaedia.

  • When does the Zeppelin for Petropavlovsk leave Batavia?

  • Interestingly, there’s probably quite a bit of that edition in Wikipedia. The 1946 printing is the latest version of the Encyclopedia Britannica in the public domain, and in the early days of Wikipedia there was a small but active group of editors who would use unedited Britannica articles to cover topics that were relatively evergreen and not likely to have an article worked up from scratch any time soon. Most of them were working from the ludicrously huge 1911 edition, but I’d be shocked if there weren’t plenty of articles on Wikipedia today that didn’t start their life as stubs “borrowed” from that volume of the 1946.

    Because if there’s one thing more thrilling than outdated encyclopedias, it’s a useless fact about encyclopedias.

    • I wish this site offered a means of expressing approval or admiration of individual posts! If it did, I would use it on yours.

    • Also, Wikisource (Wikipedia’s sister site of originalia) is transcribing the entire 1911 EB. Maybe other editions too, but that’s the biggest one.

    • The 1946 edition of EB may be in the public domain in the US, but I’ve never heard that before, and I’m pretty sure no one has been using it for Wikipedia. It’s hard to tell, because the copyright renewals have to be checked, but they show Mencken’s 1946 article on Slang was separately renewed, and then the new material in the edition copyrighted January 20, 1947 (R585295).

  • When I was growing up, we had the Encyclopaedia Britannica in our library, but we also had the complete Compton’s Pictured Encyclopedia from 1924 that had been my mother’s when she was growing up (although I am sure it would have been very out of date by the time she was a teenager…). I used to love browsing through the articles just because they were so obsolete and in some cases humorously so, such as the ones about fashion and health. Alas, it was left behind or tossed when my parents sold the house while I was in college.

    • We had one too! I don’t remember the year, but it was from the 20s and it was fun to look through. I remember a list of “exotic fruits” included bananas.

  • While libraries need to have up-to-date information, if there is space on the shelves, an older edition can provide a different point of view. It helps reveal the existence of revisionist history.

  • When I was a kid, we had a copy of the Britannica edition previous to this (or the one previous to that? From the 1930s, anyway) at home. It had an article titled “World War, The”, among other interesting bits.

    I think that when my parents eventually ditched it (~10 years ago) by giving it to a charity bookstore, it sold for a couple of hundred as a historical artefact.

  • Its not an ENCYCLOPAEDIA BRITANNICA, but I have a 1947 atlas that
    (among other things) called Vietnam ‘French-Indochina,’ Israel ‘Palestine,’
    Botswana ‘Bechuanaland,’ and calls Asians ‘Mongolians.’

  • Surely there must have been an additional volume to account for the end of the war, right? Big things are happening all the time, but the end of WWII seems too big to just ignore, and it’s not like the editors didn’t know it was coming.

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