Microsoft has announced that, in October, their encyclopedia product Encarta will be discontinued.
Is this a sign of the times or just a business case or a combination of both. It does make me ponder what I do for research. If my habits are any indication, I’d suggest that it’s a sign of the times.
First, I can’t recall the last time that I went to a printed encyclopedia. I do recall my parents purchasing the Art Linkletter Picture Encyclopedia when I was in elementary school. I do recall searching for some facts while in high school but that’s probably it.
I do recall that we purchased CD-ROM based Encyclopedias for our s
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chool district. It made a great deal of sense as we moved to an increasing use of computer technology for report generation and research. But, at the same time, the product that we purchased included links to a web support so that the CD-ROM wouldn’t become dated. It was a strategy that made sense but most users just turned to the web resource first.
Now, people including myself, don’t even consider print, CD-ROM or DVD-ROM at all. We turn immediately to electronic resources. To assist in this, I have a research page that I maintain on the Student Reference Portal. There is a collection of internet based free, Ministry of Education licensed, and Knowledge Ontario licensed resources.
Then, there’s Google and The Wikipedia. I listen and hear even the most devout librarians turning to these resources first. The logic is to use these for a quick overview research and then to dig into an authoritative resource. When you’re connected via the internet, you’re easily connected to original sources. Also, when you’re connected via the internet, you’re easily connected to authoritative and also to resources of dubious value.
We’re starting to see traditional media such as the CBC and many newspapers change their mode of doing business. Is Microsoft’s decision a foreshadowing of things to come in the encyclopedia business? Will free research resources continue to change the landscape?
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