When my children get school projects these days, the bulk of their research is done online. They are the wired generation. So, it is not exactly surprising to hear the news that the Encyclopaedia Britannica is stopping its print publication and moving entirely into the digital platform. It is the only sensible choice in the Information Age.
And yet, this feels like a significant moment; it marks an important point in history. After 244 years, the Encylopaedia is acknowledging that knowledge is differently processed and distributed today. This is the era when no information may stay definitive for 48 hours, let alone from one print edition to the other. These are times when as we research music in Colonial America, we hope to hear a snippet or two of someone performing the music of those times, not a mere description of it. I am grateful for what I got from those well-researched and factually-reliable books; I am thrilled that today information is available with greater ease and more definition thanks to the Internet.
While I am a book person and have fond memories of times spent researching with those bulky volumes in school and college libraries, this is not an elegy to the Encyclopaedia. We have come a long way from the Ancient Library of Alexandria, and I like the democratization that has come with it. Knowledge is power, as the saying goes, and it’s good to have it in the Cloud.
As we learn to navigate this space where many informational articles and videos are uploaded every minute from around the world, I am going to share what I tell my kids about researching in a world where there is no One Voice of Authority:
- Researching is not just a matter of using the first website that comes up after you enter words in a search engine.
- No, Google and Bing don’t count as two resources.
- In a world of unlimited information, the onus is on you – the researcher – to examine the credibility of the source. Who is saying this? What is their motivation? Is there an agenda? Is this a citable source?
- Double check facts. Do not settle for the first set of numbers or stats that seem plausible.
- The world is at your fingertips; look for multiple perspectives on any given issue. You have no excuse to limit your understanding.