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Encyclopedias Browning



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I write this as I sit down to weed a set of yellowing 1994 Collier’s Encyclopedia.

I work at a private high school at which all of the students go on to 4-year colleges–a.k.a. a “prep school.” I used to teach at a college. Thus I think that students preparing for college should be taught to do research without encyclopedias. Most teachers can agree that students should not use Wikipedia– because it’s often biased or just flat-out wrong– but many will still allow the use of a “real” encyclopedia– that is, one that is not tirelessly, ceaselessly updated and is thus almost certainly outdated.

Encyclopedias are useful for elementary school students who need a basic grasp of something and for researchers who need a starting point or quick tutorial in a field they intend to research more thoroughly.  But they are not viable references for a college-level research paper, where peer-reviewed articles and monographs are more precise and more relevant to a sophisticated research project that aims to add knowledge to its field.

Thus, I want to limit my students’ use of encyclopedia in their high school research projects. My assistant convinced me to keep our subscription to the digital Encyclopedia Britannica for the moment, but as I filter encyclopedias out of their research toolboxes I hope to terminate that subscription. In the meantime, I hope to weed our paper encyclopedias that are more than 10 years old. (We do not have any paper encyclopedia less than 5 years old… but weeding the entire section might cause more of a stir than I can handle. Encyclopedias, for some reason, are revered and considered priceless no matter how old or populous they are, like collections of National Geographic.)

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