By Dr. Enrique T. Cayaban
The above question was asked by a library science student when I required a class to do some annotations of the recently -bought encyclopedias and other reference books in print version. This was last October to be exact. Some of the recently -bought encyclopedias are the ten-volume Encyclopedia of Philosophy, one volume Encyclopedia of Engineering, Encyclopedia of Science and Technology and Ethics and Encyclopedia World Atlas. Other references are 2006 World Almanac and Book of Facts, Guinness World Records, 2007, Construction Codes and Inspection Handbook, and others.
I was caught flat-footed by the question, nay, even stung, I guess. I never realized that such type of question would come from a library science student. I threw back the question to the class to see how they would answer. The question stung me because there seemed to be distressing truth in it. As they say, the truth hurts. To mollify myself, I shrugged it off with the thought, as many have insistently thought about it, that “this generation is not a reading generation, anyway.”
As a librarian, the question kept really bugging me for quite a time and had become a monkey on my back. Shrugging it off would only intensify the nagging question in my mind. The first thing that I did was to reflect on the question. My experience and my having rubbed elbows with luminaries and practitioners in field of librarianship tell me that there is, indeed, a downtrend in the use of reference books and libraries. This is a worldwide phenomenon which started when Information Technology got a firm hold and footing in all aspects of human endeavors. There are now libraries in the first world being turned into museums because there are few users. Libraries, indeed, are struggling for attention and use. And librarians are fighting an uphill battle to turn students and young people to be readers and library users.
When reflecting about the question as a library director, I found out that the question carries a lot more issues and concerns, e.g., the stupendous costs of the print version of encyclopedias, the time and effort in selection, the expenses in purchasing and processing, the big shelving space needed for encyclopedias and other attendant expenses. The more important consideration is its use by the intended and potential users. If the utilization of the encyclopedia by the students and other users is only a very-low or nil, to say the worst, then the money used for its purchase is useless; the time and effort, and even talent put into its processing become meaningless and worthless.
When I queried Google “is there a need for encyclopedia?” I couldn’t make heads and tails of articles or sites and pages presented on the screen. It’s getting more laborious these days to use the internet. It’s no longer an information superhighway or even a “smorgasbord of information” but dump sites information or landfill of anything.