As the era of the paper book draws to a close, students across the world are finding research more and more difficult to do well. While the assumption could easily made that information found in a printed volume has credibility, the same assumption cannot necessarily be made about the information found through the world’s largest resource: the internet.
Enter the online encyclopedia. Though user edited sites like wikipedia provide a one stop shop for users seeking information about nearly any topic, students and scholars are forbidden to use them. Surprisingly enough, there are few credible substitutes. A free online encyclopedia, edited by experts and compiled by knowledgeable researchers represents a hot commodity for the modern scholar.
Many well known hard copy encyclopedia companies have chosen either to remain in the paper book market or to require paid subscriptions for access to their online information. Few have chosen to go the route of the free online encyclopedia, though such a site would be prized by those seeking credible online information. An online encyclopedia free to the user provides a resource that could prove invaluable to high school students and college professors alike.
For one, online encyclopedias represent a significantly easier process for locating information. A typical user experience for a paper encyclopedia involves locating the correct volume based on alphabetical organization, finding an article pertinent to the area of interest, and then repeating the process in order to locate further articles about relevant topics. Part of the ease of online encyclopedias comes from better capabilities for search, indexing, and cross referencing. To use an online encyclopedia, the user need only type a keyword into a search bar in order to access several relevant topics and will most likely find links to relevant articles included in the text of the entry.
An obvious difference between the paper encyclopedia and the online encyclopedia comes down simply to space considerations. An online encyclopedia takes up no space for the user, but can be accessed anywhere, whereas the paper encyclopedia often takes up feet of shelf space and is usually only accessible in libraries. The limited availability of the paper encyclopedia is mainly due to the immense space consideration as well as the investment involved. The 2013 World Book Encyclopedia runs at a steep $999. A free online encyclopedia gains the upper hand in considerations of both space and investment.
It should also be noted that print encyclopedias issue new editions on an annual basis as the information is updated. Print encyclopedias can quickly become outdated, rendering the costly investment useless. The online encyclopedia, on the other hand, can be updated more frequently and requires no repurchasing on the part of the user, provided that the encyclopedia falls under the free online encyclopedia heading.
The pros seem to outweigh the cons, and it seems clear that free online encyclopedias will have a hand in the future of scholarly research.