03/16/2012 05:46 pm ET

Encyclopedia Britannica Prints No More: A Family Dinner Table Talk

This week's Family Dinner Table Talk, from HuffPost and The Family Dinner book:

Once upon a time, people used thick, heavy reference books to look up information. And up until this week, the oldest, continuously published one in the English language was the Encyclopedia Britannica. After 244 years of lining families’ shelves and school libraries, however, the company is shutting down the encyclopedia’s print edition and refocusing efforts on its digital subscriptions. The company’s president says, “It’s a rite of passage in this new era.”

Britannica hit its peak in popularity in 1990, when it sold the most sets of any other year. But in the span of only a couple decades, sales have dropped -- everyone goes online for everything now. Spending $1,395 for a 32-volume encyclopedia set when they can log on to free websites like Wikipedia to learn and do their research instead... it seems archaic. But, the Internet's version of an encyclopedia -- Wikipedia -- is community generated and is often criticized for not having consistently accurate facts.

So which is more reliable: a single, authoritative source or the wisdom of the crowds? This Slate article argues for the latter, saying that the freedom of the Internet allows readers to question everything and find out for themselves whether something is true or not. Others are nostalgic for perhaps not the use of the encyclopedia, but all that it symbolized and was personally remembered for. Change is inevitable, but talking about why it happens will always be important, so let's do just that for tonight's family table.

Questions for discussion:
  • When's the last time you used a print encyclopedia? How about a dictionary?
  • Before the Internet, how did people do research papers or look up information in general?
  • How does it feel to hold a book? Are we losing something by going online for everything?

This Week's Recipe:
Each week, we give you something to talk about at dinner time, and now, something to eat too! Tonight's recipe comes to us from Food 52: Alice Waters' Ratatouille.


In her new cookbook, The Family Dinner, Laurie David talks about the importance of families making a ritual of sitting down to dinner together, and how family dinners offer a great opportunity for meaningful discussions about the day's news. "Dinner," she says, "is as much about digestible conversation as it is about delicious food."

We couldn't agree more. So HuffPost has joined with Laurie and every Friday afternoon, just in time for dinner, our editors highlight one of the most compelling news stories of the week -- stories that will spark a lively discussion among the whole family.

Click here to see last week's Family Dinner Download

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For more tips and recipes, check out The Family Dinner: Great Ways to Connect with Your Kids, One Meal at a Time by Laurie David and Kirstin Uhrenholdt (