Surveying the 1995 Encyclopedias on Disc: Encyclopedia Britannica on CD-ROM

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Encyclopedia Britannica on CD-ROM, 800/323-1229, http:www.eb.com, $995 ($499 for print purchasers)

Of course, Britannica is to encyclopedias as the Oxford English Dictionary is to dictionaries--both represent the staggeringly massive ongoing culmination of a couple hundred years of meticulous scholarship, and unlike mere pipsqueaks like Encarta or Grolier, both made front-page news when they first went electronic. Britannica's strengths are also its drawbacks for many libraries--the encyclopedia is inappropriate for some libraries; its staid nature will not allow much additional multimedia content (particularly if thrown in without a couple decades scholarship supporting the particular choices), and the price tag is, of course, severe.

Britannica first went electronic in 1993 in text-only form under the title Britannica Instant Research System (BIRS) in a two-disc format meant to be transferred to a large (1 GB) hard disk. It was for serious professional use and rather expensive. Between the technical requirements and the price, it was quite out of reach for most libraries and definitely for the home. …