In the fourth lesson of this course I was asked to reflect on whether those of us who are supporting both print and electronic reference resources are fighting a losing battle and how do student preferences for electronic resources affect my purchasing.
I do think that attempts to support both print and electronic resources are a losing battle but the reasons for the battle loss are not straight out student preference. Cost and accessibility are also significant issues. A subscription to World Book Online provides much more value than purchasing the print version. I can have an entire school all at once (24/7, both at school and at home) having access to three versions of the encyclopedia (Kid,Student and Advanced) as well as an online atlas and dictionary for an entire year for less than the cost of purchasing one set of World Book Student Encyclopedias. The low annual subscription cost is due to bulk purchasing licencing agreements through our school district. The ability to have a set of encyclopedias in the hands of every student via the electronic version is an incredible boon to learning. It is rare that just one student needs access to an encyclopedia-it is often a large group. Teachers won't consider suggesting a student use an encyclopedia unless it is possible for all students to access one at the same time.
The additional value of having this reference data linked to other articles and web resources as well as video and audio makes the print version pale in comparison. It is only with the very young learners in grades one and two that a print resource can be more time effective and useful. Young students often can get lost in the complex interface of an online source and cannot read or follow the text as easily. This argument is moot if I cannot afford multiple sets of encyclopedias to provide reasonable access.
The rate at which much of the information changes in our encyclopedias is increasing and our tolerance as a society for even slightly date information is less and less because of the ubiquity of electronic resources. And as a small aside, I am not sure from an environmental perspective we can justify purchasing printed reference works that need to be discarded long before they have physically worn out. More electronic resources means less trees cut down.
For the aforementioned reasons I only purchase a single set of print encyclopedias and a few dictionaries and atlases and rely electronic reference subscriptions. Perhaps if I had greater funds available, I would keep a larger print collection but resources are so limited that I cannot afford or justify both. In two or three years time when it comes time to replace my print set (which has been mostly used by me) I will be hard pressed to justify its purchase.