The evolution of the Encyclopaedia Britannica: from the Macropaedia to Britannica Online

Dorothy Auchter (Dorothy Auchter is Reference Librarian at the Main Library, Ohio State University, Ohio, USA, <>)

Reference Services Review

ISSN: 0090-7324

Publication date: 1 September 1999


For over 200 years the Encyclopaedia Britannica has been the standard against which all other English language encyclopedias are measured. Although universally acknowledged as an outstanding reference work, it has endured a series of financial crises, questionable editorial decisions, and a difficult transition into the computer age. This article will examine the most controversial of the Britannica’s moves, the decision to divide the encyclopedia into the Micropaedia and Macropaedia. The many intellectual improvements that were introduced into the Britannica at this time were overshadowed by attention given to the unusual, sometimes frustrating, new arrangement of the set. An even greater threat to the Britannica’s livelihood has come from the electronic age. Ironically, it was only after the Britannica came online that many of the problems that were inherent in the printed version have been resolved.



Auchter, D. (1999), "The evolution of the Encyclopaedia Britannica: from the Macropaedia to Britannica Online", Reference Services Review, Vol. 27 No. 3, pp. 291-299.

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Copyright © 1999, MCB UP Limited

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