Professor James Murray, editor of the Oxford English Dictionary

The chief executive of the Oxford University Press, Nigel Portwood, made headlines recently when he announced that the third edition of Oxford English Dictionary (OED) would likely only exist in electronic form.  The decision has not been finalized, but the publication of the third edition is still years away from completion.   It’s no small task to create the multi-volume OED.  In fact, 80 lexicographers have been hard at work for the last 21 years to publish the third edition and it’s still only 28 per cent complete.  But, according to Mr. Portwood, “the print dictionary market is just disappearing; it is falling away by tens of per cent a year.” This fact seems to indicate that when the third edition is finally finished it would be more cost effective to only issue an electronic version of the multi-volume set.

Central Library’s Brown Baggers Book Group just finished Simon Winchester’s The Professor and the Madman; a fascinating story of the Oxford English Dictionary’s beginnings and of two important figures in the dictionary’s completion:  Professor James Murray and Dr. W. C. Minor.  I won’t ruin it for you if you haven’t read it, but one guy is the professor and the other is the madman.  There was a spirited discussion surrounding the painstaking process of not only defining a word, but tracing the etymology of a word.

It seems as if other high profile and traditionally printed media also recently announced the possibility of a jump into the paperless realm.  Maybe ‘announced’ isn’t the proper word.  Arthur Sulzberger, Jr., publisher of The New York Times, stated at a London conference in the beginning of September that “we will stop printing the New York Times sometime in the future, date TBD.” I’ll admit that when I read this my first thought was, “what a shame”…but I read the report online, which is how I get most of my news these days.  And, I suspect, most of us are reading about current events on our computers, iphones and ipods, Blackberry’s,etc. etc. etc.  Ladies and gentlemen, the digital age is upon us.  The question is where will we go from here?

If you’re interested in attending the Central Library’s Brown Baggers Book Group we usually meet the third Thursday of each month in the Madison Room.  The October meeting will be on the 2nd Thursday, October 14th, and we will discuss Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.  Hope you can make it!


  1. I may be a dinosaur, but I look forward to reading my newspaper in print form. I love the feel of the paper and the opportunity to browse the various sections as I please. Also, I can’t imagine doing “Second Glance” or the crossword puzzle electronically.

    Perhaps I pay a premium price to get my Washington Post and Daily Progress in printed form every day, but it is worth the price to me.

  2. Still there are times when the perfect collection of information is so much more easily consolidated and found in book form. The Gale Publications Directory (not correct title, I’m afraid) was so handy recently for someone searching for publications on a subject and by location. And it was at the Reference Desk at Central. Also, I can’t get cozy holding a metal “book” although it is nice to let a spouse sleep while you continue to read — just not cozy.

  3. Thank you both for your comments. I’m supposedly of a generation that is constantly attached to some electronic device or another, yet I to find that sometimes a print source or print material in general is way more satisfactory. I think there are more folks like us out there…but I think money and profit seems to be more of a motivator than sentimentality for the publishing world.

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