An encyclopedia (or encyclopædia, cyclopædia, encyclopaedia) is a collection (usually a book) of information. Some are called "encyclopedic dictionaries".
All encyclopedias were printed, until the late 20th century when some were on CD-ROM. 21st century encyclopedias are mostly online by Internet. The largest encyclopedia in the English language is English Wikipedia, which has more than 5 million articles. The second largest is the Encyclopaedia Britannica, which is the largest one that is printed. Some languages have a larger printed encyclopedia and some have none. Some people think Wikipedia is also better, but others think it is less reliable. Either kind of encyclopedia can inform us on many different topics.
The first encyclopedias may have begun as lecture notes of teachers of ancient schools, such as Aristotle’s school. Each volume in the encyclopedia was for a different subject or course of study. The word encyclopedia at first meant the teachings of the school. The name "encyclopedia" is from the 16th century.
After the printing press was invented, dictionaries with long definitions began to be called encyclopedias. For example, a dictionary of science, if it included essays, was thought of as an encyclopedia or knowledgeable book on the subject of science. Some encyclopedias then put essays on more than one subject in alphabetical order instead of grouping them together by subject. The word, encyclopedia, was put in the title of some encyclopedias.
Companies were started for the purpose of publishing encyclopedias for the public use in libraries, which is different from when an encyclopedia was the curriculum of a private school. Like dictionaries, these publishers hired hundreds of experts to write articles and read and choose articles. Some internet encyclopedias allowed their paying customers to submit articles. Other internet encyclopedias accepted writing from non-paying users of the encyclopedia.
Types of encyclopedias
There are different types of encyclopedias. Some are general and have pages on lots of topics. The English language Encyclopædia Britannica and German Brockhaus are general encyclopedias. Some are about specific topics. For example, there are encyclopedias of medicine or philosophy. Others include the Dictionary of National Biography, the Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships, and Black's Law Dictionary. There are also encyclopedias that that cover many topics with one perspective or one cultural bias. The Great Soviet Encyclopedia is one of these.
There are two main ways of organizing printed encyclopedias: from A to Z (the alphabetical way) or by categories. Most encyclopedias go from A to Z.
Many dictionaries have similar information to encyclopedias
1913 advertisement for Encyclopædia Britannica, the oldest and one of the largest contemporary English encyclopedias
Encyclopedia for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.