Appalling news today of the closure of Chambers Harrap in Edinburgh, my first dictionary employers. As BBC news points out, this “marks the end of a 200 year association with Scotland for the dictionary”; of course they mean the Chambers Dictionary/ies, rather than The Dictionary — there are still dictionaries published north of the border — but it shows just how bad things are in reference publishing. I was going to entitle this “Hachette job” after the parent company, but it doesn’t really seem like a laughing matter, least of all for the 27 people who are apparently going to lose their jobs.
Classy picture there from the BBC (right). I love the way that, in order to illustrate the piece, someone has just heaved their office copy of Chambers off the shelf, plonked it down on a clean area of carpet and pointed their cameraphone at it. Is this the photographic equivalent of what’s happening to reference works? It’s become so easy to lay your hands on some recycled content you nicked from somewhere (just as I do right), or knock up something yourself which can then propagate itself all over the internet. In one way that’s liberating and democratic, but surely it must be accompanied by an awareness of when something, like that excuse for a photo, is so embarrassingly rubbish as to be unprofessional. Is this casual lack of discrimination, amid a plethora of unmediated information, actually part of the disaster that’s happening to dictionaries?