Brussels, Belgium, 10-11 October 2019

For the first time, many encyclopedias from across Europe and North America met to share experiences about how we address common challenges.

The Great Norwegian Encyclopedia (SNL), in cooperation with the European Parliamentary Research Service and The Mission of Norway to the European Union, organised the event, which we believe was the largest meetup of encyclopedias from Europe and North America ever.

Great Norwegian Encyclopedia Mission of Norway to the European Union European Parliamentary Research Service

The two-day conference was held on October 10 and 11, 2019 at Norway House, Rue Archimède 17, just across the street from the European Commission Berlaymont in Brussels. It was open to selected encyclopedic institutions from across Europe and North America. The goal was to get to know each other and to find possible areas of cooperation and learning.

Encyclopedias have gone through fundamental changes with the introduction and expansion of freely accessible information online. The financial basis of these historically respected institutions – the lucrative sale of books – has disappeared. This challenge has been met differently, depending on country context and institutional legacy: Some encyclopedias are continued as public service projects by commercial actors who see it as a social responsibility, even if it means losing money. Some are offered commercially as a part of a larger package of educational material. Some are state-run and financially supported, albeit with limited resources. And some are run by non-profit institutions, with a combination of public and private financial backing, by actors such as universities, science academies and private foundations. Some have been bankrupted and disappeared.

Some argue that encyclopedias have been successfully replaced by other knowledge sources online, and that public money should not be spent on expert-authored, verified online encyclopedias. Encyclopedias could, however, play a more important role than ever before: In the age of fake news, propaganda, bloggers and commercial “influencers” the time is ripe for a renaissance for encyclopedias. Some have gotten further than others in this process, but most institutions have started the journey. Our goal at this conference is to share experiences that can make each one of us better able to fulfill our obligation to enlighten our population and spread knowledge to everyone.

Organisations that attended

Bosnia and HerzegovinaAcademy of Sciences and Arts of Bosnia and Herzegovina1
CanadaHistorica Canada (The Canadian Encyclopedia)1
Spain (Catalonia)Catalan Encyclopedia1
GermanyBrockhaus NE1
OtherEuropean Parliament2
OtherEuropean Parliamentary Research Service1
FranceEncyclopædia Universalis1
GeorgiaGeorgian Encyclopedia2
CroatiaMiroslav Krleža Institute of Lexicography2
LithuaniaLithuanian Science and Encyclopaedia Publishing Centre1
LatviaLatvian National Encyclopedia1
MontenegroMontenegrin Academy of Sciences and Arts3
NorwayAllkunne – Norwegian Encyclopedia1
NorwayGreat Norwegian Encyclopedia4
SwedenSwedish National Encyclopedia1
UkraineNAS Institute of Encyclopedic Research2
USAEncyclopædia Britannica2


Thursday October 10th, 2019

  • 09:00 Registration and coffee
  • 09:30 Welcome address: Rolf Einar Fife, Norway’s ambassador to the European Union.
  • 09:35 Introduction to conference and program: Stig Arild Pettersen - Head of Communications, Great Norwegian Encyclopedia
  • 09:45 The European Digital Encyclopedia Landscape and Its Challenges: Naja Bentzen - Policy Analyst, European Parliament Research Service (EPRS)
  • 10:30 The role of Encyclopedias in Fighting Disinformation and Propaganda: Dace Melbārde - Member of European Parliament, Vice-Chair EP Committee on Culture and Education, and former Minister of Culture of Latvia (2013-2019)
  • 11:00 Coffee Break
  • 11:15 The Norwegian Encyclopedia Approach to Going Digital: Erik Bolstad - CEO and Editor-in-Chief, The Great Norwegian Encyclopedia
  • 12:00 Q&A
  • 12:15 Presentations of participating encyclopedias. What’s the status of the encyclopedias in each country?
    Order: Croatia, Italy, Latvia, Sweden, Georgia, Denmark, Montenegro, Germany, Bosnia-Hercegovina, Austria, Canada, Lithuania, Catalonia, Ukraine, Norway - Allkunne, USA (France on Friday).
  • 13:15 Lunch
  • 14:00-16:30 Presentations of participating encyclopedias continue
  • 19:30 Conference Dinner at Aux Armes de Bruxelles (everyone pay for themselves)

Friday October 11th, 2019

  • 09.30 Coffee
  • 10.00 Keynote address: Carrying the Heritage of Britannica into the Digital Age: J.E. Luebering - Executive Director, Encyclopædia Britannica
  • 10:30 Q&A
  • 10.45 Panel discussion: The Purpose of Encyclopedias in the Digital Age
  • 11:30 Q&A
  • 11.45 Lunch
  • 12.30 Round-table discussion: Where do we go from here? How can we cooperate?
  • 14.45 Finishing thoughts: Erik Bolstad - CEO and Editor-in-Chief, The Great Norwegian Encyclopedia
  • 15.00 End of conference
  • 18:00 Informal dinner at Le Roy, Grand Place

Costs and accomodation

Partificipation is free of charge. All participants should cover their own travel and accomodation costs.

Lunch is free. You will pay for your own breakfast and dinner. Conference dinner on Thursday is at Aux Armes de Bruxelles.

We tried to get a good price at a nearby hotel, but all hotels close to Berlaymont are fully booked during these days. Each participant should book their own accomodation.

Presentations of the encyclopedias

Each participating organisation should give a 10 minute presentation of the current state of their encyclopedia(s).

We’d like to get a good overview of the status in each country. It would be useful if everyone could include the following in their presentation:

  1. Brief history: Foundation, key events.
  2. Production model: Who writes the articles, review processes, editorial staff.
  3. Standing: The encyclopedias current standing in the population. Main user groups. Open access or paywall?
  4. Articles: Number of articles, update status.
  5. Readership: Number of unique visitors per month and number of read articles per year (pageviews), preferably from Google Analytics or a similar tool (not server logs).
  6. Organisation: Who owns the encyclopedia, number of editorial/other staff.
  7. Funding: Approximate annual budget and main funding sources.
  8. Main challenges: What are your challenges, main fears or embarrassments? :-)
  9. Main achievements: What are you proud of?
  10. Future: What are your main visions?

The European encyclopedias have a long and rich history. This is how Denis Diderot – the principal editor of the Encyclopédie – described an encyclopedia’s mission in 1755. It is still valid – almost 300 years later.

Denis Diderot

Indeed, the purpose of an encyclopedia is to collect knowledge disseminated around the globe; to set forth its general system to the men with whom we live, and transmit it to those who will come after us, so that the work of preceding centuries will not become useless to the centuries to come; and so that our offspring, becoming better instructed, will at the same time become more virtuous and happy, and that we should not die without having rendered a service to the human race in the future years to come.

Denis Diderot in Encyclopédie (1755), translated by Philip Stewart