The Merck Manual, the old library-shelf standby, has gone the way of Encyclopaedia Britannica and even many newspapers, and is now available in this country only online.

For 126 years, the professional manual has been a quick reference, if not a lifesaving one for doctors, especially medical residents. A printed version for consumers will also cease publication, the books' editor says.

New online versions will allow readers to access either one.

"I am personally very, very excited because I got to build my dream manual," said Dr. Robert Porter, editor-in-chief of Merck Manuals, a name that comprises both versions. He's not sad to see the bound versions disappear.

"Not in the least," Porter added. Underscoring that, Merck Manuals launched its Global Medical Knowledge Initiative during a news briefing Wednesday at Chelsea Market in Manhattan. The idea behind the initiative, Porter said, is to provide a vast cybercenter for comprehensive medical information.

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Porter said a survey of 2,000 adults nationwide revealed 79 percent of respondents felt that having the same medical information as doctors would improve their grasp of personal health issues. The new consumer/professional manuals will have a toggle function allowing users to choose between the versions.

Despite the move to digital, medical professionals in several countries still want the bound version. The Merck Manual, therefore, will be printed in Brazilian Portuguese, Chinese, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean and Russian.