What are the White Pages?

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  • Written By: Michael Pollick
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 26 August 2019
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The publication known informally as the "white pages" is actually a directory of names, phone numbers and mailing addresses generated by phone companies and distributed to their customers and public venues. Although a modern phone book may have both yellow and white sections, the white pages provide only basic contact information about individuals and businesses, while the yellow pages contain sponsored advertisements. The white pages of a phone book may also contain pertinent contact information for local governmental services, a history of the area, and various indexes for placing international calls and other specialized phone services.

The publication of white pages is almost as old as the telephone itself. It is believed that the first telephone directory appeared in New Haven, Connecticut during the late 1870s or early 1880s. It named all 50 telephone customers in the New Haven area on one printed page. As the number of telephones increased, so did the size and scope of the white pages which accompanied them. The compilation and updating of all of this new information was a painstaking task for telephone company employees before the invention of computers and high-speed printers.


The white pages as we know them today still contain personal contact information for the authorized owner of the telephone account, but additional information about other family members and alternative phone numbers can be added. Customers can also request that their personal information not be listed in the public white pages, although the phone company can charge a fee for the privilege of anonymity. Female customers can also request that their first names only appear as initials in the white pages, in order to discourage criminals from scanning the phone book for single female residents.

With the advent of computer databases and Internet connectivity, the traditional paper form of white pages now has a number of competitors. The Supreme Court has determined that the information contained in telephone white pages is not protected by copyright, so it can be compiled and distributed by sources other than the telephone company. Electronic versions of the white pages can be accessed online or be published on CD-ROMs. The information generally found in the white pages in the United States can also be accessed by dialing the phone numbers for directory assistance or information.


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Post 4

@irontoenail - Well, maybe more places can make it a voluntary process to get a phone directory or something like that. It just seems like a massive waste of paper to me that so many households have these directories that they don't really use.

There should be a way to opt out of receiving it.

Post 3

@Fa5t3r - The white pages directory is still used by a large number of demographics in a community. Not everyone has access to the internet and not every number is going to be available online either. And there are plenty of businesses where it makes much more sense for a copy of the white pages to be made available to employees who might need it, rather than giving them access to a computer or the internet.

I hope the white pages doesn't get shut down any time soon, because I just don't think we're ready for that as a society. Maybe one day the internet will be so widespread that no one will be without it, but until then lines of communication depend on access to old fashioned paper directories.

Post 2

I've got to wonder how long the white pages is going to last with the ubiquity of the internet and cell phones. I don't think I've used a phone book for years as it is, since I will generally go to the internet to search for a business and their contact details and many of my friends simply don't have a land line these days, or prefer to go unlisted.

It's expensive to compile and print a directory which is usually distributed for free and I doubt the cost will be justified for much longer.

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