Seeing the World by Encyclopedia

I’m still trying to figure out what I think of Encyclopedia Britannica’s decision to convert entirely to an online web subscription.  It would make updating entries more timely.  But it could encourage less information because of the nature of the internet.

I grew up with an encyclopedia.  My father bought the World Book Encyclopedia and the accompanying Childcraft series and dictionaries.  It was like having a library in our house!

The books were different than they look today.  The covers were black and functional, with gold lettering identifying the volume.  The M volume was enormous — always heavy when I dragged it out and spirited it off to my bedroom like buried treasure.

I didn’t have a desk, so I sprawled out on my bed with the different volumes.  Sometimes with a cat on the end of the bed, giving me cat eye slits for bouncing around and disturbing her nap.

And inside, oh, the pictures and illustrations.  One of my favorite books was the bright green Childcraft book “Stories and Fables.”  Some stories I read once, and I was done with it.  Others … there was a magic in them that pulled me back to revisit them.

The “About Animals” volume gave me information and pictures about cats.  We had three, and I prowled the photos of the breeds to identify what they were.  One was a silver tabby, and I always had to look for that picture first because it was my cat.  Those books were read so much they ended up with pages bent, food spilled on them, and pages stuck together.  Well-used.

I still go back to World Book Encyclopedia at my library for the first resource on a topic for my writing projects.  One of the best parts of flipping through the pages is spotting another topic I needed.  Encyclopedias have the magic of discovery the internet doesn’t have.

What do you think about the changes to Encyclopedia Britannica?  Do you think the conversion to digital only is a good thing?  What do you think will be the next change?

13 thoughts on “Seeing the World by Encyclopedia

  1. Oh, I can’t imagine growing up without an Encyclopedia – World Book was my favorite! I used to sneak volumes out of the bookcase in the hall at bedtime and read under the covers with a flashlight. I thought I was such a rebel!


  2. I don’t know if it’s a good or a bad thing, but I suppose it was inevitable as we continue to build a connected and digital planet. I like the idea of having easy access to all human knowledge wherever I can get online 🙂


      1. I probably haven’t read all the information that’s available regarding their plans, but I would think they would put it all online. Some of it might take a new form to take advantage of multimedia’s capabilities, so surely we’d see some audio and video to supplement the text.

        I’m rather partial to text, myself. I can skim for the information I’m looking for faster than a video would present it.


  3. I had tried to write a post about this but I couldn’t get it to work for me. However, you wrote exactly what I was trying for. I would sprawl on the living room rug with 2 or 3 encyclopediae in front of me. The appeal was the pure serendipity of flipping the pages and stopping when a picture caught my eye. The biggest problem with the internet as a research tool is that you lose the element of serendipity. You get only what you are searching for. When I want a restaurant address, that’s good. When I want to learn about the world, not as good.


    1. I’ve also found with the internet, it tends to give too little information. I found out more stuff I could for my book by simply hitting the various encyclopedias.


  4. livrancourt

    I’m not too bugged by it, because I think having a collection that holds snippets of knowledge about a variety of topics is what the internet is best at. When I watch my kids on the computer, they’re traveling a wandering path, pointing and clicking and going all over the place(when they’re not locked into a video game). Books are bets for in-depth information, especially if it’s a topic that’s not changing fast. IMHO. I think.


  5. I remember doing that with our encyclopedias as well! Thanks for reminding me of that. I loved the gold lettering on the covers and could spend hours looking things up. At one point, my parents let me move the whole set into my room. I thought that was pretty darn cool at that age.


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