I’m not even exaggerating when I say I almost cried when I read that the print version of the Encyclopedia Britannica is no more.
I’m not a dinosaur, okay? I can’t remember the last time I cracked an actual book to find information (besides, all my reference books are gone). I’ve prided myself for awhile now on being able to quickly access any information needed by me or anyone else in my family online.
But my love affair with encyclopedias goes way back. Back to the first report we had to write, in fourth grade. Everyone in the class had a state–mine was Kentucky–and we actually got to leave the classroom to go to the Resource Library down the hall (it was just an alcove with a couple of carrels and some shelves) to use the encyclopedias to find out the all-important state birds, flowers, and trees.
There was a set of old encyclopedias in every classroom. I remember impatiently waiting my turn for volume C so that I could write the short Columbus Day paper we all had to turn in. My method was to take each sentence in the encylopedia article and rearrange the words.
A few years later found me making trips to the public library to work on a country report, copying (by hand) every map I could find of Vietnam–topography, weather, agriculture.
I can’t remember how old I was when my father brought home a used set of encyclopedias that a friend at work was getting rid of. I was so excited. True, they were the 1959 edition of World Book, but a whole lot of history happened before then, you know? I had no trouble at all using them for my report on Ancient Egypt.
When I was in the 7th grade, I won the Regional division of the National Spelling Bee. The prize: a brand-new set of the 1980 edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica. If I recall correctly, they were worth $900. They looked magnificent, displayed on the shelves in our den. The fine print on the whisper-thin pages held so much information. They were so intellectual that at times I still used the beloved World Book. I loved the Micropedia section, which was kind of a miniature Internet–you could find anything in there!
The encyclopedias were boxed up 18 years ago, when my childhood home was sold. For 16 years I carried the enormous heavy boxes (well, John and the boys carried them) from home to home. They spent six years in the basement of our first home. Seven years in the attic of the next one. Finally, in our last house, with its built in shelving in the den, there was room to set them out–and John’s World Books too.
Well. You know how that ended. They’d long been unnecessary. Now with their value as shelf art destroyed, it didn’t make sense to drag them around any more. But when I read that article yesterday, I wished that I’d saved them just the same.