The last encyclopedia set my family bought was back in 1997, when the local distributors of World Book were still aggressively selling big tomes of knowledge as investments for children. After leafing through every volume for a few years – and getting the “walking encyclopedia” jokes every now and then – the big maroon-and-grey tomes are somewhere in a bookshelf back home, consulted only when Wikipedia fails, or when there’s nothing to read (in a house full of books and magazines, that sets the alarm bells off to buy new ones on sale).
I wonder how much Wikipedia has affected encyclopedia sales. Teachers are getting less stringent with the rules of scholarship, allowing Wikipedia URLs to be appended in bibliographies in APA-style or MLA-style notations adapted for cut-and-paste. The micropedia and the macropedia of Encyclopedia Brittanica, as comprehensive (and impressive-looking) as they are, don’t really count for much when it’s easier to just search for the topic on the Web; the font of all knowledge being sans serif.
Not that encyclopedia salespeople have crashed their cars somewhere to get out of the rut.
I wonder what to make of the brochures, or what brand of encyclopedia is better. World Book, in all its tackiness and acetate transparencies in Volume H, is an average-consumer thing. Collier’s had those nice stitched bindings and covers, but had a lot of missing articles. I wouldn’t know much about Grolier’s, except that my teachers advised against them. Those who devour knowledge (and have the money to spend) go for Brittanica. As far as investments for children go, there’s Childcraft: the sure-fire way to make a Cerebrate out of your child, before he or she starts demanding for more comprehensive material. Or those mini-books made by Ladybird. Then there are those encyclopedias with those two Japanese children going through life… I can’t place my name on it right now.
Then there’s SRA: my favorite thing about childhood. If there’s any thing that could improve the English-language skills of our children, it’s the SRA Reading Laboratory.
Of course they’re kind of “worthless” now, since lumbering encyclopedias have been almost replaced completely by Wikipedia. Not that no one uses encyclopedias anymore; it’s just that the door-to-door encyclopedia salesman has sort of died with the times, outlived by the papag vendor and door-to-door evangelists.
Although it makes me wonder what ever happened to this guy:
It’s just something in my eyes, I guess.