acepuppets

Encyclopaedias – do they still have a place in the digital world?

Posted on: March 17, 2012


This week Britannica announced that they were no longer going to produce a book version of their encyclopaedias, this is a definite sign of the times.  However I think people may purchase e-book versions and move on with technology.

Encyclopaedias always seemed to have strange place in people’s homes, they were extremely expensive and cost the price of a car many years ago.  They were  displayed in a special cabinet and were paid for by higher purchase which was a little bit like paying a mortgage for the books.  So it was hardly surprising that they were rarely read, which defeats the point of having them.

My mother’s family had a set of encyclopaedias kept in a display cabinet to keep them pristine and perfect.  The ritual to read the books involved; putting a special table cloth on the table, washing your hands and turning the pages as if the book was an ancient Bible.  As a child I would observe these fountains of knowledge in the display cabinet and sensed that they were so special that I didn’t read them either.  So an incredible amount of information in wonderful books wasn’t even looked at because they became ornaments rather than books.

I have a set of children’s encyclopaedias, they are American and from the ‘World Book’ series.  I bought the complete set of twenty two pristine books from the local library for £10 – bargain!!! I am delighted and the books are kept on a low shelf in the sitting room so that they are accessible to my son and because I paid such a low price for them there is no ritual involved and my son is encouraged to look at them.  He is nearly three now and was only a year old when I bought them so his interest in them started off as pulling them off the shelf and building towers with them.  Now he will bring a book to you and ask you to tell the story about the pictures and respond by saying, ‘good story, good story’, and proceed to get another book to find out about the pictures.  My brother found this amusing with the first five books but we had to try to stop Alistair taking the whole set for him to look at.

I really like being able to dip into the books and learn new facts by flicking through the pages, my son has a hunger for knowledge and I hope that he will enjoy dipping into them as he gets older.  I intend our encyclopedias to be dog eared, well read, cherished by my family, dusty and faded – this means that they will have been well used and properly loved rather than worshipped.

PS.  The spell check doesn’t seem to like any version of encyclopaedia so I apologise for the spelling error.

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