I read a blog post recently about a guy who decided to light a match to his 32-volume set of Encyclopedia Britannica. His reason for doing this was that the Encyclopedia Britannica was outdated and no longer used thanks to online sites like Wikipedia. He couldn't even give them away. Schools and libraries don't even want a set of the Encyclopedia Britannica. You can't even sell them on e-Bay. NOBODY wants them. But personally, I think the guy was making a big mistake.
I own a 32-volume set of Encyclopedia Britannica that was published in 1958. Those were the days when encyclopedia salesman pedaled these expensive sets door-to-door. It was called the "Britannica Advantage" and part of the marketing was the knowledge this set of encyclopedias would give your child an edge over students in school.
The question raised by the announcer in TV commercials: "How far do your kids have to go when they need information in a hurry?" The voice over continues, "If only he had the new Encyclopedia Britannica at home." How could any loving, caring parent deny their child the Encyclopedia Britannica Advantage?
My parents didn't. They not only purchased the set of Encyclopedia Britannica with the yearbook subscription for the next 10-years. But they also provided me and my brother with Britannica Junior which had less info than its big brother, but was easier to use. We also had a new set of World Book Encyclopedias, which were much easier to read with less info, but more colorful pictures. Is it any wonder that I aced most reports and even corrected a professor in college about the philosopher and French mathematician Pascal, based on info gleaned from my time spent perusing these encyclopedias.
Maybe these encyclopedia salesmen were selling a dream, but for me it worked. I spent quite a bit of time reading and using my set of Britannica and World Book. Maybe in most homes, they were nothing more than a status symbol alongside a piano or a newly purchased color television in a big wooden cabinet. Similarly, the Encyclopedia Britannica came in their own self-contained mahogany bookcase.
When we moved from New Hampshire to Kentucky, we sent everything on ahead via United Van Lines. But it forced us to pare down stuff because you don't want to be moving junk across country.
We sold 2 window air conditioning units and gave one away, almost brand-new with remote control. We also gave away a nice Mitsubishi TV, books, cds, videos, wall units and other stuff. We sold a really good snow blower along with our cross-country skis, etc. But what did we keep? Our 32-volume set of Encyclopedia Britannica. Why?
What good is this old out-dated encyclopedia when we have access to the internet, Wikipedia, Google, Bing, etc? Each volume weighs in at a hefty 4-lbs. in a day when you can get the encyclopedia on your tablet, or quickly "google" the info you need. Do I miss the smell of the leather binding, or turning the crisp pages. No. My reason for holding onto to the Encyclopedia Britannica and displaying all 32-volumes prominently in our built-in living room bookcase has nothing to do with nostalgia.
In my next post, I'll tell you why we haven't set a match to our encyclopedias, and why we NEVER will. Stay tuned.