I’m ashamed of it now, but when I was in fifth grade I was a proud child, proud of how rich I thought my family was. No, we weren’t as rich as the families up on “The Hill,” but we had something that the other families in our little beach neighborhood didn’t have, so it felt like we were rich. We had a spanking new set of the World Book Encyclopedia. I had completely forgotten about it until I read yesterday that the Encyclopaedia Britannica was closing the book on printing any more volumes, and new editions will only be online.
Before we had our own set of the reference books, we had to use the ones at the library to do our reports. The three encyclopedias that the library had were World Book, Funk and Wagnalls, and the Encyclopaedia Britannica.. I don’t remember anything about Funk and Wagnalls, but I do remember that I didn’t like Britannica because the print seemed too small, the layout was confusing, and the words were too hard to understand. The World Book was like the Disney version. When the salesman came to our door selling those coveted volumes and my parents decided to get our own set, I was beside myself. After the books were ordered, I came home from school every day and asked if they had arrived. At last the boxes came and my brother and I sat for hours perusing the beautiful pages with the gold edges, for my parents had ordered the deluxe version. The pictures were amazing, especially the one of the human body with its colored overlays showing all the muscles and skeletal system.
Every year a new volume came with updates on news and discoveries that had occurred since our set had been published. As I got older, I began to realize the limitations of my beloved books, for it was impossible for them to keep up with the fast pace of new developments. The world was changing too quickly. Of course Al Gore hadn’t invented the Internet yet, and we didn’t have home computers, so to do our reports in high school and college we had to research journals which were printed monthly. But they could never duplicate the excitement of those beautiful blue volumes that arrived at our door.