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Remember when ...

Published: Friday, Dec. 7, 2012 3:10 p.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, Dec. 7, 2012 3:11 p.m. CDT

There are many things that I say, “Remember When” about, but nothing makes me say that more than when I look up information on the Internet rather than going to a book. I am of the generation where we looked for research information in an encyclopedia.

Do you remember when owning a set of encyclopedias meant your family was among the upper echelon of the town, school or neighborhood? We didn’t own encyclopedias for many years when I was growing up. Then, wonder of wonders, the grocery store had a special offering — if you spent so much money, you could purchase each letter of a set of encyclopedias. My parents were diligent about it, and we ended up with all of the volumes. I don’t remember the name of the particular set, but A to Z, they were all there — the green, hardcover binders glowing, just waiting for someone to open them up and discover the words and information inside. 

One of my sisters was still living at home at that time, and she and I did use these books for school projects. Unfortunately, we did discover our grocery store encyclopedias were not the best, and when more in depth research into certain topics had to be done, we needed to turn to the “Funk & Wagnalls” set of encyclopedias, “World Book” or to the top of the heap books, or so we thought, “Encyclopedia Britannica.” “Encyclopedia Britannica,” even the name conjured up grandeur. Door-to-door salesmen would come around peddling their wares, usually at the beginning of each school year, offering payment plans so parents could provide their students with the great, unparalleled “Encyclopedia Britannica.” My parents never did buy, but I so wanted them to take the salesman up on his offer.

These books were glorious to me. Their leather-bound exterior brought prestige to any home or library. I soon discovered that not only did these books look impressive, but the information inside was astounding. For a girl from a farm outside of Tiskilwa, I could take myself to faraway places — Japan, India, Africa. I could find out more than I needed to know about all of those places and many more. I could read about presidents and dictators, wars and revolutions. Pretty amazing stuff! When I went off to college I didn’t use the encyclopedias as much, but I knew they were there, just in case I needed them.

By doing a little research, online, of course, I found out that “Funk & Wagnalls,” First Edition of 25 volumes was published in 1912. The last printing of “Funk & Wagnalls” was produced in 1997. “Encyclopedia Britannica” was first published in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1768 and included three volumes. For 18 years, in the 1920s and into the early 1940s, “Encyclopedia Britannica” was managed by Sears Roebuck. Somehow that doesn’t seem to fit with a company selling tools and washing machines. The final print edition of “Britannica” was published in 2010, and the company made the decision in 2012 that there will be no future print editions. “Encyclopedia Britannica” is still available in an online version. 

Interestingly, I discovered in my research that “World Book Encyclopedia” is still being printed. Cost of the 22 volumes published now is $1,164. “World Book” is also available on CD-rom and online. The “World Book” is based in Chicago, and a revised edition is published every year. Nice to know that if you are interested and have the spare cash, you can still purchase a print version of an encyclopedia. I checked with a local library and was told that yes, they still have encyclopedias, not new ones, but they are still on the shelves.

Now, what do we do? We ask Google to do the research for us, or we ask a question and Wikipedia gives us the answer. These resources online, as the encyclopedias of old, are pretty amazing. I discovered on Wikipedia that my own parents are the eighth longest living married couple in the world. I don’t know how Wikipedia found that out, but right there in black and white on my computer screen were the names of my parents listed at No. 8.

I enjoy researching online — it is so quick, easy and thorough, but I am not sure that it compares to dragging down from a library shelf the letter “A,” “M,” or “Z.” I reminisce about the process of the searching through and reading of those books. But, if I really want to know — I guess I’ll take Wikipedia. After all, my parents are in there!

Nita Wyatt of Wyanet can be reached at golfingfor2@ymail.com. 

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