These days any question can be answered by a quick look online at Google. My grandson even poses questions to Siri on the IPad, not wanting to be bothered by typing in the question. But when I was in school the only source for information was the “World Book.” This multi-volume encyclopedia sat in every classroom and in the homes of my friends who had more money than we did. Eventually, when all four of us were in the same elementary school, my grandparents bought a set for our home. We were absolutely thrilled to be able to do our homework at home rather than at school.
When we had to do reports, whether on countries, states, flags or crops, we consulted the “World Book.” In fifth grade I had to research diseases, though I have no idea why. I brought the bar chart to my teacher hoping for an explanation of the very prevalent “venereal diseases” illustrated in the graph. She very calmly told me that venereal diseases were ones that people gave to one another. I remember going back to my seat mystified by her answer since I figured most diseases were ones people gave to one another. The “World Book” had no entry explaining venereal diseases, so I remained clueless.
By the time I got to high school the “World Book” had been replaced by the “Encyclopedia Britannica,” the Google of its day. Their articles were more in depth and written by experts in their fields, at least according to the preface. There were many fewer pictures, however, and they were less fun to sit and read. I knew no one who owned a set at home. Many years later I actually had an encyclopedia salesman come to our door. I had always thought the job was apocryphal, but apparently not.
The last encounter I had with encyclopedias came at the grocery store. You could buy a volume each week until you had a full set. They were called “Funk and Wagnalls” and I passed. Something about that name didn’t evoke confidence!