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Commentary: Save those encyclopedias

I'm reading a book where the author remembers that, back in his father's day, every family had a pair of binoculars and a set of encyclopedias and no one used either. That grabbed my attention. It probably would not surprise you that I'm of his father's generation, and yes, we do have a pair of binoculars around here that nobody uses and a 20 volume set of World Book encyclopedias with annual supplements for the years 1972, 1973 and 1974. But — our encyclopedias get used.

I mentioned in an earlier column that we are downsizing in preparation for a move. I told you about a series of about 30 historic newspapers that included World War II, Kennedy Assassination and 9/11 headlines that, painfully, I had to get rid of but refused to throw away, and I offered them to the first caller who would take them and promise to care for them. Well, Holly called and made the necessary promise. She was thrilled to get them and I was thrilled that she was thrilled. A win-win solution.

So you're wondering why anybody working on downsizing would hesitate to throw away 23 volumes of old history. Well, I'm not hesitating. I'm not going to throw them away and I'm not offering them to the first Holly who comes along.

First of all, the history of the world from the beginning of time through 1971 has not changed since 1971. Secondly — and I know this will surprise some of you who think the internet has all the answers — the internet DOES NOT have all the answers, and sometimes it even has too many.

Let me give you an example. If I wish to study a succinct summary of the history, culture, language, religion, arts, crafts and trades of the American Indian, World Book provides me with the big picture in 31 pages of scholarly discussion.

If I go to Wikipedia on the internet, I'm told that the same subject will be "disambiquated." I had never heard that word before, but it is defined as "establishing a single grammatical or semantic interpretation." Whatever that means. Then it points me off in separate directions in order to resolve conflicts in ambiguous articles. No thank you. I'm seeking clarity, not conflict or ambiguity.

I'm not knocking research on the net. I do it often and I appreciate it. But it's not the end-all and it's not the death of the encyclopedia.

I never find porn in World Book and neither do children who are paging through the books. It is a much preferred place for just browsing. And I never discover programmed commercials telling me to buy embarrassing products, and never experience interruptions in World Book. Besides, I can keep two or three volumes open at the same time, going back and forth, without closing one down. I can't do that on my computer. Further, my World Book does not shut down due to overheating, computer freeze, or without explanation, doesn't require wi-fi, doesn't try to scam me, doesn't get a virus, and doesn't require me to purchase programs to protect me from all those problems. Instead, I find reports written by writers more scholarly and dependable than Wikipedia volunteers.

I don't advocate your throw out your computer or stop using it for information. I'm not going to. But don't throw out those encyclopedias either. They're still fun and useful, even though libraries don't have them anymore. As a matter of fact, if you've already thrown yours out or never had them, go to your nearest thrift store. They'll chuckle, but they'll be glad to sell you what somebody else foolishly dumped.