Last month, our book club read “The Prizewinner of Defiance, Ohio,” a memoir about a struggling family in the 1950s and a mother who enters contests to augment the family’s income. Our conversation about the book morphed into a discussion of what those times were like. It was a time when “housewives” were courted to submit jingles for popular products, when radio broadcasts and newspapers were still the main source of information about the world and traveling salesmen were regular visitors to households around America. Salesmen went door to door selling everything from “Fuller Brushes” to encyclopedias.
I didn’t anticipate how animated the discussion would become around our memories of using encyclopedias — for doing homework, looking at the sometimes exotic pictures and just the sense of pride over a family owning their own set. Encyclopedia sets were displayed proudly, and usually in a prominent place, in the home. I can remember how fascinating it was to turn each page and see information and beautiful pictures on a variety of subjects. It probably wasn’t that dissimilar to the feeling one has when accessing the internet for the first time and realizing you could instantly receive information on almost anything with the touch of your fingertips. Yet, the information on the internet can come from a variety of sources, some trusted, some not so much.
This led to one member asking if the library still kept a set in our collection. I am happy to report that your library maintains an updated set of The World Book Encyclopedia. In fact, as I was working at the reference desk the other day, a patron saw our new set and spent about 15 minutes poring over the pages with delight. Also in our collection are older sets of Encyclopedia Britannica and Americana. In addition to multipurpose encyclopedias, we have hundreds of encyclopedias that focus on a particular subject. There is an encyclopedia for American Folklore, Country Music, Women’s History in America and Star Wars Characters. Sports, The Crusades and World War I also have a special encyclopedia edition and most can be checked out. Just inherited a great aunt’s collection of glassware? Check out the “L.E. Smith Encyclopedia of Glass Patterns and Products.” Love comic books? Try the “DC Comics Encyclopedia.” Interested in identifying the trees you see on your weekly hikes? “The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Trees” just might be the answer.
So next time you need trusted and comprehensive information on a specific subject, stop by your library — and don’t forget about our online resources, as we have a great number available that you can peruse from the convenience of home. Funk & Wagnalls New World Encyclopedia has over 25,000 topics for you to explore, including images and biographies. Of course, we also have World Book Online, which has everything from the print version and more.