by Grace Feldman
This post has been adapted from a post on the Gallagher Law Library blog.
Do you remember the hilarious “Friends” episode where Joey wants to buy an encyclopedia set but can only afford to buy one volume, so he chooses the “V” volume and learns everything beginning with the letter “V”? With an encyclopedia, he became an unstoppable force of interesting facts, beginning with the letter “V”!
Until recently, I had completely overlooked encyclopedias and generally favored wading through long treatises on a specific subject. In fact, I couldn’t remember the last time I had looked at an encyclopedia until about a month ago when I had an occasion to search the online version of the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (I know it says “dictionary” but really, I think it’s an encyclopedia) and found the obscure person/answer I was seeking!
Looking at an encyclopedia again made me remember one of my first pleasant encyclopedic experiences. I was writing a report on Queen Hatshepsut for my fourth grade class, so I pulled a big volume of the Encyclopaedia Britannica from the public library to read what turned out to be a fascinating overview! This positive experience sparked a phase where I looked up anything I could think of in the encyclopedia, read the concise summary of information and felt like a genius. (That feeling has long since lapsed.)
The handiness and reliability of print encyclopedias have been translating to their online versions. Some will only give you a teaser for free (like the Encyclopaedia Britannica) but others are completely free! Check out a Free Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History at HistoryLink.org (Mary Whisner blogged about it back in 2009). Introducing some of our more Internet-centered patrons (Wikipedia addicts) to online encyclopedias may help reinforce the importance of reliability and authentication of information. A potential bonus is that some may catch the encyclopedia bug (like Joey* and me) and enlighten the world with their knowledge of Queen Hatshepsut, Vesuvius, volcanoes, vivisection, vas deferens and the Vietnam War!