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When I was a kid, one of my favorite fonts of knowledge was my school’s shelf of the World Book Encyclopedia (1969 Edition). As I was a kid in the ’80s, the encyclopedias were obviously pretty out-of-date, but there was sufficient content that wasn’t really going to have changed significantly in the 20-ish years between when it was published and when I was using it. It served my purposes beautifully; it was a convenient portal to information about the world that I could go to whenever I liked, whenever I needed it, whenever a helpful adult wasn’t handy to quiz.

During the 1980s, there was a rash of rural-school consolidations, wherein small one-room country schools were combined or closed altogether and the kids bussed into town. My school, Cottonwood Creek, District #70 was spared…in fact, it was still going until just this past May. Anyway, a couple of Box Butte County schools were closed down when I was 11, and the schools’ resources were first offered to the district that was taking in the displaced students, and if it wasn’t grabbed up, it was put up for auction. That’s how my family made the acquisition of our very own set of 1969 World Book Encyclopedias, as well as a fine selection of children’s books and some vintage textbooks.


I could look up my favorite subjects (Fashion! Dogs! Cats! Paintings! Dolls!) any time I wanted to. The “Paintings” entry in the P volume was one of my absolute favorites, constituting a generous survey of Western Art History, and a sadly brief sampling of more international artwork. I pored over the minuscule thumbnail-sized reproductions of famous artworks, and looked up the individual artists of my favorite pieces: Renoir’s delicate-complexioned, elegantly-dressed ladies, Degas’s dancers, Vermeer’s impressive women in their rich, sunny rooms, Matisse’s weird-but-compelling colors, Bruegel’s raucous scenes, and Hieronymous Bosch’s nightmarish visions.

Looking stuff up in the Encyclopedia was what I did before I could look stuff up on the Internet. I’d look up one topic, then look up something mentioned therein, or in the suggested related articles list. I’d open the book at random and see what there was to see on that page. Diagrams of the heart, instructions on how to make an amateur telegraph machine, photos of the assembly line process involved in building a car…just about everything in the world was in there. I could learn some basic facts about Russian culture, how beavers build dams, or what AKC class a Poodle is in (Sporting, if you wanted to know!)

Actually, there are times I’d still really like to have a set of encyclopedias on hand; they’re really convenient, especially when I can’t remember something enough to Google it, but I know where I could find it in the World Book. This is especially pertinent as regards art/art-history, but I’ve found myself wishing I could just go grab a volume and flip through.

I think I’m going to keep my eyes open in the junk shops and used book stores and see if I can’t get my hands on an old set of encyclopedias for cheap. Or see if my folks would let me have the old ’69 World Books. One way or another, I’d like to have a set of encyclopedias handy again someday. One consolation is Wikipedia’s Random Article search engine. It’s every bit as fun as opening a volume of the World Book at random, and sometimes way, way weirder.

2 Responses to “Welcome to my World(book Encyclopedia)”

  1. George Ecker says:

    I have a 1969 -33 volume set of ILLUSTRATED WORLD BOOK
    encyclopaedias for sale……….. 21 Volumes plus
    the 1969 Science annual, 1969-1975 Book of the Year,
    American History Guidebook-Vol 1, 1976-1975 Bicentennial Edition
    Family Physician, Vol. 1 & Vol. 2 & Nature Atlas of the America.
    Going on Cragslist next week…………….

  2. Meetzorp says:

    Thanks for the heads-up, but my mom inherited her grandmother’s set of encyclopedia and handed the coveted set of 1969 World Books on to me. I brought them home just before Thanksgiving.

    [WORDPRESS HASHCASH] The poster sent us ‘0 which is not a hashcash value.

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