Before Google

Thursday, June 6, 2019 Permalink

I was having a conversation with a friend on the weekend and she said she’d been trying to explain to her 7yr old son, the concept of ‘looking stuff up’ or ‘research’ before the internet (and before google). She was planning, she said, to buy a hard-copy dictionary so he could learn how to use one.

We were reminiscing about our own childhoods and the encyclopedia we soooo relied on for homework and the like.

Her family were fans of the Encyclopedia Britannica. Mine, bizarrely had several. We were far from wealthy but my parents obviously valued our education and we had a few options growing up, from Funk & Wagnells (and yes, you can imagine how much fun we had with those), some purple science type ones (that my older brother will probably remember better than me) and the 1970-80s pièce de résistance: World Book encyclopedia.

Of course now we couldn’t even imagine the concept of ‘static’ information. In our ever-changing world hard copies of ANYTHING representing contemporary thinking or current research would be redundant before the books were even printed and disseminated. I mean, even Wikipedia can’t keep up with world happenings. (And yes, I know one can’t rely on Wikipedia!)

However… I’m reminded that the process of research was far different (back when I was a boy 😉: the excitement when you found what you were looking for. Having to read it and take notes. Of course none of us had photocopiers at home so we couldn’t just ‘copy’ the pictures if any were provided. It was a whole different world.

But (as it happens) MY favourite reference books growing up weren’t encyclopedia. Well, I don’t think they were. My parents must have bought them when my brother and I were very young because they had always been a part of our lives.

before google

Childcraft – The How and Why Library was printed by the publishers of World Book. The first version was introduced in the 1930s, with another in the 50s and another in 1973. Interestingly our version is printed in the mid 60s so doesn’t quite match up with the listing below. I don’t really remember what was in most but I had two clear favourites.

My brother had taken the set when he had his daughter and was recently ditching them. I didn’t remember the ‘numbers’ but could describe the two I wanted to keep.

Number 2: Stories and Fables and; Number 9 in our version: Make and Do.

I was a bit of an Enid Blyton addict as a child so am fairly sure the only place I learned about fables (as opposed to fairytales), was from volume two of the Childcraft library.

And… my childhood bestie (and neighbour) and I attempted MANY of the suggestions in the ‘make and do’ volume. I wasn’t particularly creative as a kid and my brother remembers making animals out of soap and I remember him making a castle with a drawbridge etc but my neighbour and I tried the intercom – meant to go from her window to mine across the dividing fence (#spoileralert: it didn’t work) and the lemonade stand (another failure as we lived in a cul-de-sac with no through traffic).

I suspect if encyclopedia exist at all nowadays it’d only be online versions. And I wonder if there’s any point given that so much general information on the internet is free. Perhaps they have ‘added extras’ to lure youngsters and their parents in, who knows?!

I suspect by the time today’s Gen Y or Millennials are my age they’ll be reminiscing about the days they used this archaic thing called ‘the internet’ to do research, feeling (as I do now) agog at our naiveté mixed with a bittersweet sense of nostalgia.

Did you have encyclopedia growing up? Or not? Do people just google stuff now, or can you still buy / subscribe to them?

** Linking up with the lovin life gang again this Thursday **

  • Sydney Shop Girl
    June 6, 2019

    So many memories! Funny you should raise this, Deb because I was laughing to myself as I helped my son with his homework. There were some research questions where you had to explain how you’d find things out. The honest truth? Google…

    I do miss Childcraft though. I wonder if there’s an e version out there.

    SSG xxx

    • Debbish
      June 6, 2019

      When I was googling I noted quite a few for sale on eBay etc, much newer versions than we had. And I must admit, flicking through the Fables (etc) volume reminded me of some of the great stories in there from other cultures etc… Must re-read!

  • Min Write of the Middle
    June 6, 2019

    Oh the good ‘ol days before Google! We had all those books you mentioned in your post and those photographed and had a whole set of world encyclopedia’s. How on earth did we ever write accurate and up to date assignments? Mum used to write away for brochures and project material because of course we couldn’t cut pictures out of the encyclopedia’s! I remember the excitement when this stuff would arrive in the mail! Mum still has those encyclopedia’s – they’re a fixture for many decades now in her wall unit! lol 🙂 #TeamLovinLife

    • Debbish
      June 6, 2019

      My mum had a big bag full of pictures – of animals and flowers and trains and buildings etc that we could use for assignments and projects. She’d obviously cut a heap out every so often and put them away for us. I don’t remember using them in high school though.

      And of course no one would have questioned the veracity of the info / its timeliness back then. No #factchecking.

  • Kathy Marris
    June 6, 2019

    Oh yes we had a set of Encyclopedia Britannica when I was young and they were treasured objects in our house. In fact we had to ask permission to read them. I was recently at my friend’s house with her grandchild and she brought out a Childcraft Dictionary that she had for her own children. The little girl had no idea because they no longer use dictionaries at school so we had to explain how to use it.

    • Debbish
      June 7, 2019

      Yes, that’s what my friend said re dictionaries. Also she wasn’t sure what is a ‘legit’ dictionary to buy nowadays?!

      And our encyclopedia were treasured as well. I recall either the World Book or Funk & Wagnalls were off limits to me for quite a long time. (I’m sure I was the one who coloured in the index of the Childcraft book, for example. I was a heathen!)

  • shelleyrae @ Book'd Out
    June 6, 2019

    I loved those Childcraft Reference books as a child, we also had both Encyclopaedia Brittanica and Funk & Wagnalls (and still do) My favourite though is the giant Readers Digest Oxford Wordfinder Thesaurus I got one year for Christmas. It’s about 3 inches thick and I used to read it when I was bored.

    • Debbish
      June 7, 2019

      That’s why you’re such an avid reader and eloquent writer!!!

      My mum still has a dictionary or thesaurus she pulls out for her crosswords. I keep explaining she can google words on her iPad but I guess it’s good she likes the process of ‘looking stuff up’.

  • Janet Camilleri
    June 7, 2019

    We didn’t have a set of encyclopaedias, just a two volume old one so I always felt very deprived. Homework or research for me particularly in high school required a trip to the library!

    • Debbish
      June 7, 2019

      I don’t actually remember going to the library for research purposes Janet. I remember going a lot as a kid to borrow books but I can’t even really remember using the school library to look stuff up. I must have though. I know I HATED the libraries at University and would never make an academic as I’m lazy about research and background stuff!

  • Leanne @ Deep Fried Fruit
    June 8, 2019

    My parents still have their encyclopedias they bought from a door to door salesman. Red ones. The info is so old.
    The kids and I were talking about when I used to have to go to the National Library when at uni and look up old newspaper articles etc on the microfish. My goodness.

    • Debbish
      June 8, 2019

      Let alone those drawers and drawers of index cards to find reference material!

  • BoomingOn
    June 13, 2019

    Oh, we had those Childcraft reference books! I think we had them in the 1960s, definitely not 50s so I agree with you re dates. Maybe you could Google the dates to confirm? hahah

    • Debbish
      June 15, 2019

      Yes, I’d checked Wikipedia which may – of course – be incorrect. I’d say the version we had was published in the 1950s but ours was a 60s / early 70s reprint as it matched neither of those listed!

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