Teens React to Encyclopedias

One of my uncles used to curl up with a volume of the World Book encyclopedia and just read it cover to cover. It took years, but he eventually read them all-and enjoyed it! Yeah, that was a long time ago. The Fine Brothers confronted a group of teenagers with World Book encyclopedias. They had seen encyclopedias before, years ago, but the thought of actually using them was strange and different.

(YouTube link)

What surprised me is realizing how we’ve abandoned finding things by alphabetical order, so that kids no longer rely on it as a skill. They managed to retrieve the entries they were looking for, but it was not the simple task we older folks consider it. It’s so much easier to just “search”! However, the teenagers eventually found it sad that we don’t use physical encyclopedias anymore, just not sad enough to want to use one. -Thanks, Benny!  


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A few observations from helping teenagers in the library:

1. I routinely encounter young people who have never used a book index before. So I teach them.

2. Those of us who grew up using physical card catalogs have an advantage in internet searching. We were implicitly taught how to keyword, which is essential in library database searching. Younger people try to use library databases like Google and get frustrated. So I teach them.

3. For a while, we kept a paper newspaper at the reference desk to show to students who had never seen one before.

4. On that subject, those of us who grew up working with print had an easier time understanding what newspapers, magazines, and scholarly journals are. Through a computer screen, and especially through a library database, they look pretty much the same.

5. As I've said this before at Neatorama and elsewhere: a previous generation didn't know how to find information and knew that they didn't know. So they'd go to the library and ask a librarian. One of the great challenges of information literacy education is that a younger generation doesn't know how to find information but is convinced that it does. It is common for people to say that all information is just a quick Google search away--a perspective that is terribly, terribly incorrect.

6. Terminology changes. It is common for younger people to say that they want to "rent" a book when they mean "check out." My best guess is that they are working from early memories of going to video rental stores and renting DVDs. This gets complicated for college campuses that offer textbook rental because then the librarian has to find out precisely what the student is trying to acquire, and how.
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I've found slide rules quite useful to teaching and illustrating the properties of logarithms. It might not be useful for the type of student that can easily remember basic math rules and use them like Lego bricks to build more complicated operations. But for those that need some illustration of basic principles, especially ones that might not use the rules regularly, it is good to have something visual or even somewhat "practical," even if just historically.
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Go ahead, show me how to use a slide rule.

Sure, we put men on the moon with them, but their time has come and gone. Just like encyclopedias.
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