The Bookshelf: You Could Look It Up – The Value of Reference Works

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This interesting and instructive article passed through my emails this week, “The Bookshelf” being a regular feature of Public Discourse (an organization that publishes many profitable articles online, mostly from a conservative Roman Catholic perspective, though there are Protestants who write also).

In this ode to reference works, the author extols the virtues and value of these special books often viewed as relics of the past. But, as he demonstrates, they have continued significance, and ought to be preserved and used by today’s serious-minded reader.

I give you Franck’s opening paragraphs, encouraging you to use the link below to read the rest. You will be profited.

As far back as I can remember, my childhood home had an Encyclopedia Britannica, a late 1950s revision of its fourteenth edition, which came in its own wooden two-shelf bookcase, with a deep slot in the back that held a massive atlas. My siblings and I all used it when working on our homework, and it was a ready resource for idle browsing when one was bored or hadn’t decided what book to read next.

I suppose Britannica began my fondness for reference books—that and the Random House Dictionary my parents bought when it came out in 1966. I now have that dictionary, though the Britannica I rather sorrowfully let go after my parents passed away. In my home office today, I have one bookcase mostly filled with reference books of various descriptions—on language, history, philosophy, religion, law, and politics.

Why bother with the books? Can’t we just look up everything online nowadays, thanks to Google and Wikipedia? Not really—or perhaps not just yet—in part thanks to copyrights and paywalls. Google and other search engines often yield bizarre results, requiring the exercise of some prior knowledge and judgment to tell the wheat from the chaff. And Wikipedia, which I use frequently, is difficult to trust on anything beyond bare facts (and even those are sometimes wrong). If you want to know the date of the battle of Blenheim, fine. But if you want a reliable understanding of the War of the Spanish Succession of which it was a part, not so much. For that I would turn to the brief entry in George C. Kohn’s Dictionary of Wars. For non-paywalled online resources on specific subjects, the one that comes most readily to mind for exceeding its print rivals in expertise and comprehensiveness is the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. But in general I still find reference books hard to beat.

Source: The Bookshelf: You Could Look It Up – Public Discourse

Published in: on July 16, 2022 at 6:46 AM  Leave a Comment  

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