Long before there was even an idea of media retrieval systems, microfiche, or the Internet, there were reference books. Many of them, oversize books. If you were fortunate enough to grow up in a family who valued knowledge and had access to it, you probably had an atlas or set of encyclopaedia available for anyone to use at any time.
Dad provided our family with a set of encyclopaedia called *The Book Of Knowledge*. The volumes were displayed in a provided bookshelf unit made of quality furniture grade wood. For many years, it stood proudly in the living room of the house. All of us were strongly encouraged to consult the encyclopaedia to answer any questions we had. I remember dad researching topics at least once per week. I couldn’t get enough of the books. The family also had access to a thin, large format, Rand McNally world atlas…one of my favorite childhood books. I still love maps.
Big, oversize books have an appeal of their own. They are so large that you can’t comfortably use them sitting in your easy chair. You need some sort of table or a large desk on which to place them. Once placed, the matters-at-hand are ready for your investigation. Three wonderful books are pictured above. I have a standard size, current magazine to the right for visual comparison.
The *Volume Library* lives up to its name. It takes up a large volume of space. Checking in at 2,425 pages, its the most wieldy book in my library. It has entries on every topic from algebra to zoology. It is literally a one volume encyclopaedia.
I can’t say that it’s at your fingertips because a person needs to lug it out from storage and haul it to the nearest horizontal surface without throwing out one’s back. Once you open the book, you can get lost in subject matter galore. This is the 1956 equivalant of surfing the web. Any kid who had access to this book would likely bring home straight “A” report cards! Here, the blue jay statuette marks the entries on birds.
Many nations were colonies of other nations. Some countries had different names. Some countries do not exist anymore. I found this map of 1930s Japan of interest. Especially now that Japan has been in the news cycle for quite awhile.
I continue to actually use some of my paper and ink books as resource material for my avocations and for times when I want the sensuous nature of leafing through a fine quality book of artistic merit. One of the most intriguing pasttimes is Ikebana or the fine art of Japanese flower arranging. Not only can a person study intensively the discipline of Ikebana, but you can see, in practice, the actual care and attention to detail that artform celebrates.
This book was hand crafted in Japan. It was really a work of very fine artisanship. The text and illustrations are immaculate. The color plates are actually fine quality art grade photographs that have been carefully placed on the pages by hand with an adhesive glue. Reading and using this book is a very tactile and special experience. This volume is valuable in more ways than one.
These books are examples of information and cultural storage that I hope will remain with humanity for time immemorial. While we can obtain much of this knowledge and many of these visuals on the Internet, there is something lacking in the electronic versions of this material. Whereas a person can research pre-World War Japan and access maps and photos online; the research lacks the physical weight, feel, and even the aroma of aniquity of the big old books.