Do you remember the hilarious "Friends" episode where Joey wants to buy an encyclopedia set but can only afford to buy one volume, so he chooses the "V" volume and learns everything beginning with the letter "V"? Vesuvius... volcano... vivisection... vas deferens... the Vietnam War. With an encyclopedia, he became an unstoppable force of interesting facts, beginning with the letter "V"!
When was the last time you looked at an encyclopedia? *crickets*
Don't feel bad if you don't remember. I felt the same way until a month ago when I had an occasion to search the online version of the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (I know it says "dictionary" but really, I think it's an encyclopedia) and found the obscure person/answer I was seeking! If you ever did a report in elementary school (pre-Internet era), you might remember trudging to your local library, pulling a big volume of the Encyclopaedia Britannica to read what turned out to be a fascinating overview of Queen Hatshepsut.
Encyclopedias are fantastic at giving you a concise overview of a topic. The handiness and reliability of print encyclopedias have been translating to their online versions. Some will only give you a teaser for free (like the Encyclopaedia Britannica) but others are completely free! Check out a Free Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History at HistoryLink.org (Mary Whisner blogged about it back in 2009).
Established online encyclopedias are like authenticated (ahem, IMO better) versions of Wikipedia.
If, like me, online encyclopedias are an untapped resource in your life - tap them! If for no other reason than to avoid being the "Joey"* in your own group of friends!
*Incidentally, "Joey Tribbiani" can be found in the Encyclopedia of Television!
Photo Credit 1: www.tumblr.com
Photo Credit 2: www.nytimes.com